One of the first things that popped into my mind is what exactly are you planning on "farming". If you want to run a cow/calf herd and a cow/calf herd only then you are going to need a quite a bit of land. But, if you are going to have a market garden, some cut flowers, and a couple of berry patches you can probably make a living on something like fifteen acres. And, if you add value by making jams, selling flower arrangements, or something along those lines then you can add even more to your profit.
But, I'm not much of a vegetable eater so I would have hard time running a market garden. I wouldn't know what is best, what tastes best, or even have a strong passion for what I'm doing. That made me think about how much land I would need to have a diverse operation that includes livestock, a small garden, berries, and maybe even some agri-tourism.
Of course it would really depend on the quality of land and soil in your area, but I live in the rather fertile soil of the Midwest so we will just stick with that as a basis. I'm thinking that I could sustain my family on 160 acres or maybe 120 acres if around 80 to 100 acres are pasture or tillable ground. We could use the woodlot to heat our house and do some selective harvesting of the best trees. On 80 acres of pasture I think we could raise a nice Dexter herd of at least 30 cows, a flock of sheep as big as 50 ewes, any number of heritage hogs running on the edges of the pasture and woodlot, heritage turkeys and pastured poultry following the cows and sheep, and of course some laying hens. I think we would be able to make enough hay off that number of acres to sustain the farm through the winter. If you add in some value added stuff like berries or a small garden I think you can make it work.
Now, that all sounds well and good except for one thing. I couldn't even come close to affording 120 or 160 acres of land in Iowa! So, let's tone it down a little and see what is possible...
What if a person had 40 acres (a common size of section in Iowa). If you had an acreage that size I would think about 15 acres would be a good size for the wood lot because one big piece of sustainability is the ability to heat your house instead of relying on the gas man or electrical company. So, that would leave you with 25 acres of pasture or tillable land. That doesn't seem like very much, but let us think about what we could do with it. Possibly you could run a herd of 10 to 15 Dexter cows, 20 or so ewes, a smaller flock of heritage turkey, pastured laying hens and meat birds following the livestock, you still would have room for pigs in the woodlot and on the edges. Making hay becomes an issue, but I think you could get close to enough if you had the right type of pastures (it may take some seeding and pasture management). I think this would be a great size of place to have some sort of agri-tourism and on farm marketing of berries. You could even add value by selling meat by the cut instead of on the half or whole. A lot of value adding would have to be done, but it may be possible.
Now, here are the wild cards. First of all, I'm assuming the use of management intensive grazing in all of these scenarios, and possibly even ultra high stock density grazing. Secondly, one of the biggest keys to a sustainable farm is that you are using your farm to provide as much food for your family as possible. What is the point of raising food and having the land to raise food if you aren't eating it yourself? But, that is what many modern farms are doing!
What do you think? How much land do you need to sustain a family in todays world?
As an extra . . .
In no particular order here are my 10 favorite books that help guide farming thoughts... for the moment. I have also included links for each book if you are interested in purchasing them. These links are affiliate links, so if you are interested in one of the books and enjoy the show it does support the show a little.
- You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin (The very first farming book that I read ... and I've since read it more than once) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about Joel Salatin
- All Flesh is Grass: Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming by Gene Logsdon (A passionate call to pasture based agriculture) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "All Flesh is Grass"
- The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon (The yeoman farmer does not have to be a thing of the past) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about Gene Logsdon
- The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry (A great book for the person interested in the "culture" of agriculture) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about Wendell Berry
- The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Maybe controversial depending on your views, but I did take a lot away from it) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "The Omnivore's Dilemma"
- Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher (The nuts and bolts of beginning a farm) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "Making Your Small Farm Profitable"
- Comeback Farms by Greg Judy (One book that I wish I would have read before I began farming) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "Comeback Farms"
- Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober (Lots of knowledge ... maybe read this one after the next one on the list) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "Dirt Hog"
- Small-Scale Pig Raising by Dirk Van Loon (Recommended by Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm, that is enough of a reason to read it if you ask me) -The Beginning Farmer blogs about "Small-Scale Pig Raising"
- A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965 by Leslie A. Loveless (A book that I pick up when I need to be encouraged in my farming ventures)