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How Much Land Does It Take To Be Completely Self-Sufficient?

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How Much Land Does It Take To Be Completely Self-Sufficient?

Image via Justin Rhodes

How much land would it take to live an entirely self-sufficient life? A life so self-sufficient that you never had to leave your land? It is quite a thought-provoking question. When I was asked to write about this topic, I was immediately intrigued and began pondering variables in my head.

Because the lifestyle described in the question is our primary goal, I am going to use our homestead as not just an example, but as a way to prove my point and give a rock-solid answer about what it would take to be 100 percent self-reliant.

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I spent the better part of two decades running non-stop. I was an educator by trade, but I also coached several sports, ran two youth leagues, was a local elected official, and was involved in a whole host of community groups.

Now I prefer not to leave our homesteading survival retreat any more than absolutely necessary. I love our patch of sustainable heaven on Earth, and leaving it more than once a week tends to put me in a foul mood. So, you can see why a question about how much land it would take to live a self-sufficient life truly resonated with me.

We own 56 acres of land, yet we are not entirely self-sufficient and do have to leave in order to meet some of our needs. That much acreage sure seems like enough land for a family to live on… if it boasts the right features.

Our survival homesteading retreat has a natural spring, a pond, a clear and running creek that has never gone dry in nearly three years, and a well. I say we can firmly put a check in the water resources column.

The property has great dirt thanks to all the livestock that have lived on it for the past 100 years or so. We have ample gardening space, a nutrient compost pile, raised beds and container gardening areas, and a greenhouse. All dirt is not created equal, so we are blessed and can put a check in the food cultivation column as well.

We grow in multiple locations both indoor and out to avoid having our entire crop wiped out by an insect infestation, flooding, drought, or inclement weather. It might seem like it would take a ton of space to garden this way, but it can be done on less than an acre if you grow vertically, use containers, and perhaps enclose a porch and turn it into a solar-powered greenhouse.

People need protein in order to remain strong and survive. Another check in the food cultivation column for us. We raise chickens, ducks, and goats, so there is a constant supply of meat, eggs, and milk. We have space ready for cattle and rabbits and have moved them to the top of the prepping budget this year.

Homestead Chicken Coop

We have barns and coops and space to build plenty more if we feel the need to increase our herd and flock populations. We could run a herd of six cattle easily and still own enough pasture and hayfields to meet their dietary needs.

We raise our own turkeys and have plenty of them–along with deer–in our woods. Sustainable land should be a mixture of wooded areas for hunting and flat space for growing crops and cultivating hay for livestock.

Oddly, possessing all of this, my weekly trip off our hill always includes a grocery store stop.

Our home, which was a hunting lodge before we bought the place and turned it into a house, came complete with a professional grade butcher shop. There is even a hoist to lift up large livestock and transport it first into the butcher shop and then into the walk-in cooler. This was a huge bonus. Having space to butcher your own meat is a requirement if you want to never leave your homestead and don’t plan on living a vegetarian lifestyle.

We heat our home using a wood stove – the house came with an extra one, another added bonus. The house also came with a 2-year-old electric furnace, but we never really use it. The once-a-year hauling in of propane and all the wood in our forest allow us to heat sustainably.

We grow our own natural home remedy ingredients and are thankfully all in good health. Not one of us is reliant on a doctor’s care or prescription medication.

Old Homestead

So let’s recap. We are a family of seven – counting our daughter’s family that also lives on our hill in a different home. We own 56 acres with every one of the necessary natural attributes that land must possess in order to allow a self-sustainable lifestyle.

Wow, if 56 acres won’t get it done, how much land do you need to never have to leave your land?

The answer…

Size doesn’t matter. Yep, that is right. In this likely one instance in your entire life, the size absolutely does not matter.

Confused? I am not trying to skirt the actual questions I was asked to answer – I swear.

The more I thought about the amount of land necessary and what type of natural assets it contains, I kept coming back to that same answer.

Let me explain before you shake your head in disgust and rush back to Google to find some numerical acreage answer – which will be wrong.

I know folks who can and have lived off their land and would not have to leave to get their basic needs met. One rural couple lives on less than five acres and owns land with fewer natural resources than we possess on our land.

Another acquaintance is a suburban family of four that lives on about 1/4 acre. They too grow, raise, and process enough of their own food to never have to go to a grocery store.

Yet another family friend owns 200 acres. Obviously, they are rural and are a family of nine. They do not need to leave their home except in cases of a severe medical emergency.

The amount of land each family owns varies substantially in size. So, why can they live a self-sustainable life and we cannot on our 56 acres?

It boils down to this, folks: time and skills.

Those two short words make all the difference when the parcels of land being compared all boast natural resources.

Working the land to a degree where it produces all the groceries you need takes a lot of time and skill. We have the skills we need to meet the task, but only a little more than half the time it takes to raise or grow, harvest, process, and preserve the food.

You can own any amount of resource-rich land, but if the limits on your time or skills don’t allow you to work it properly, off to the grocery store you will go.

I give my husband and I an “A-” on our self-reliant skill set, our daughter a “B-” and her husband an “A-”, and I was always a tough grader. Whether we lived on 1/4 acre or 1,400 acres, we would still not be 100 percent self-sustainable as long as our time was split with outside work, there were still tools or equipment lacking, and we weren’t earning a 4.0 on our skill sets.

Family On Homestead

Is it unrealistic to expect to never leave your land? Not necessarily, but you would have to live a simple life, never need surgery or chemo, and own the tools necessary to make your own fabric, thread, leather, etc. Alright, Amazon delivers, even way out in the woods where we live, so maybe you won’t have to make your own clothing material and thread, but I bet you get the point about the importance of developing a self-reliant skill set…on steroids.

I paint a stringent picture of what it would really take to live off your land, not to dampen your dreams of buying your dream homestead, but to help you avoid an epic disappointment. Or worse yet, becoming so overwhelmed or disenfranchised that you throw in the towel and go back to being an avid consumer.

Most homesteads fail because the eager and dedicated owners simply miscalculated the amount of time and knowledge required to run it. I can plant enough food to feed a family of 25 on our land, but it would all wilt and die because I wouldn’t have the time to work a garden that large.

Never give up on the worthy dream of becoming entirely self-reliant. Instead, look at it as a long-range goal that will be a work in progress for many years. Every day that you are working your land, whether it is simply a corner lot in town or double-digit acres, you are improving the lives of your loved ones and preparing to survive a long-term disaster.

The skills you possess and the time you can put into your land matter far more than the number of acres on a deed.

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8 Comments

  1. marian cronin on April 2, 2019 at 11:43 am

    very honest and sensible advice. I have the same dream but when it comes to doing the work I am saddled with the grandkids and not an adult in sight. we are only human after all so start small and work a little more each year. establishing a homestead is the tough bit, maintenance becomes a habit.

  2. northernsarge on April 3, 2019 at 5:45 am

    So true. There is no one size of property that fits everyone. Skill sets and time available for working your acreage matter a lot. Raising cattle or goats requires more land than rabbits and chickens. If you live in a colder climate and utilize wood heat, more acreage is required for your fuel supply. Traditional gardening methods require more room than planting with square foot intensive gardening methods.
    We live on a 3 acre rural property and sometimes it is a lot of work just to keep up with maintenance, tending the land and working away from home all day. As the author points out, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

  3. Judge Holden on April 3, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Mark Twain, recalling growing up in the rural 19th century South, always mentioned the never ending droning hum of the spinning wheel, just producing home spun clothing for a family was a full time job apart from actually growing and harvesting the fiber.

  4. Kristin on May 16, 2019 at 9:31 pm

    I have to disagree. I have calculated the amount of land needed in our area that would make it possible to be self-sufficient in all our food. We need a minimum of 120 acres, for our family of 5 and two raw fed large breed dogs. We get less than 10” of rain a year here, so no beautiful green pastures for the animals to eat means they need a large amount of land to roam, plus, there is no water all winter so we must have hay in storage. That requires space to grow that hay. Every location is going to have a minimum amount of space required to sustain animals. Most locations people are homesteading in seem to have an abundance rain, so coming from that thought process, I can see how you would think time and skills are the limiting factor, but for people without that resource, space will most definitely be the limiting factor in how many animals the property can support.

  5. Rahul Gautam J on November 11, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    People need protein not necessarily from meat. How can you be self reliant if you are dependant on animals.Try bieng kind to them

  6. Jane on January 12, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Do you truly want to be 100% self reliant? I don’t. Spin your own fiber from your own animals? Make all your own clothing including the thread? Not buy as much as a box of salt at the grocery? I dont think for most of us it is going to be realistic. You are right. We all have limited time and skills. I think it best to pick a few things most meaningful and achievable to you and make a beginning. There is a learning curve and starting small avoids waste and disappointment. Maybe someone wants to start with a small garden, a few fruit trees and some chickens and learn to manage that well before expecting to grow all their own food. We try one new project a year if that. I love my acreage but there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything and there never will be. We have found it best to stick to the things that bring us joy and don’t see it as a failure if we aren’t totally self sufficient.

  7. Daddio7 on May 6, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    I think being self sufficient means not working off the property. How much land depends on how productive your land is. Having well watered fertile soil means you can get by with one tenth as much land as some one who has poor soil and little natural water available.

  8. Gordon Bone on July 13, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    I believe there is a difference between being as self reliant vs 100% self sufficient. It’s a matter of how one wishes to use/refer to the words. Self reliant to me is having a multiple list of skills and using the resourses there are around me to to be able to do as much as possible without needing to rely on outside resources. Being able to THINK and ADAPT, I believe, is one of the most important abilities one can ever have. I know how to do basic framing of a building, concrete, roofing etc. I do not have the resources to process ore to be able to make iron/steel. That’s just a common sense realization. I had some one tell me that is part of 100% self sufficiency. I do know basic welding. It all depends how and to what degree some people like to get real finite picky about it. Overall it’s generally understood and accepted that the two basically encompass the same term. I have 3.5 acres about 1.5 with trees, a well and about 2 acres of open space that provides plenty of options for me. There are sugar maples, maybe twenty or so scattered throughout the acreage. I just might learn how to tap into them next spring and make some syrup.The greatest challenge is time and the more over the available $$$ to do what I would like to do. I bought this place 5 years ago and have made significant changes but it is just the start. I am thankfull every day when I see the chaos in the cities. So I am setting realistic goals, knowing the limits of my abilities and to never quit improving my acreage a step at a time each day.

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