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Cost/profit of growing one's own food - data recommendations?  RSS feed

 
master steward
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This is related to the permaculture economic viability thread, but this is a bit more focused. I could use some help--maybe websites or book recommendations.

I'm looking for data about how much folks spend on growing food versus the net value of food grown. It's for a client who is starting a business to install edible landscaping.

I do have one source so far. At Get Rich Slowly, a rather cool financial blog, the author and his wife decided to grow their own food and track the expenses and resulting market value of their veggies. For 2008, they built raised beds, kept records of their time, all expenses and harvests and reported the final tally in their November update. If you skim to the totals like I do, please note that they were new to gardening, it was a lousy growing season in their area, and they used much more labor-intensive methods than permaculture.

Anyone know of additional stats like this? Or any ideas on places to look?

Interestingly enough, this blog published an article on homesteading and self-sufficiency just today! Some of those websites and magazines might be good places to look. Does anyone recall some food growing stats in these sources?
 
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The Mother Earth News archives might have something, and so might Countryside Magazine, although they don't have all their contents readable online.

If what you're looking for is a comparison between home-grown (permie or not) and store-bought, there isn't going to be any comparison.  Probably not even close.  Much of the cost of store-bought food is hidden by massive subsidies and imported food grown and processed with slave labor.

The advantage of growing your own is taste, freshness, nutrient density, lack of chemicals, etc.  Not to mention a safety net for bad times (economic downturns, getting laid off the job, etc).

They'll never sell it on price alone.  IF that was where you're going.  If not, never mind, it's late and my brain is fried.

Sue
 
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dollar price is easy, figuring out the less tangible value is difficult 
 
Susan Monroe
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If they can't sell it on the intangibles alone, they can't sell it. 

The people who are controlled by low dollar signs aren't going to buy.  And if they do buy someone setting up a garden for them, they won't bother to maintain it. I have a neighbor who had someone TILL, PLANT, TEND and HARVEST her garden, and most of the food still rotted because she couldn't be bothered cooking it.

But intangibles are salable.  I have a friend who sells insurance -- now THAT'S an intangible!  He said he tried selling manufactured homes once, and just couldn't do it. 

Sue
 
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If you said that to Sepp Holzer, he would probably slap you silly.

Based on his teachings, I would say that you could measure on the dollar value alone.  In fact, measure your organic, first rate product against the cheapest crap you can find and you should still come out dollars ahead.  By far.

Think about it:  plant once and harvest year after year without any further effort other than the harvest.  Doing the harvest on your own land has to be way easier than going to the store. 

Yesterday Sepp was exasperated about all these American fools who still go to the grocery store and spend obscene amounts of money for horrible food when they could have first class food from home for damn near free.

 
Susan Monroe
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I believe food stamps can still be used to buy vegetable seeds, but how many welfare people do you know who grow anything?  I've never seen one.  But I've seen them at the grocery store with a ton of junk food.

Real food is too much like work for some people.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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paul- does he take into account the cost of that land to grow your own food? because I can buy a lot of groceries (good stuff!) for the amount we are paying for land and I'm in a pretty inexpensive area. Of course I am not arguing for buying junk, I grow as much as I can to avoid the grocery store stuff. also have to take into account another intangible, one of the few positive ones of "store buying" -variety. I am not prepared nor do I have any desire to live on nuts and wild greens and seasonal fruit and I like bread and potatoes and rice and beans none of which can be produced as a perrenial succesfully from what I know. I would have to have a significant revamp of my metabolism to a much slower rate to not wither and die without some mega calorie items and I would od on protein and probably screw up my kidneys trying to get those calories from animal protein. call me old fashioned but I think annual cultivation is important to human civilization. it is part of what got us past the fertile crescent in human migration and farming in general may be/is wholly responsible for the the success of the human species. I hope practicing permaculture isn't turning into trying to integrate humans as a wild species.

Iwant to address another "intangible". free time. farming has allowed the arts to flourish. it has enabled people to become educated and to ponder the great mysteries of life. dare I say it has brought us out of the "wild". I can't imagine that pre historic man was some how less prepared to live in a wild enviroment then we are. and prehistoric man likely spent a very large portion of his rather short life obtaining food. since time immoral man has looked for ways to make finding food easier. using animal power, making tools.....we just took it a little too far maybe with giant tractors and farms, but there is value imo in the direct cultivation of crops. it allows for larger harvest of consistent food avoiding the feast and famine of prior years that resulted in much strife. it allows for society as a whole to invent things like rocket stoves and windmills and electric cars. it allows some people to make our clothes and our silverware and others to grow food in exchange. farming is the glue of society and culturef! I hate for those things to be discounted i even consider it disrespectful to our ancestors who worked so hard to put us in a position to have the comfortable lives we do when it is so flippantly suggested that they were wrong. easy for us to say now as we live in our heated homes and have endless abundance of food to fall back on if our wild trees have an off year or the rain fails to come or a fire burns our land to ashes or a river jumps its banks and makes off with our livelyhood or natural cycles of disease ravages native plants. just sayin. 
 
Susan Monroe
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Well said, Leah!

I don't know anything about Sepp Holzer.  I have a request in for his book 'Rebel Farmer' and today the library emailed me with this message:  " I just spoke with the head of our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) department, and here is the situation.  The Library of Congress is the only library that has this title available to lend, and they cannot find this title on their shelves."

I am assuming (maybe wrongly) that this guy encourages edible wild plants, grow some domesticated (more or less) perennials, and probably lets annual vegetables reseed themselves.  This probably resembles what early Man did, as the step before true agriculture.  But as populations increased, they were forced to adopt agriculture or most of any local population would starve.

I don't know how much land Holzer has access to, what the tilth is like, or where the water comes from.  If he has 50-100 acres, he could probably get away with it most years, but if he has a city lot, I seriously doubt that he could feed himself, much less a family.  How would he be doing in California after this 3-year drought?

It's all very nice to imagine living like Cro-Magnon Man, or Native Americans before the white man, but it's just not very realistic.  Agriculture was created due to need, not because some group was just too lazy to go out to hunt and gather.

About 3% of the land in the whole world is arable (3.98 billion acres).  The world population this month is about 6.76 billion.  That's about a half-acre per person.  Doable, but probably not very realistic.  I suspect if we all had to survive on half an acre, Holzer wouldn't be the food Messiah.  The only way you could survive on half an acre would be intensive farming.

It's hard to create art, books and philosophy while you're starving.

I think I'll pass.  I think I've got most of my seeds ready to go for my spring planting.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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I guess I will pull my britches down for sepp to slap my hiney silly while I eat potatoes. now that would be a weird fetish...... I plan to continue growing annual crops it is what is best for myself and family.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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I don't know very much about permaculture and agricultural history - yet.

I did, however, hear a very compelling keynote address by Toby Hemenway where he talked about archeological evidence that agriculture - the kind that requires larger acreage - creates famine, not the other way around. He has more about this here.

Just today, I ran across an article reporting about food crops in Russia.

It reports this about Russia's main staple food (starch/grain):

Russian households (inclusive of both urban and rural) collectively grow 92% of country's potatoes on their garden-plots, the size of which is typically 600 square meters [0.15 acres] for urban households, and typically no more than 2500 square meters [0.62 acres] for rural households



So while I appreciate the debate over whether folks can truly grow all their own food on a small lot, and whether poor folks will actually do it, I'm still interested in the bottom line studies of cost versus market value on small, suburban or urban lots. I think that's valid.

Sue, thanks for the ideas about the magazines that could be good resources. I'll see what they have and I'll keep searching other places. Oh, and Leah, about the value of land going into the cost; that's a decent point, though there are more and more examples of people being able to farm on land that they don't own - in trade, for lease, and other arrangements - in addition to the idea of small lot food production.

Oh, and have you heard of the Dervaes family in California? They support a family on a 1/5-acre city lot, see the NY Times video.

Sue and Leah, you are right that there are a gazillion intangibles that are really priceless in growing food yourself, which does make it more salable, too. I just think it can make sense in terms of dollars as well, which could be the final factor for those sitting on the fence. I hope to return to this soon though I imagine it might be a couple weeks before I can really dive into it.
 
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The demand for cultural needs is what has fueled many genocides.Here in america,the european occupiers did not bother to learn and intigrate into the well established,very sustainable,extremely managed,and often perennial food systems already in existence.The different food production models were sometimes incompatible.Example:Indigenous use of beavers to raise hydrology and promote the highly productive water/land edge.The europeans drained the wetlands for their dry land crops.We know what happened to the Natives.
    I believe permaculture is about living sustainably.One of the best ways you can reduce your ecological footprint is to eat foods that are sustainably grown.My definition of sustainable is a food production model that produces more calories then it takes to maintain.It would operate" in the black" calorie wise.Example:If you truck in hay for your animals,you just burned up far more calories in fuel consumption and the acts use and share of the industrial infrastructure then you will ever be able to get back in animal product production.A net loss.Caloricaly,you are in the red.So by definition,you do not have a sustainable culture.If we really want a permanent culture or permanent agriculture,we should look to examples that operate in the black or at least break even.
  I like potatoes too and they happen to grow fairly easily where I live(and at Sepps place if you have watched the video)so I assume that it is possible to grow them with a net caloric gain.Tomatoes do not grow good where I live(80"of rain)without alot of outside inputs(fertility,greenhouses,irrigation).The organic farms in the area produce quite abit,but always at a net caloric loss.I do not consider this to be sustainable or permaculture.It works because we have cheap oil and energy but it wont work if the cost of such things went up or represented the environmental costs.
  While potatoes are possible where I live,they are probably not as caloricaly efficient over 100yrs as a good chestnut tree and the chestnut tree would provide more ecological functions.The products are nutritionally similar.A great book on the use of tree crops for an animal /people agriculture is Tree Crops by J.Russel Smith.I believe there is a place for annual agriculture and thats zone 1-3.A field far away is not in those zones.If I'm purchasing my food from afar,Ive crossed the caloric efficiency threshhold and am now operating in the red.So if you are growing your own food in a sustainable way then it is probably possible to generate a small amount of surplus and still be caloricaly efficient.If not,then it would be almost impossible to operate in the black.Also,many small urban lots produce much food but still operate in the red caloricaly.Now if you are talking about $,I cant say much because the entire economic system doesn't value anything other then short term profits which forces people to steal from their own future and operate in the red in order to make money.



 
Susan Monroe
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All very true, Mt. Goat.

We are such a greedy race that most people do not stop and assess the real cost, they only think about the profit.  And usually just the gross profit, too.

Besides the incredible waste, I think the next problem is the taking most or all of the crop off the land.  Around here, one of the biggest sellers is pasture grass.  Lousy, nutrient-poor pasture grass, but they sell it all the same.  Grow the grass, cut it off, bale it and off it goes.  And it's repeated year after year.  It would be interesting to see what their soil analysis results would look like!  The corn farmers and the soy farmers and the feedlot people all take the nutrients off or waste them, or the nutrients run off the land and contaminate the water supply.

I was reading Alcohol Can Be a Gas by David Blume recently, and his idea of no-waste, closed-circle ethanol production was very good.  But he did have certain rules, like the farms had to be within 10 miles of the distillery, the 'waste' was always returned to the farm, the distillery was fired by the alcohol it produced, the vehicles and farm equipment ran on alcohol (E-98), etc.

We have to look at the WHOLE picture, not just little vignettes.

Sue
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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The deeper ecology and sustainability you're looking at is very wise, Mt. Goat. I appreciate and respect that. And yes, as you and Sue have pointed out, the waste and degradation from so many, many kinds of farming and consumer practices is just plain horrifying.

Y'all don't have to convince me of these things. I get it and am on your side! I'm simply looking for tangible data that might help "bring this home" (into more mainstream households no less!).

I do like the "calorie" model including oil consumption, etc. in food production. It is tangible and does relate back to the mighty dollar in a significant way. If you looked at the Dervaes urban homestead, I'm thinking they are pretty darn close to operating in the black - they even do a biodiesel thing, too. (Okay, I know, let's not debate biodiesel here just now...)

I respect where Leah's coming from regarding the annuals and grocery staples, too. As a permie newbie, I can see that there are SO many levels and applications of permaculture. I understand that we can't all instantly farm just as Sepp does (or as Mt. Goat does! ) even if we wanted to. There are infinite variables: knowledge and skill sets, experience, resources, passions, etc. that go into each individual's home, garden(s) and permaculture make up.

So my simple focus for this thread, was about starting small, and using the current market - however flawed that may be - to add to the other compelling reasons to grow one's own food. Basically, a "food not lawns" line of reasoning.  Maybe I'm silly. Maybe not.
 
Matt Ferrall
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Ok,Jocelyn,I relize that I go on tangents and get off track a bit.To focus on your question more-I dont think that info is out there because their are too many variables.Example:If someone were to grow blueberries and they were in an apropriate location and had the right soil then all they would have to do is plant the blueberries and they would be in the black caloricaly and would save money over buying them from the store.If someone were to grow blueberries in an apropriate location but with the wrong soil type then they would have to add some soil ammendments,provide irrigation,and add mulch.At this point they are in the red caloricaly but probably still saving money.If cheap energy were to go away then they might not be saving any money either.If water became hard to get and it was expensive or unavailable then they would be losing money growing blueberries.Now if someone wanted to grow blueberries in the wrong location with the wrong soil type then they would have to add so much outside energy that they might be losing money from the begining.So to sum up:I think the caloric model is not tied to the monetary savings so yes most people will save money growing their own food even if its not perfectly suited to their site given the current state of affairs,but that if energy goes up in value then many people will no longer be able to save money growing their own food unless they are willing to adapt to their enviroment.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Thanks for the concrete examples with the blueberries Mt Goat. I'm gonna continue to look for dollars put in for market value produced, even if it might not take into consideration the "caloric" or energy theories you've explained.

If anyone happens to run across something like that, let me know!

 
paul wheaton
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Leah Sattler wrote:
paul- does he take into account the cost of that land to grow your own food?



Yes.

There are people with city lots that grow so much food, that they probably cover 75% of their own food needs and then sell six times that much again. 

 
paul wheaton
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Leah Sattler wrote:
I grow as much as I can to avoid the grocery store stuff. also have to take into account another intangible, one of the few positive ones of "store buying" -variety. I am not prepared nor do I have any desire to live on nuts and wild greens and seasonal fruit and I like bread and potatoes and rice and beans none of which can be produced as a perrenial succesfully from what I know.



I get the impression that the only grain Sepp eats is a perennial rye.

Potatoes are not perennial in our region, but usually you don't get them all and more potatoes come back in the same spot year after year.  I suspect that rice and beans can reseed themselves, although I have no direct experience with that.

But to the point of the OP:  It would be interesting to see somebody doing permaculture and see their numbers.  Perhaps the first year would be pretty expensive, but the latter years might be freaky cheap.

Iwant to address another "intangible". free time. farming has allowed the arts to flourish. it has enabled people to become educated and to ponder the great mysteries of life. dare I say it has brought us out of the "wild".



Fair enough. 

At the same time, some people are trying to run the numbers and figure out if it is cheaper to grow your own food or leave it to the farmers.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Hey! Here's a way cool example from Roger Doiron, the main guy behind the "Eat the View" campaign!

In his post on kitchengardeners.org, in 2008 his family weighed and priced most of the produce they grew - just 35 of their multiple crops - and did not include all the produce eaten in the garden, dandelion greens, and some items they forgot to weigh like the grapes for 12 jars of jam, etc.

Costs:
$130 for seeds and supplies
$12 for a soil test
$100 for compost (unusual - only did it for the video)
$40 in water (mostly rain water in Maine)
Total $282 out of pocket

Harvest:
834 pounds of organic produce over six months

Value per market type:
Conventional grocery store - $2,196.50
Farmers' market - $2,431.15
Organic grocery store (Whole Foods) - $2,548.93

This was on .3 acres, or about 1600 square feet, in Maine.
 
Susan Monroe
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But it doesn't appear that they added in the cost of labor.

If they were in a major car accident and everyone in the family broke their legs right at the beginning of the season and they still wanted a garden, it would have cost them a lot more if they had had to hire the homeschooled 16-yr-old next door at minimum wage.

If Mr. & Mrs. CEO thought it would cut into their golf games, shopping and hair/nail appointments too much, they would have to hire someone to do it.

That's the problem with your original question.  Quality food isn't free or even cheap.  Cash outlay is not the only cost, there is always labor.  If the homeowner is willing to TRADE labor for quality food, that's fine.  But trying to keep it strictly 'by the books' (literally), you would be hard-pressed to make it CHEAP.

On the other hand, doing it the way they did, they didn't pay for any farm subsidies, chemical fertilizers, herbicides to keep the weeds down, pesticides, expensive GMO seeds,  grain silo fees, cross-country delivery, crop insurance, physical costs of exposure to chemicals, etc., all the HIDDEN  costs of 'cheap' food production.  Much of the costs of food are hidden in your taxes.

Now, if you included those costs in your grocery store food, the REAL costs, you probably would come out ahead in your backyard.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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Susan,

I think the info is quite excellent. 

I think that if you want to have a richer analysis, then there is nothing stopping you from putting together what you think is the right kind of analysis.

If you follow permaculture, you might do the work one time and then harvest year after year after that without any further effort. 

It would be nice to have their labor figured in there too, but oh well.



 
Susan Monroe
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I'm just saying that I can't see any way of comparing apples to apples.

People have been trained to think a certain way, and many have a hard time breaking away from the training to consider the Big Picture.

Probably the best way to do it is to simply tilt the argument as best you can in favor of your concept.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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After spending $3 per pound for apples at the store, a person might be thinking how much it would cost to plant an apple tree.

$20 for the tree.  After three years, it produces 20 pounds of apples.  40 the next year.  80 the year after that. 

The tree is earning its keep.

 
                            
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IMHO as an urban farmer and someone who does set up backyard gardens for folks, this is really an issue of education.  The original question was coming from the standpoint of how to sell the idea to people so they would spend their money on having someone else come in and set up an edible landscape or a garden for them.

The answers regarding the intangible nature of this selling point are true.  It is difficult for some people to sell intangibles.  And, if you are going to be in the business of selling this type of a product to consumers, you had better be really good at selling the intangibles part to begin with.  However, this is far from the traditional thoughts on intangibles.  All one has to do is point out how much of a mess the current food grid is in with a few articles and websites and clients have no problem understanding that what they are paying for is not a dollar for dollar exchange on food products.  I would think that someone going into this business or consulting with someone going into this business would realize that point right away.

If your client doesn't understand the value of growing and harvesting one's own food in the first place, they really shouldn't be in the business at all.  THAT is how one sells intangibles.  It is a transference of feeling.  It is a passion that makes your words true and clear when you speak them.  Trying to "sell" edible landscaping with a dollar for dollar layout is simply not going to be where you will be effective.

Further, if you did want to do a cost analysis of the whole process, it wouldn't be difficult to do the research for yourself the same as if you were pricing out a job.  We do that all the time for our clients.  We price out the cost of plants, soil and materials, our time and the upkeep.  They look at it and compare that to what they value and make a decision.  However!!  By that time we have had a few conversations with them already about food safety and health issues.  We have offered our services to follow through and teach them how to harvest, prepare and preserve the food we help them grow.

IT HAS BEEN OUR EXPERIENCE THAT:
1. folks won't harvest because they don't know what to harvest when or how
2. they won't eat it because they've never had to string a bean or shuck and ear of corn in their lives.  And what the heck do they know about preparing greens?

It is my suspicion that if someone "couldn't be bothered" with preparing the food that was grown for them, they probably didn't understand how to.

Also, I know a LOT of folks who are in low income situations and on food stamps who LOVE to grow their own food... once they are shown how to do it and empowered with the knowledge to go out and do it.

Let's see… what else… oh yeah…

On behalf of those of us who make a living educating and empowering people through helping them grow their own food: if you are just looking to make a quick buck from this trend in home gardening but aren't ready to make the commitment to people to actually educate and empower them, feel free to find another line of work.

Okay… those are my pet peeves about some of the conversations in this thread so far.  LOL  I feel much better now…  hehehehe…

talk to you soon…
 
                              
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In the original post, it sounded to me like some one wants to sell "edible landscaping design or services" and wants to compare store food costs to the costs of the edible landscaping....... Is this correct?

Now my experience is that people who hire some one to do landscaping for them or hire landscape designer, already have money and the land for the landscaping.  We are not talking about a kitchen garden here.  We are talking about people who would otherwise be hiring a traditional landscape designer to put in the normal ornamental landscape or people who would be going to the nurseries and trying to do it themselves. 

Now if you can put in an edible landscape for a similar cost to a traditional ornamental landscape, then that part of the cost breaks even and all produce is bonus so long as the people can be taught to care for and harvest the crops.  I doubt that an edible landscape done in a thoughtful permaculture design type way should cost any more to maintain that the traditional landscaping one normally sees around a house.

The only time you really need to "sell" the idea is if it actually costs a lot more for an edible landscape than it would for the traditional useless stuff.


On the other side of this issue the "but the people won't maintian it" Well there is that danger.  If they didn't research it, they probably won't know what to do with it.  Do they really know what they are asking for or do they think that an edible landscape means that microwave dinners appear in the freezer and they don't have to go to the store?  I must admit that I have planted things that I didn't know much about and wasted some because I didn't know how to identify the proper time to harvest or a good way to store or prepare the item.  Education is important and sometimes you gotta learn by trial and error.  On that note, some one who really isn't interested in where their food comes from, will probably not get around to harvesting the food from the garden and simply pick of dinner on the way home from work.

Good luck in finding the numbers you are looking for
 
Susan Monroe
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I hadn't thought of it from that perspective, and I think you're probably right.  Food production at landscaping prices is probably a fair estimation.

If the buyer is someone who has worked in a garden and has put up food by canning or freezing, and now has the money to get someone else to set it up, it is probably do-able... and salable.

Sue
 
                              
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Even if the home owner isn't likely to put up any of the food from the edible landscaping, I suspect it is still salable since many people would just like to occasionally go out and pick some fruit to eat then and there.  Otherwise the critters get it all.
 
            
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I have been trying to find a link I had to a web site that explains how to grow enough food, all vegan, for one person on 4000 sq feet of ground, which includes enough grains for bread making.  I will post a link once I find it again.
My great grandfather up until he was 93 when he passed away grew almost all his own food and canned it on his city lot in Portland, Ore.
I had the opportunity to visit him before he passed away and got the grand tour.  He had all his yard, with the exception of grass paths winding around his food plots, put into food production.  He grew more than enough for himself and had plenty left over that he sold to his neighbors.
If I remember correctly, he had a 1/4 acre lot which is roughly 10,816 sf.  His house was not big, probably around 900 sf with a basement, plus carport, so he had most of his land open for growing.
I guess it all boils down to how much effort one wants to put into eating good.
I like Sepp Holzers approach, most of his food takes care of itself, how better could farming be? 
 
                              
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I read an article some where that said one guy was managing to survive by only eating what he could grow in a 4000 sf garden space.  I think it was in a temperate climate and using organic methods.  They did mention that he was extremely lean and a huge portion of his diet was from things like potatoes for the high calories from minimal space.

I've read elsewhere that the occupants of a house could be able to provide for all their veggie needs plus perhaps a little more with the space radiating 50 feet out from the dwelling.  Granted I know many lots don't have 50' of yard in all directions from the house but those that do should be able to feed the household with a little practice.

I'm still practicing but we grow a much larger portion of our own food than I might have though possible only 2 years ago.

One thing to keep very much in mind here.  Just because one person is managing to survive on the produce of 4000 sf in one location, does not mean one can plant a 4000 sf garden in another location and expect to feed themselves for a year from that.  First, soil must be improved and built up in order to grow as much.  Next, what grows well in one location might completely fail in another.  Potatoes don't grow well in my climate but luckily, sweet potatoes do.  People need to work with their environment to figure out what will be appropriate.  Also, if one is planning to live off their small plot of land, they may have to adjust their eating habits to take advantage of locally growable foods for the time of year.  In my climate, wheat does not do very well either so even if I have plenty of land, I might not be doing very well at growing my own wheat for bread.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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This discussion has been really cool--I appreciate everyone's point of view. 

Folks can grow all their own food on very small lots. It's impressive. It does take time to build up soils and systems, but if someone has the budget to pay for installation (of some or all portions), imagine how much more quickly you can move in that direction.

I live in an affluent, suburban area where folks spend thousands of dollars to install the latest trends in attractive landscaping. Lots of NW native (mostly non-fruiting) shrubs and trees, and a plethora of rhododendrons and azaleas.

It just doesn't make sense to me when evergreen huckleberries, blueberry bushes, currants, fruit trees, etc. have just as much, if not more beauty than the 'norm.' If folks are paying for installing new plants in the yard anyway, or are already paying for landscape maintenance, imagine if that money is actually going toward food, in addition to the beauty! And permaculture methods can make it so the maintenance of food plants is less of an issue as well.

So, yes, I agree, education is a huge factor, in many ways. It sounds like the Locavores are going the extra mile in teaching folks about food. TC and Kurt brought up some valuable points as well about learning how to harvest different crops and the knowledge needed to provide year-round crops in various climates. My original post wasn't about taking it quite that far - yet.

My goal was to find some really cool facts and figures to show folks who are sitting on the fence about installing edible landscaping. Folks who know what chard is.  And who have the money, and probably understand all the intangibles and health values, but just need a bit of an analytical nudge to convince them food plants are worth the expense.
 
      
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RE:  Facts and figures and analytical nudge.

Jocelyn, this is the first time I have replied to someone in a forum such as this.  I did a quick scan of your list of magazines of homesteading and self-sufficiency.  These materials are full of inspiring and fun articles… with a complement of advertising… but I did not see much “research based” farm management information.  It is doubtful you will find the data you are looking for in quotable / definitive terms.

The costs of production are elusive, especially in an urban or urban-edge setting.  Many people grow foodstuffs for reasons other than the financial bottom line.  Sometimes production costs are complex to sort out of household costs. Input costs can vary radically depending upon location and producer attributed values.  For example, think about the labor input.  What hourly wage do you apply to this accounting exercise?  Now imagine the variety of scenarios for the production input water.  Private well pumping versus service water charges will change the cost/benefit calculations substantially. 

In order to calculate the data you are looking for the following is the beginning of what you would need to consider:

- A separate checking account to handle food production transactions.
- An income (benefit, i.e. pounds of food) ledger by calendar month.
- An expense ledger by calendar month. (Water, labor, land, feed, seed, fertilizer, tools, machinery, services, etc.)
- An inventory ledger for physical counting and valuation.

Plus:
- A depreciation schedule for pro-rating original costs of assets.
- A balance sheet to determine net worth.
- An income statement to determine “enterprise” net profit or loss.
- A cash flow statement to measure flow of funds.

Finally, if you want data to quote you would need to track information in a variety of production situations and use clear definitions and measurements.  Most importantly, your work needs to be unbiased and representative.  Don’t forget… Washington State has 39,000 “farmers” and uncountable “self-sufficiency or homestead” producers.  Every single production entity is an individualized case with different scenarios of expertise, micro-climate considerations, and potentials.

Sorry not to offer a definitive resource for this often discussed and yet-to-be researched question.  This "farm management" cost/benefit factor is often discussed in anecdotal terms.  It would be very nice if someone carried out research with educated explanations for the use of this important food-producer niche.  Clearly, there is no single answer.  However, clear definitions of factors and case studies with explanation about costs and benefits would go a great distance in aiding folks in decision-making.

Agricultural Economist




 
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  I hate to be the Negative Nelly, the one discouraging energetic idealistic beginners --- so I will try not to do that.
  Any of these calculations depends on your accounting --- what choices you make, your values, what costs you count.
  As stated below, if you are patronizing middle class non- organic grocery stores versus growing your own then NO WAY is it cheaper. A human body cannot compete with a tractor. Manure cannot compete with petroleum fertilizer. Once you pay for garden fencing and the acreage in the suburbs, you've lost money compared to the guy who shops at Safeway.
  If you are growing organic and comparing your produce to organic at the Food Co-op, your closer to breaking even. Especially f you do not count your own labor as a cost.
  Infrastructure such as fruit trees, tools and fencing need to be amortized over time.
  The types of things you eat growing your own is different than what you would buy.
  It comes down to values.
  Honestly for myself I think about it as growing my health, my heart and my family's character. I think we are better people for being more self sufficient, not just physically.
  But I am a bit of a skinflint and cunning shopper, so I can tell you there's no money in it.
  Nevertheless certain strong personalities find a way to make it happen -- I applaud the brave, since they make the path by walking.
  Like the NASA guy said, "If we had known in the beginning how impossible it was, we never would have done it."
 
                              
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Cost/profit

Nope can't really quantify that very easily.  As noted if you are trying to make/save money by growing your own food, it becomes a hard sell.

However, if you are talking about some one who is gonna spend X amount of money putting in some sort of landscape and gonna spend x amount per month/year maintaining that landscaping.  ........
I personally see a huge benefit in making that landscaping edible rather than simply attractive with no other character to recommend it.

Growing some of one's own food is not simply about money as noted there are many other benefits to growing some food.

If gardening is not a chore but a hobby that happens to not only provide entertainment, time outdoors, fresh air, relaxation, physical activity, and also food.

And one more thing.  The feeling of empowerment and well being that eating a meal that comes mostly from one's own garden is worth a huge amount.

I personally think the world would be a better place if everyone who could, were to plant victory gardens (they don't have to be big) and keep a few backyard chickens.  Plant edible landscaping instead of just ornamental landscaping.  So much of the population doesn't even have a clue where their food comes from that it is really scary. 
 
Anna Spangle
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ancient agriculture
  In the middle of all this talk about practicality, we ought to consider that practicality is not what motivates people.
   We all grew up in western culture, post- Enlightenment, after the Scientific Revolution --- so we like to imagine that people are reasonable.
   There is something to that--- but people are motivated by other things as well. I hate to recommend Diamonds book "Collapse" but it does show how advanced cultures fell,or  became extinct not because of physical causes but through their beliefs. For example, the Vikings probably starved to death on Greenland because fish was a  low status food to them. People are motivated by ideas, of how they think about themselves, as much as by anything tangible.
   When you  see people at the Food Co-op, are they really shopping for taste, quality or even social consciousness? Or are they shopping there because they think well of themselves for doing it?
   We Lefties like to cynically argue that the Iraq War is a resource-grab, the purpose of it is basically to steal oil. But anyone who supports the war will tell you their reasons are ideological. Maybe they do not know their own minds--- but maybe they are right in that  ideas are what counts, being seen as powerful creates power, and might makes right in history, often. Freudians would say that most of what really goes on is one-ups-manship among a troupe of great apes.
   That said, let's consider what it means to grow food.
   In response to Leah's story of history, I do not agree that agriculture exists to give us leisure. It has long been argued in anthropology that Hunter- gatherers have more leisure than any other society, and every one in it makes art. That's a long discussion if you really want to get into it. But the point is, we do what we do for other reasons than practicality.
   GREEN is IN right now, and why? Because for some odd reason it's suddenly fashionable to care about the environment. There has never been a better time to be an organic producer. But not for real reasons, rather because it has suddenly become the "high status" thing to do. It makes people feel superior. And it takes a decent income to follow an organic lifestyle. The majority of middle class people are standing by astonished at this trend popular among the educated uppermiddle class.
   What does it all mean?
   For myself, I try to live by some more enduring values. This too shall pass, and we will still be here, doing what we do because we love it. The reasons don't matter.
   What we are doing is its own reward.
     Sorry this does not answer the question of what it costs! 
 
steward
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Very interesting.

Two thoughts on this. If try to reproduce what you get in the grocery store, you may well be more expensive, but there are plenty of things to grow that are very easy - especially if you go for the long view. We get most of our food from permanent fruit trees and plants like camote, papa chinos (a kind of yam), Plantains, bananas, passion fruit, etc.

Black eye peas growing and grow here, and peppers will survive five years.

But I don't grow grain, we barely eat it. And we have about 30 80 lbs sacks of sawdust mixed with sheep droppings a week for the garden, more than we need.

The key is to go for what grows with minimum effort. Most people though will grow what they like to eat, which may well end up being more work intensive.

The second thought, the bigger the system, the cheaper it is. Honestly, our garden makes money because the fertilizer and seeds are free, and the garden really requires very little work to maintain. That is because the sawdust / shavings are free, the sheep manure is free and the haulage is done with horse and cart, and the feed for the horse is free.

And I need the excercise.  So I guess I could say I save on gym memberships (as though there is something like that here!)

But the cost to get everything in place and in good shape will be expensive, but that is capital investment.
 
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  Families did eat of there backgardens in england and probably still do, only not very well they weren't at all big. Maybe thigns don't have to be enormouse but not too small. tradition is so important, it would be  hard maybe to establish people growing all of a sudden. Sewing takes so very long, isnot it part of tying women up at home? Maynot mothers be better employed looking after even talking to the other members of the house hold. teaching and learning. agri rose macaskie.
 
paul wheaton
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As stated below, if you are patronizing middle class non- organic grocery stores versus growing your own then NO WAY is it cheaper. A human body cannot compete with a tractor. Manure cannot compete with petroleum fertilizer. Once you pay for garden fencing and the acreage in the suburbs, you've lost money compared to the guy who shops at Safeway.



And yet, there are people that have a city lot with six fruit trees, raspberry canes, three rhubarb plants and a few other things.  The lot price was the same as the next lot over which has ornamentals.  And, mysteriously, these provide lots of excellent fruit and require zero care. 

And zero care is exactly what is provided. 

So, for these people, what is the investment and what is the payback?

You mentioned the human body vs. a tractor:  The only thing done with this produce is harvest.  Which would have required a human body whether at home or on an industrial plot.  Since we are avoiding irrigation, fertilization and pest control, then our at-home system is WAY ahead of big ag on the metrics you have put forth.

You mentioned "Manure cannot compete with petroleum fertilizer." How does "nothing" compare to petroleum fertilizer of manure? 

Oh sure, some people can spend a thousand dollars to save a hundred dollars.  And some people can spend twenty dollars to save a thousand dollars.  Just because there are people in the first group does not mean there are not people in the second group.


 
                              
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Fred Morgan wrote:

The key is to go for what grows with minimum effort. Most people though will grow what they like to eat, which may well end up being more work intensive.



I agree and disagree on this one.  Just because something grows with minimum effort, that does not mean everyone should grow it.  There is some merit to growing what you like.  Not much point in growing huge amounts of something you hate or can't stand.

To some extent people probably need to expand their horizons on what they will try eating though.  Many people just don't know about some of the more interesting edible plants.  Other times you need to draw them into gardening by getting them to start off growing things they like and once they are hooked on gardening, they are more willing to expand.

Some people are more on the lazy side and have avoided gardening because they think it is too much work.  They are the ones to recommend the really easy things to.

I do notice that many of the disagreements/arguments made are often a disagreement of scale/purpose.
I don't really think anyone here is advocating that an average middle class family in the industrialized world, living in the sub-burbs is gonna suddenly start growing all their own food in their back yard and save money while doing it.

However, I think almost any family with a small outdoor space can easily start growing some of their own food and it can certainly be as cost effective as planting the same space with ornamental plants with the added bonus that those planting will provide some food for the effort and investment.
 
rose macaskie
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I have a polish freind and her parents had an allotment,they enjoyed it, they made frieinds with the people on the allotments around them.
  I like gardening, others don't, i used to try to see how good i could get at doing long stints of physical work as a child or teenager, i wanted to increase my will to work and later wanted to exercise as well. If i think as i dig and chopp down blackberries i am doing exercise this is helthy mihgt this not be a motive for gardening for other people to.
      I still think that ornamentals are part of permaculture. Not part of paul wheatons  ideology but part of other peoples permaculture. Did paul wheatons parents erally despies the frivolouse or somthign or were they really frivolouse and he wants not to be like them, is he afraid of his feminine side. I think i have had men push me away from feminine things in all other bits of life and now i get it in gardening. Maybe this time it wont work. It has worked a bit. THis time i will bring Paul Wheaton into the ormnamental. permaculture include the holistic he should find his feminin half be more androgenouse. Plant families are part of permaculture different plants that help each other and that means flowers as well as vegetables.
      I certainely only want vegetables at the moment because if you want to persuade people to have good soils you must let them see they can grow more in them. Otherwise i am intersted in seeing what comes up. and planting trees i find trees  irresistible. I want to be organic and to include water harvesting and can't really think of being independent without going to live there and i know no one i want to know in the village and the chidlren would not be there it would be one other giant step into being with even less people.
        It is not that i hate those i know there  it is that i can't imagine a happy relationship with them, i have tried to relate to people just because, "what if they are not interested in permaculture or they think artists are terrible you should get on with everyone", but they hate me anyway however much i try, people who don't like permaculture or the arts and so on hate those who do. They have an axe to grind, want to get you on to their wave lengths and such htat is what i mean by hate, like you as you might be if you were them or like them, don't really have much time for you.
      I have spent a long time trying to have relations with people i was lukewarm about and it does not turn out well, they bullied me, if i had not been trying to be kind i suppose i would have stepped out the mu¡inute things got uncomfortable and stayed with those who were all right and i do take criticism, that is one of the reason i got bullied . I am learning now not to take criticism because bullying is the thing i want to be able to handle . i don't remember being so badly bullied when i made friends i chose cautiously.  Dare say if i lived there i would find a whole set of other people. agri rose macaskie.
 
steward
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[quote author=TCLynx]Some people are more on the lazy side and have avoided gardening because they think it is too much work.

I garden because I'm lazy.  working to earn money to buy food just doesn't compare to a nap under the grape arbor.

[quote author=paul wheaton]But to the point of the OP:  It would be interesting to see somebody doing permaculture and see their numbers.  Perhaps the first year would be pretty expensive, but the latter years might be freaky cheap.


I've been saving my receipts...
 
pollinator
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Kate at livingthefrugallife.blogspot.com keeps good records of food production and value.

Rob at onestraw.wordpress.com keeps data on his market gardens, but I haven't seen as fine-grained a breakdown of what he produces for himself.
 
It will give me the powers of the gods. Not bad for a tiny ad:
Food Forest Card Game - Game Forum
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