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How much growing space do I need?

 
Emma Williams
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Hi, I'm quite new to permaculture design and am wondering if some of you more experienced folk might be able to help!

I'm trying to design vegetable beds that will grow enough veg for 50 people over the year. Finding it hard to find any guidelines about how much space I should set aside for this. Does anyone have any guidelines about how much space per person or per family for growing vegetables in raised beds?

Thanks!
 
D. Logan
gardener
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There are a lot of variables to take into account here. How many of them are vegan/Vegetarian? What percentage of food eaten will be grown on site? Will you only grow vegetables, or will you also grow grains? Then there is a matter of what sort of things everyone cooks/eats most often. Different plants take a much different amount of space and/or are more or less stackable with other plants. If a large number of people involved never eat certain high efficiency plants, it means you will need more space for the same number of people. These are all things to address if you want anyone to give a relatively accurate estimate for you.
 
Emma Williams
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Hi thanks for your quick response!

Yes there are lots of variables.. there are no set answers to these variables in real life unfortunately, which makes working it out a bit complicated! The aim of the person who the design is for is to grow enough veg to sell to about 50 people within the local community. There won't be any grains, or other food except for eggs. It will just be enough to supply a variety of veg to each person throughout the year, with the aim that they won't have to buy veg from anywhere else.

I know this is only very rough, and we are in early stages at the moment. Any guidelines on how we might go about calculating an approximate amount of space would be amazing!
 
Ken Peavey
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Climate, soil quality, surrounding environment, sunlight, length of growing season, how much the 50 people use and what types of crops are all factors.
1 pound of harvested produce per day per person suggests 1 sqft per person per day. Round upwards to 400 sqft each for a year.
50 people equates to 20,000 square feet.
To account for pathways, increase that by 30%. If these 50 people will be picking their own produce, increase by 50%.
The weather is pretty screwy. Perhaps you won't get the desired conditions (too wet/dry hot/cold). increase the growing area to account for that as best you can.
Bugs can wail on crops despite your best effort. Increase your estimate by 25-50%
I once suffered from late blight that wiped out hundred of potato and tomato plants. Are the folks dependent on your production and if so, do they go without or look for another supplier?
If the soil is poor, and production is low, increase the estimate accordingly.
Crop selection has it's place. Brussels sprouts will take longer to raise than lettuce. Do you skip the sprouts to raise faster crops such as turnip or yellow squash?
Is there time in the season to raise some slow crops and fill in the early spring and late fall with fast and tasty greens?
There will be blemished and misshapen produce. The people may not accept them, but it may be possible to turn ugly tomatoes into sauce, ugly cukes into pickles.
Providing vegetables for 50 people on an acre is a challenge. 25/acres can work with the right conditions, skillful attention and fair weather. 10/acre may be more realistic.

Does this growing space account for space needed for support?
I use heaps of grass and leaves. An acre of grass and an acre of woods sure is a handy thing to harvest for mulch and compost.
Have you accounted for parking? If these 50 people are coming to the farm to pick up the produce, they'll need a few parking spots nearby.
A toolshed, farmstand or other structure won't take up much room but needs to be figured in. It's not just the footprint of the building, but the shade behind and walkway to it it that can be lost.

The best answer I can come up with is 1-5 acres.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
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There is a small CSA farm down the road from me who is trying to figure the same thing out. He's started with about 1/2 acre using compact growing beds, narrow aisles, two greenhouses, drip irrigation with constant feed fertilizer, and a half a dozen part time helpers. He started by signing up 20 people into the CSA. He quickly discovered he was hard pressed to meet his commitment, so he doubled the size of the garden to one acre. One acre seemed to do it until two things popped up -- pest/disease loss and customer dissatisfaction with lack of variety. He's had to increase the garden size to 1 1/2 acres in order to account for losses and crops that demand more space or time to produce. But now he's finding that it may not be enough. He's figuring on expanding to two acres and selling any excess via "as available" CSA members and the farmers market.

Since he started, we are in the best growing situation in the past 30 years here. What will it be like on years that are cooler, windier, drier? Will two acres of intensively farmed garden be enough to support a 20 person CSA? Most likely not. He will need to enlarge the garden again or drop CSA members.

What this CSA is doing is not quite your situation. He provides only those veggies he knows he can grow well. No onions. No corn. I didn't see any broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage there. Nor did i see peas, peppers, sweet potatoes. Very few herbs of any kind. No fruit crops. No eggs. So in reality he is not trying to provide 100% of his customers' needs. To attempt that he would again need to expand to a larger garden area.

Another example ----------
I run a community garden to train people how to grow food and to experiment with various methods and new varieties. It's a bungling circus but actually produces a decent amount of food for the volunteers. We figure that 1 acre gives 10 volunteers a shopping bag of food to take home each week. We only work at the garden 1/2 day a week so if more effort were put into it, more edible food would come out. The excess from this little program goes to feed the garden's chickens, rabbits, and pigs so nothing is wasted.

So what you put into it has a bearing on what you get out. An experienced grower can make an acre productive while novices can bungle along and eat too, but not as many of them.
 
Marianne Cicala
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hi Emma and welcome!
What I am hearing from your response is that this is a business venture - your friend hopes to sell to 50 people. If that is correct, I would strongly recommend starting small- maybe 1/2 to 1 acre maximum. Starting with a very manageable garden, wonderful variety and exceptional quality, it's easy to become the "go-to" grower and expand as the demand and reputation expands. Starting with a smaller investment and less need for a lot of extra hands will make this new venture's success expand greatly. Start small and grow as their reputation grows - takes a lot of stress out of the equation.
 
John Pollard
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Location: Ozarks
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From the old Rodale organic gardening book, "it takes approx 1200 running foot of row to feed one person" or "1/2 acre for a family of five". So .5 acre for 5 people would be 5 acre for 50 people. That's row methods and not intensive planting.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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