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Yousif Quadir
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If you want to maximally decrease your grocery bill, what should you grow? High calorie yield plants like potatoes? Or nutrient dense plants like leafy greens?

If you want self sufficiency and a high protein diet, you need half an acre of JUST soybeans to meet your needs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_protein_per_unit_area_of_land

Since sacks of beans are cheap, maybe it just makes sense to buy them in bulk and just grow your vitamins
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think some fish in an aquaponics system or a pond and some chickens for eggs might be more efficient than soybeans in that much space.  The wikipedia numbers aren't looking at efficient systems of animal protein production, but on conventional methods.  Stacking functions increases production on small amounts of land.  Stacking functions does not exist in conventional production.

A combination of Biointensive growing practices and stacking functions could (at least theoretically) produce enough food for 5 adults on half an acre.
 
Mike Jay
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I'd say that it depends on if you're going to change your diet or not.  If you want to keep eating what you've been eating it becomes a bit easier.  I'd evaluate your grocery bills by price and annual availability.  What do you spend the most on and what can you store/preserve to last all year.  growing tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs to can your own tomato soup, salsa, tomato sauce and catsup can supply a year's worth of moderately expensive food. 

If you are going to change your diet, I'd start by evaluating what you like to eat, what can grow in your area, what costs the most to buy and what you're willing to eat.  This year I accidentally grew 100 pumpkins but since we don't eat a pumpkin every other day, it has been a bit of a waste.  We already ran out of tomato sauce so I should've spent more time growing and canning tomato sauce.  We froze 70 quarts of green beans and those are lasting well.

I wanted to grow all our own food my first year but that wasn't anywhere near realistic.  Now I just try to get better each year.  Now that we're on our third year, we buy very few veggies throughout the year but we still spend a moderate amount on fruit, snacks and alcohol.  So this year I want to do more with preserving or root cellaring apples and making apple cider.

A pareto makes sense if you can just determine how the variables combine to come out with a logical ranking.  Just sorting by price may have you planting a lot of garlic.  Just sorting by nutrition will give you a bunch of kale (yuck...).  Just sorting by protein will limit you a lot.  Just sorting by what you like to grow will give you a bunch of sunflowers.  Etc, etc, etc
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I think being 100% self sufficient is difficult and not really desirable. I'd focus the first few years on vegetables and fruits; they are so much better fresh, and will probably be better for you then the stuff from the store. That will allow you to build up you skills (there is a steep learning curve) and not get swamped. Maybe find a small farmer to buy grains and beans from, or meat, in the mean time.

If you don't mind bringing in food for them, animals are quite space efficient; if you do mind, the reverse.

Potatoes are probably the most space efficient calorie crop, sweet potatoes for warm areas and Irish potatoes for cool.

And as far as perennials vs annuals, there is a tradeoff; efficient use of space vs efficient use of time. Perennials are time efficient, annuals are space efficient. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but it holds generally.
 
Yousif Quadir
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What are realistic yields for aquaponic fish or laying chickens? Animals have to get their protein indirectly from nitrogen fixing organisms. Is protein-rich chicken-feed significantly cheaper than store-bought beans?

I guess the formula for big-impact-gardening is something like:

(cost/unit) X (units/year) = annual cost of item

What ever item has the highest number, grow that. 

Maybe I'm making this more complicated than it needs to be. But I would ideally like to be totally self sufficient, and I'm reading conflicting things about how plausible that really is.

Perennials are time efficient, annuals are space efficient. But I want both!

From first principles; all of our food comes from a combination of sunlight, air, water, and dirt. Plants, bacteria, and fungi turn those into molecules our body needs. To get those molecules, we either have to grow them, forage/hunt them, or buy them with money we made doing something unrelated. Those last two seem less efficient to me than the first.
 
Mike Jay
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Yousif Quadir wrote:I guess the formula for big-impact-gardening is something like:

(cost/unit) X (units/year) = annual cost of item

What ever item has the highest number, grow that. 


I think there's more to it than that.  Just going by your formula, for my household I need to be growing chocolate and avocados.  Neither is particularly easy to grow in Wisconsin.  So the ability to grow it needs to come into your equation.  Also, salad greens would be high on my "annual cost" list.  Growing them in the winter is much harder for me in my climate.  So if I can only grow them for 6 months, the math should reflect that I'd still need to buy them for the other six months of the year.

Depending on where you live, foraging/hunting can be a great way to get protein.  I'd rather shoot one deer than raise the equivalent amount of meat.  (I realize there are many stacking functions of livestock but I'm not ready for the time commitment yet)

By the way, where do you live?  That may help us give you better advice.
 
Peter Ellis
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Let's begin with what you mean by "totally self-sufficient".  Are you just talking about food?  In that case, rather than trying to research hypothetical maximum efficiency, you might want to be looking at what people are doing who are feeding themselves entirely from their property.  You also might want to look more at the productive efficiency of polyculture systems over industrial agriculture and gardening systems influenced by industrial agriculture.

Overyielding polycultures require more intensive human involvement than industrial agriculture systems, but produce not only more food per acre, but a greater variety of food leading to superior nutrition.

Is protein rich chicken food cheaper than store bought beans? Can you get beans for free from the store?  Remember that one of the benefits of using animals in the system is that they convert organic matter we cannot eat into something that we can eat.  In addition, they return fertility to the soil effectively.

In terms of what should you grow to most reduce your grocery bill - a variety of things that you are able to grow where you are and that are part of your usual market basket.  It won't help to try and grow things that you are not able to grow well.  It won't help to grow a narrow selection of things - down that path you end up with potatoes rotting before you can eat them, but buying all of your tomatoes.  Eliminating one item from your market basket is unlikely to have as much effect on your spending as reducing the amount you buy of six things in your market basket.

For example, say your family uses lots of tomato sauce. Would it make more sense to grow only the tomatoes, or to grow all the ingredients for the sauce that your climate would allow? Garlic, onion, tomato, oregano, thyme, etc.?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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In my emerging design, I'm using both perennials and annuals where they make sense. I have small, intensely cultivated beds of annuals surrounded by berms of low maintenance perennials. The annuals provide the bulk of my yield from a small yard. The perennials keep the local ecosystem working by providing habitat, thus protecting the annuals, and they will eventually provide a smaller yield for much less work. Also, I have a harsh climate; annuals are more adaptable. Every year the trees here get hit by the weather; heavy snow that breaks them down, late frosts that catch the blooms, early hot spells that wake them up too soon, etc. Annuals can be planted and if necessary replanted, and are easy to cover and protect. And you get a new shot at them every year. So, in one sense annuals are efficient and perennials are resilient. But that is because perennials take the long view; a nut tree has several hundred years, and if a few nuts make it into new trees over that period, that's good enough. Annuals take the short view; a stalk of wheat only has one chance. So they grow quickly, adapt quickly, and don't waste energy on long lasting infrastructure that might get damaged.

We need both types of plants. But I'm something of a permaculture heretic for thinking that in some climates, annuals will continue to provide the bulk of our diets. I seem to recall that you are in a semi-tropical area; therefore you will probably have much better luck with a perennial diet then I ever would.
 
Yousif Quadir
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You asked, so here's Salient Facts about me:

I live in Florida.
My interest in gardening is primarily to save as much money as possible.
I eat meat, but I could give it up easily.
I am >slightly< concerned about the health effects of soy and gluten. But would overlook it in exchange for food independence.
Sweet potatoes invaded my friend's yard, after she planted them ONCE. This makes me think food independence should be easy.
But, truth be told, I don't eat many sweet potatoes, and it would be a sacrifice to make them my staple.

So, here are the options as I understand them, in decreasing order of preference:

1)Grow a complete, high protein, non-soy, non-gluten, diet on a plot of land the size of a suburban yard.
2)Grow a complete, high protein diet (accepting soy and/or gluten) on land the size of a suburban yard.
3)Grow the most expensive items I eat on a suburban lot, and supplement with bulk purchases of cheap calories/protein/whatever.
4)Buy a farm/homestead in the stereotypical sense...and replace my full time job with full time farming
5)Keep working for a living and spending money on food in plastic-wrapped containers.

Does that help?




 
Mike Jay
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That does help.  Florida does give you many more options for year round growing than other states.

As for your list, I think 4 is in a different category.  That's more of a job change from one career to another where you'd have to make enough money farming to cover other expenses as well (insurance, bills, etc)

I'd suggest replacing #4 with = Keep working for a living and spending money on local/healthy food as much as possible while learning how to grow stuff myself.

Start wherever you are on the scale now and work your way to #1.
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Yousif Quadir wrote:
...
Sweet potatoes invaded my friend's yard, after she planted them ONCE. This makes me think food independence should be easy.
...

So, here are the options as I understand them, in decreasing order of preference:

1)Grow a complete, high protein, non-soy, non-gluten, diet on a plot of land the size of a suburban yard.
2)Grow a complete, high protein diet (accepting soy and/or gluten) on land the size of a suburban yard.
3)Grow the most expensive items I eat on a suburban lot, and supplement with bulk purchases of cheap calories/protein/whatever.
4)Buy a farm/homestead in the stereotypical sense...and replace my full time job with full time farming
5)Keep working for a living and spending money on food in plastic-wrapped containers.

Does that help?


Food independence IS easy if you don't mind eating the same 3 or 4 things every meal for the rest of your life and nutritional deficiencies aren't something you are concerned with

1)  I don't know if that is possible.  The word "complete" will cause you issues.  I've read all about combining veggies to create a complete protein, and don't want to start that argument, but I'm not really in agreement.  B12 is probably impossible in your scenario, as is getting enough fat (for a diet I consider optimal).
2)  See #1
3)  This is the option I would start with.  If you do only that, you're doing much better than most people, and you can slowly add if you find you like doing it
4)  See Mike's answer
5)  Is probably where you are now, and the easiest answer.  For me, I like #3 MUCH better
 
Yousif Quadir
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"Totally self-sufficient," ideally in all respects. But I joined this forum for the expertise in food self-sufficiency. The tomato sauce is an excellent example, because those are all things I'm growing. I started growing chili peppers as well this year, because I figure a single pepper can flavor several meals.
After I started those seeds, I read David Goodman's article on Cayenne Peppers, where he says they "grow like weeds." That phrase is music to my ears, and I would have grown them instead if I had read that a month earlier.

Perennials take the long view. That's why they appeal to me. I'm thinking of this gardening project as a form of investment. A well chosen investment provides dividends indefinitely, or at least long enough that you make more than you put in. If I set this garden up right, its free food indefinitely. That's my target.
 
Todd Parr
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In my mind "total self sufficiency" is a myth, and I don't think it is possible.  In any event, I wish you the best and I hope you keep everyone posted on your progress.  Reading about other people's journey helps inspire me to try things I hadn't thought of.
 
Mike Musialowski
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Location: Taos, New Mexico at 7000 ft. - Zone 5
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I heard some of you mention using animals. Animals concentrate proteins, but I'd also argue they produce from the same area of land. A basic biology principle is that every time you go up the the food chain, you lose 90% of the energy. In theory, you can feed 10 times as many people from an acre of soybeans than an acre of beef. Now efficiency does come into play, but overall, to save money, I'd grow plants over meat any day.

Do other folks find that "in practice" is different from theory? 
 
Andrew Brock
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I would concentrate mostly on calorically dense foods like potatos, Jerusalem artichoke, and a few cruciferious vegetables, berries for vitamins and anti oxidants, and nuts for fat. Nearly every plant has all 9 essential amino acids, even potatoes, white rice, apples, spinach just to name a few http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2626/2 . . If you are eating a whole foods diet there isn't much reason for concern about protein unless you are lifting weights for 2 hours a day 6 days a week, or some other heavy training regime. Its easy to achieve 1g protein/kg body weight eating plant based.

Fats can be obtained in the necessary amounts via small amounts of chia seed, hemp, flax, purslane, nuts, insects, etc. But even fruit has approx. 6-10% fat. For example, 4 tablespoons of chia seed has 7.1g of ALA omega 3 which is over 400% RDA.
B12 can be obtained by fermenting such as sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha.

With this approach I think 80% of your nutritional needs can be met by your property. Its the approach I use.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Beef are the least efficient at producing protein per area, so I'm not sure it's a fair comparison.  Fish are more efficient per area.
 
Bella Simple
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I think the cost efficiency of growing your own food will depend greatly on your current diet. Not saying you eat like this, but if you eat a lot of processed food, or industrially grown bulk foods, then it's going to be hard to compete with empty calories, government subsidies, and cheap imports from third world countries. This is especially the case if you're planning on creating a farm scenario that is effectively a micro version of industrial farms. Industrial farms are only successful in growing food by virtue of scale and the cheapness of bulk chemicals. Try to replicate that system on a small scale and the inputs cost far more than the outputs.

Self sustainability (or something relatively close to it) really only works at its best when you address the whole system. A few examples:
  • Grey water from your house can water your fruit and nut trees. Reuse water you're already paying for, rather than let it wash away into the ocean (where synthetic clothing fibres from washing machines are causing a bigger problem than microbeads *cough*derail*cough*).
  • Black water, organic waste, and noxious weeds with viable seeds can enter a worm septic system that creates compost and worm tea for your gardens. No compost bills.
  • Earthworks captures water that falls on your property, replenishing aquifers, creating dams, and creating ponds. This water is used to passively or actively water crops and animals. No water bills.
  • Proper rotation of animals on pasture creates pasture where nothing but eroded, dead dirt was before. 100% pasture-fed animals turn hands-off, inedible plants into high protein, high fat, nutritious food for us. If done properly, you can get far more protein per acre than any other system (refer to talks by Gabe Brown, Mark Shepard, Allan Savory, etc). Even on a small scale, you're creating your own food AND the animals fertilise your paddocks for you so you can continue growing plant food for them and yourself. Close the loop.
  • Growing your crops (trees or otherwise) as part of a silvopasture system means you're capturing solar energy at all levels, producing annual crops (animal or plants) while perennials mature, and providing shade and shelter for animals (which boosts weight-gain and health). This is a much more efficient method of producing food than industrial ag's monocultures that require ample inputs to compensate for the deficiencies in design. Good design is important if you want to save money.


  • You'll save money very quickly if you already have an expensive diet. This is a big deal for me, because organic food is very expensive here in Australia, and that food is usually not very fresh, and not even particularly nutrient-dense. A couple examples:
  • Growing my own garlic for the year takes very little effort. A handful of seed bulbs ideal for my area are a one-off purchase, because I save my own bulbs for next year's planting. At harvest time, I get all the garlic I need, for nothing but a little labour. Alternatively, the shop sells fresh organic garlic at $50-$80/kg.
  • While growing my own chillis takes more effort in my area (fruit fly, birds, and fruit worm all love my chillis, and thanks to pest-ridden neighbours, they're hard to get on top of), a few healthy bushes produce enough chillis to keep me going for the year if I fridge pickle them. Compare with $34/kg for NON-organic pickled chilli with additives.
  • Even on my small suburban block, my chickens provide me with meat (when a rooster hatches), compost, weed-eating, and very nutritious, super fresh eggs. I feed them scraps, garden waste, and some organic feed. To buy organic eggs at the shop, I'm looking at $8-$12 per dozen, and they're already up to a week old. My organic eggs that were just laid this morning work out to be $1 per dozen, because my small backyard won't support 100% pastured poultry. Still a big saving. Not to mention the fact frozen organic chicken meat costs upwards of $25/kg. So my roosters save me money too.



  • A big question for you- do you enjoy gardening at all? My sister loves good quality food, but hates gardening. She thought she could grow her own food with purely savings and quality as motivators. She didn't last half a season. Even the most laid-back of farming systems require some work. For my sister, what I considered "practically no work at all" was too much work for her, because she got zero enjoyment from the process.

    The smaller your land, the more intensive your growing systems need to be, which means more labour creating that system. If your diet relies a lot on foods that can't be preserved, your labour increases, because successional plantings are needed.

    My two cents, from a newbie.

     
    Maureen Atsali
    pollinator
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    We are able to grow about 80% of our food.  It could be 100%, but I am not that motivated and I want more variety than the farm provides.  But I find it comforting that we could survive if we had to.  The thing to consider though is that we are in the tropics and it took us five years to get to this point.  The first year I didn't get enough to make three meals.

    We have several staple starches - cassava, taro root, maize, sweet potatoes, cooking bananas and pumpkins.  We grow 7 or 8 varieties of leafy green vegetables.  Pulses - beans, bambura groundnuts, peanuts, cowpeas, mung beans, pigeon peas. We were lucky that we inherited some mature trees with the land. Avocadoes, mangoes, guavas, sweet banana. We have added loquats, papaya, pineapples, passion fruits and some indigenous stuff I don't know the English name for.  I keep experimenting with non indigenous stuff, and have managed to grow lettuce, cukes, summersquash, and carrots, but not very well. All my melon attempts were ruined by fruitflies.  And I can't seem to grow a tomato here to save my life.  Aside from that we have a fish pond, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats and a calf. Sometimes we also have pigs and hairsheep, but not right now.  We do this on 2.5 acres, and I don't buy any commercial foods for the animals except the occasional chick mash to supplement new hatches of ducks and chicks.  So I like to say it CAN be done... But after weeks of eating every meal made of sweet potato known to man... a bag of store bought rice looks mighty appealing.

    Not sure that helps at all, but I get irked when people say food sufficiency only works in theory.  If I kept bees and added oil palms I would have virtually everything we need.
     
    William Bronson
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    Rabbits ,quail,and chickens eat "waste" and make food.
    Tilapia,catfish,crawdads,and carp cans do this as well.
    So do Black Solider Flies, mealie worms,and compost worms.

    I am only interested in the birds and mammals myself, but the others are options.

    In your climate I believe casavass will grow like J-chokes do here,which is to say,like a weed.
    Whatever edible that grows profusely can be made into another edible you want to eat by selling them, trading them or turning them into meat.

    I am building a fruit centric food forest,not because I can survive on fruit,rather because fresh fruit sells at a premium. So I can eat expensive food for free, or sell it for money or trade it , or turn it into booze,etc.

    My chickens will weed and fertilize the orchard,my quail will do the same for my raised beds, the rabbits will turn woody trimmings into poop(and please my daughter!).
    Even the green tops of jchokes can be dried and sold as rabbit treats!

    Every time a waste stream is made into a means of production,you get closer to self sufficiency.
    But the idea isn't to be insular ,that would be counter productive.
    Unless you are geographical isolated , you will be interacting with others. Free ranging  humans are part of your ecosystem and have to be included in your design as much as deer,wild birds,etc.
    We trade with pollinators and predatory insects to the benefit of each side. Attempting to do without them is folly. In the same way , I think planning your food web without including trade with nearby humans is not the best idea.

    Not today that anyone was advocating that,but I think the idea of trade isn't well represented in discussions of self sufficiency.
     
    Yousif Quadir
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    From comments so far, it seems total self sufficiency is a myth and/or getting anywhere close to it requires tremendous commitment.  And its only worth the effort if you enjoy gardening anyway.
     
    Keeping the pareto principle in mind, calories are cheap. So I should focus on producing my essential nutrients only.

    Vitamins, micronutrients, minerals, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids.

    So what zone 9 crops provide the most essential nutrients, in the least space? (Bonus if they are zero-effort perennials or self-propagating.)

     
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