For all of your urbanites and surburbanites, I have a question. Approximately what percentage of your diet do you get from your urban/suburban lot? How big is the lot? And how many people does it feed? (I decided not to make the question about calories, I think that might be too difficult to calculate.)
I'm trying to see how much of my diet I can get from my own yard, and how much is realistic. Of course long term plantings sometimes produce a lot more calories per acre than annuals, and they take a long time to produce at peak rates, so an average analysis is difficult, but I would like to grow over 50% of my food and am wondering how viable this is.
I'm interested in this too. I'd love to see what people think gives them the most "bang for the buck" in their gardens. Especially with perennials. I'm way too lazy to grow a bunch of annuals every year; that's why I'm trying to learn about permaculture!
I've never done urban farming but my parents did for a year when they rented a second story apartment that had a 12'x8' porch. Mom always preferred fresh veggies and they weren't very available at this new apartment, so she decided to grow some on the porch. When I visited her, she had plenty of lettuce growing in hydroponic style milk jugs. All the lettuce that she needed. She had painted the jugs pretty colors and they hung off the porch railing. She also grew fresh herbs : parsley, chives, basil, oregano, sage, celery leaf, and rosemary. They were in pots. She had a couple of cherry tomato plants in trash cans and one Roma type. She had Tupperware totes where she had various things growing - mini cabbage, green onions, bush summer squash, peas, beans, beets, carrot, turnips, radishes, and chard. My dad had made a tower out of pcv pipe that was used to grow hydroponic bok choy. My mom said she tried growing potatoes and sweet potatoes just for the fun of it.
I don't know what percentage of their diet came from mom's little garden, but the only fresh foods I saw them purchase during my month long visit was fresh fruits. But being basically housebound seniors, they relied heavily on store bought foods. The garden wasn't their main food source. But it was surely beneficial.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Since I am just getting going in my location my percent is not accurate, this spring I will keep records and have a pretty good idea of where I stand. It's hard also because I am focusing on establishing herbs, so they make up a very small percent of diet anyway. Some plants that gave the most bang for the buck in the half season I've had here are:
Radishes - these are so easy to grow, delicious and pretty much daily I would pick radish greens. so it's a 2 for 1 plant.
Chard - I grow a chard that has big leaves and a stem like celery, leaves are great raw, the celery looking stock is great added to soups or other roasted veggies also a 2 for 1 plant
Broccoli - since I knew I only had half a season I grew broccoli for its leaves, great for salad
Nasturtium - another daily picked green that is a nice change of flavor
Black nightshade - after ample research into this plant I made cooked greens of it and it had an excellent flavor, also ate my fill of its small berries. I gave the entire plant to the chickens when I was sick of it taking up garden space and they loved love loved it. So it's a 3 for 1
Arugula - I planted a huge amount of Arugula, and had more than I needed. I thought more would go to seed, but only a few plants did, the others remained edible all the way up until frost killed it. Mature arugula is uncommon commercially in my experience, and I can see why, the flavor is very serious, accents nasturtium well.
Lambsquarter - another one that gave ample spinach tasting greens, and a boatload of seeds. I harvested the seeds this year for planting next, and gave the leftovers to the chickens. Next time I am going to use the seeds like you would quinoa.
OK - with the variables listed below, I've probably grown 5-15% of my food on my small urban lot. (more like 5% now)
--I live in the HOT desert (Phoenix) where there are 100+ days where it's 100 degrees or more. Last year we hit 122. We also had 25+ days of 111+ degree weather. It can be challenging to grow things here and our soil is pretty crappy. It takes about 3 years of work to get decent "annual" garden bed soils.
--I hate using a lot of water, for that reason, I've decreased my veggie beds over time - it's not waterwise or cost effective to grow too many veggies.
--I rely a lot on fruittrees - I have fruit of one kind or another for 8 months of the year
--I have increasing vision loss that limits some gardening activities
My goals have changed over the years - moving away from annual veggie beds. Now I focus on rehydrating my little corner of the desert with various forms of water harvesting, planting an abundance of shade trees (nitrogen fixers) and fruit trees, planting native plants in areas of my property that must rely mostly on our infrequent rains and constantly cycling waste through the system to build soils. I still grow veggies - but not to the extent that I used to.
In other climates yields will be much different.
Subtropical desert (Köppen: BWh)
Elevation: 1090 ft Annual rainfall: 7"
I would focus on quality over quantity. What do you love to eat most? Grow lots of that! Especially things that you love to eat but cannot purchase easily or economically.
For me, I focus on raspberries and strawberries because I cant eat too many, and they are so superior to store bought. I love fresh cilantro and parsely, they are super nutritious, take little space, and yield prolifically. I grow my chiles because they are varieties I cant buy easily. I grow corn because I love the flavor and nutrition of heirloom sweet corn.
Gardening is much more enjoyable when we grow what we love, and enojy every last bite. Over time, you will get better and your yields will get higher. I now produce more than eighty percent of my family's diet, but that didnt happen overnight.
Well, Heidi, I know this isn't specifically an answer to your question, because frankly I haven't remotely tracked that, and I'm also nowhere close to where I expect to be in 3-4 years on food production. I have a small suburban lot - just over 5000 sq ft. Currently I have only about 1/10 of that in food production - fruit trees, perennial herbs, and annual vegetables. So my current goal is not about percentage of food, but simply to incorporate something from the garden into every meal. I have the unfair advantage of being in SoCal, so I can grow year-round (with the disadvantage of the small yard). So sometimes I'm getting a whole meal from the garden, and other times it's just incorporating some fresh or dried herbs, but I'm getting close to meeting that goal.
John Jeavons's stated somewhere in his book on Biointensive method (forget the title right now) that you need 4,000 sq ft of actual growing space (excluding pathways) per person. Right or wrong, at least it's a starting point for thinking about it. But that's very focused on annual vegetables. If I expand to use all available space for production (sustainably - meaning I'm producing my own fertility inputs on site), and using permaculture stacking, incorporating livestock, and considering that I'm in kind of a best-case environment (year-round growing in SoCal), my stretch goal for a few years down the road is maybe feeding 1 person (25% for my family of 4). Won't know til I try.
I grow a 400 square foot garden on a 0.2-acre suburban lot in central Connecticut (zone 6). I estimate that the garden supplies less than 5% of my overall annual food needs (family of 3). I m judging this based on weekly grocery expenditures, which drop moderately during the summer garden months. The big challenge with meeting more of my food needs from the garden is the production and storage of carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, winter squash, and the root crops. Calorically, these crops are the bulk of a diet but take up the most room in the garden per unit of production, and the storage logistics are daunting. Also, these foods are generally inexpensive at the grocery store.
During the summer months, I can almost completely meet my needs for the common garden veggies like lettuce, braising greens, tomatoes, cukes, and summer squash. This is great because these items are the most nutrient dense (as opposed to calorically dense) and are costly in the supermarket.
I estimate that I could meet 15% or more of my food needs by expanding the garden, using season extension such as low hoops, and developing storage solutions for durable crops.
Willie Smits: Village Based Permaculture Approaches in Indonesia (video)