Monday, June 18, 2012

How many

People could I feed on my farm?

The farm seen from on top of the haystack

A bit ago, someone asked me how many people I could feed on my farm.  I automatically said 20 families, because with our family and all of yours, that's how many people I feed.  But is it really true?  Sadly no.

Yes, we are 20 families strong, but none of us live on entirely what we get out of the box.  At most it's a supplement of what we buy at the store.  Is it possible to feed you all from the farm?  Sadly no.  Let's look at why.  First of all, keep in mind that I only have 5 acres (of which we are farming about 1 acre currently).

Here's my computations:


1 acre of wheat yields approximately 42 bushels of wheat.  Each bushel yields about 60 pounds of whole wheat flour. Each of those bushels would yield 90 one pound loaves of bread.  So that's about 3780 loaves of whole wheat bread.  That would give each family 189 loaves of bread, or about 3.5 loaves of bread a week.   Some of that wheat would have to go to the chickens and now we've used one acre of land...4 left.  (Of course we've only planted enough wheat to seed that acre....sometime in the future).  So, you wouldn't have any bread.
Gathering up the old hens and one old rooster


1 acre of pasture can support 50 chickens.  It all comes down to the amount of manure the land can handle, and the geometry of chicken yards. A permanent pasture can handle about four tons of chicken manure per year. That's the output of 80 chickens. So, unless you want to kill off the grass and pollute the area with runoff, you can't have more than 80 outdoor chickens per acre.

What's worse is that the manure is never evenly distributed across the yard. It's concentrated near the chicken house. This would kill off all plant life near the chicken house even if the chickens didn't scratch all the pasture to pieces, but they do this as well. A more sustainable number is 50 hens per acre.

Fifty hens per acre is about 800 square feet per hen. That's a lot of area. Hens also don't like to travel long distances. They'll go 100-200 yards from the hen houses, in reasonably good weather,  if properly encouraged by outdoor feeders and waterers.  That's why we have to have moveable hen houses.    Logistics dictates that we raise only 25 chickens a year.  13 new this year, 12 from last year and the acre has to be rotated to things for them to eat, so 1/2 is seeded while they are eating the other half.  It seems that chickens don't like to be irrigated.  The chickens want to be on the part that is not irrigated.

A highly productive hen will lay 5 eggs a week or 250 a year.  Our chickens since they are young and old, average about 4 a week.  So, I'm getting about 8 cartons a week, which is why you only get eggs once a month.  See Leo, I told you those old hens must go! 

Where do the old chickens go?  Well, we don't eat them and you don't eat them, but we do trade them for supplements like oyster shell and sunflower seeds.
Flour & Flint Corn


It's not a secret that we only deliver vegetables from March through November.  The spring is full of green leafy things, big on nutrients, not so big on calories.  About 1/4 acre is taken up with green leafy things.

The summer is better because that's when we start getting things like corn.  Leaving aside the sweet corn that we all love, there is the practical flour and flint corn that pack a lot, but not all the nutrition you need.  There's B vitamins missing in that corn unless you are processing it with lye.  One acre of corn yields about 130 bushels, one bushel is = to 56 pounds.  So putting in a 1/4 acre of corn yields about 1800 pounds of corn.  That would be 80 pounds per family.  Keeping back some for those hungry chickens and planting for next year.

Finally comes Autumn and then there's beans, your real powerhouse of nutrition from the farm.  An acre of dry beans can yield about 2000 pounds.  Once again, we have only about 1/4 acre in dry beans, so more like 500 pounds, which is about 20 pounds to you (less what we had to keep back to plant for next and future years).

Then there's tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, onions, herbs, tomatillos, artichokes, asparagus, melons, and squash.  All of these are taking up room and being packed weekly.  More or less this is what people join the CSA for.   Some folks tell me that there is too many vegetables in the box.

But as you can see, I haven't given you any calories from dairy, meat, or fish.  So, even if you were all vegan vegetarians I could not provide you and your family with everything you would need to eat. 

What would it take to feed all of you, everything you need?  

About 200 acres and someone one a lot younger... make that a lot of someones. 

How many families could I feed on the five acres, everything they would need to survive?

With my family of 3, we could feed 2 more people.  And let me tell you, all 5 of us would be either planting, harvesting or preserving 365 days a year and we'd be eating a lot more potatoes and squash.

more squash


  1. Wow, that is an amazing post. So grateful that farms exist but I've never had it explained like that.

  2. Excellent to see it all laid out that way.

  3. Eggcellent blog this week. This is a great way to show those who've never raised food for themselves let alone others, just how much space (and effort) goes into the job.