7

# Is 1.7 acres of agricultural land enough to feed someone a paleo diet?

Created December 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM

I had asked a related question before, but didn't seem to get much in the way of quantitative answers:

http://paleohacks.com/questions/129116/must-we-really-concede-that-paleo-primal-for-all-is-not-sustainable

So here is a different angle. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in 2009 the Earth had a total of 4,889,048,210 hectares of agricultural land, broken down as:

• Arable land: 1,381,204,040 hectares
• Permanent crops: 152,149,880 hectares
• Pasture: 3,355,694,290 hectares

And the Earth's population is approximately 7,052,133,000 people which means there is:

• 0.48 acres of arable land per person
• 0.05 acres of permanent crop per person
• 1.18 acres of pasture per person

for a total of 1.71 acres of agricultural land per person. Is this enough to support a paleo diet? Note, this doesn't include fish/seafood from lakes/rivers/oceans.

Update. In this video:

Joel Salatin says he gets 400 cow-days per acre. If I'm understanding the metric correclty, that works out to 0.91 acres/cow indefinitely (in his climate).

(9402)

on July 14, 2013
at 12:36 AM

No, I just skipped over that step for brevity. It's 0.69 hectare per person which works out to 1.7 acres.

(9402)

on January 02, 2013
at 05:15 PM

I am implying that the Earth could sustainably support the curent population on a paleo diet - including those that choose a meat centric version (regardless if it is most healthy or not).

(2954)

on January 02, 2013
at 03:55 PM

Depends on the quality of the land and the methods used. But if two acres could feed my family of 8 and have extra for useless stuff like wine grapes, I don't see why 1.7 acres couldn't feed 1 person... Land quality can be improved. Look into permaculture. Diversify. I actually have 2 acres and will be testing this with my boyfriend in a couple of years.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 09:41 PM

I don't think it's a Paleo bias. Ecological Agriculture models support that farming works best when animals and crops are produced side-by-side in a system where by-products of crop production are used to enhance animal production and vice-versa.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 09:09 PM

As far as the Joel Salatin/Polyface Farm model, I think that could definitely make a huge difference in the amount Paleo foods available. The only problem I see is that model works best in areas with good agricultural land (which remains fertile by the way they work it). But much of the world's agricultural land is not that great and unfortunately in the US we keep allowing urban sprawl to consume a lot of good farmland, especially in the Midwest where I live. Everyday, some small farmer calls it quits and his very good quality farm becomes a subdivision. It really saddens me to see it.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 08:58 PM

In many places in Europe, marginal pasture has been used in a sustainable way for centuries to graze fiber-producing animals (mostly sheep). These animals are usually only consumed as a way to cull the herd of old, sick animals or an unsustainable number of animals. It wouldn't be practical or sustainable to try to turn this pasture land into meat production land. They are better left the way they are being managed now. That said, I know there are many ways we could change our agricultural practices to produce more meat, veggies, fruits and nuts.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 08:51 PM

Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. I was not including our current forested areas in this. Only agricultural land, which includes pasture, rangeland, arable lands, and permanent crops such as orchards, coffee etc. Most people think of agricultural land as land for food, but the world's people use a lot of agricultural land for fiber and fuel. If people in developing lands could no longer use their agricultural land for fuel, we would have to find other ways for them to warm their houses and cook their food. Also, a lot of sleep-sloped and rocky pasture is unsuitable for cattle or meat production.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:50 PM

I'm guessing you're familiar with Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms? That's what I'm thinking. My understanding is that type of farming (perennial polyculture) creates top soil each year, prevents erosion and produces a variety of nutritious animals/plants for human consumption. I'm asking the question that if we used all available agric. land in that way (a huge shift in farming, I know), could we support everyone on a paleo diet. The going assumption that I feel everyone takes for granted is that the Earth cannot support 7B people eating a paleo diet that includes a sizable proportion of meat.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:48 PM

I'm guessing your familiar with Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms? That's what I'm thinking. My understanding is that type of farming (perennial polyculture) creates top soil each year and prevents erosion and produces a variety of nutritious animals/plants for human consumption. I'm asking the question that if we used all available land in that way (a massive shift in farming I know), could we support everyone on a paleo diet. The going assumption that I feel everyone takes for granted is that the Earth cannot support 7B people eating a paleo diet that includes a sizable proportion of meat.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:45 PM

Cotton is a good point. According to https://www.cotton.org/edu/faq/ it looks like, US uses 10.3M acres to produce 17.9M bales. Global production is ~100M bales, which would require ~57.5M total acres (or 0.008 acres per person). This would change my 1.713 acres/person to 1.705 acres/person.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:40 PM

Leather and wool should be obtainable as a byproduct of raising cows and sheep for food, right? I don't envision bio-ethanol as part of any long-term sustainable solution and think we would ideally not utilize agricultural land for energy, but instead focus on solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, whatever.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:37 PM

Thanks. Very insightful. Though note, the above land sizes do not include an additional 4,038,719,460 hectares (almost 10B acres) of forest which could be used for timber. Though I imagine we could also use the forests to get some food in a sustainable way (without cutting down the trees) which would be incremental to the 1.7 acres/person.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:32 PM

Thanks for the input. I understand that the general sentiment is that the Earth is overpopulated. I'm just trying to move it towards a more quantitative/fact-based discussion, if possible. If we are over-populated, what the is the right upper limit for the Earth's sustainable population, assuming we can shift towards more sustainable/productive forms of farming (e.g., perennial polyculture).

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 10:46 PM

Agreed, but currently many, if not most, folks are eating meat-centric paleo.

(32556)

on December 31, 2012
at 10:28 PM

Paleo doesn't need to be meat-centric.

(20898)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:49 PM

nope, you need the herbivores. Check out the stuff that Joel Salatan does. The whole plant, herbivore, human cycle is needed for self sustainability.

(3924)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:48 PM

Those 2-3 deer would also need at least a few acres of good forage (or a lot more acres of marginal forage), so although you may be able to feed a family on a small farm, not everyone could. As soon as you have back-to-back farms, someone has to "feed the deer" with their pasture/woodlot/garden or the deer will disappear along with a big chunk of your family's protein/animal fat.

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:41 PM

Pasture isn't that productive. Maybe 3-4 acres per cow? Depends on the locale. You could get that down to 2-3 acres with rotational grazing maybe. Or shrink the animal... the smaller ruminant is the goat (which is what I raise).

(26217)

on December 31, 2012
at 07:43 PM

Thanks Matt, Again, this is where my ignorance of farming becomes a problem. But if I could do the talipa, chicken, cows, and veggies on 2 acres, that's still 5 acres for hay (or I guess 4.5 because I haven't build my farm house yet)? or still not enough?

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 07:36 PM

You'd need a hefty supply of hay to support cows on 1/2 acre. That's would take a few acres to produce itself.

(9402)

on December 31, 2012
at 02:09 PM

Thanks. It seems to me the whole setup is more sustainable if it includes animals of some sort to complete the cycle. Maybe that's my paleo bias speaking...

(9402)

on December 31, 2012
at 02:08 PM

Nice! Thank you.

(11488)

on December 31, 2012
at 12:54 PM

That is absolutely incredible. I couldn't be more impressed.

(225)

on December 31, 2012
at 03:42 AM

Agree 100%. Nutritionally dense sources of protean that by weight require less food and substantially less water. I've eaten crickets and Meal worm loaf. Neither were great, but the possibilities are amazing...I doubt it will fly off the shelves though :)

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 07:35 PM

@Roth - Yeah, that's why I ask. I understand that is the prevailing assumption, but I have a feeling it's unfounded. Is there something off with my calculations/assumptions/etc above?

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 07:33 PM

Thanks. I was thinking more along the lines of Polyface Farms. Using technology, labor and intelligence to maximize the production on the land in a sustainable and nutritious way.

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 07:32 PM

That's awesome! Thank you.

(2919)

on December 30, 2012
at 05:54 PM

No diet will feed all 7 billion people. Not Paleo, not GAPS, not vegetarianism and DEFINITELY not veganism. Some of those 7 billion will starve.

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 05:31 PM

Thanks. Always value your comments. Agree 100% this would require a massive shift in how we farm (i.e., towards perennial polyculture). One question: If you took a wild bison (for example) and processed it nose to tail, what would the caloric breakdown be between fat and protein? Wouldn't that (plus some carbs) be a potentially reasonable breakdown for humans to consume? Otherwise, we're throwing away some of the lean?

(9402)
• Views
2.5K
• Last Activity
1255D AGO

Get FREE instant access to our Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!

6

(415)

on December 30, 2012
at 06:50 PM

This family of four is growing all their food in and around a 16???W x 16???L x 3.5???D = 896 ft?? pool. It's its own little ecosystem.

http://gardenpool.org/

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 07:32 PM

That's awesome! Thank you.

(11488)

on December 31, 2012
at 12:54 PM

That is absolutely incredible. I couldn't be more impressed.

6

(41757)

on December 30, 2012
at 05:23 PM

Currently I don't think paleo is sustainable on a global scale. One, the meat-centric variety of paleo is incredibly wasteful in terms of nutrients. Folks, protein is not meant to be energy! Two, the current state of farming isn't suited to such labor-intensive farming (as would be required to eke out maximum production on minimum land.)

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 05:31 PM

Thanks. Always value your comments. Agree 100% this would require a massive shift in how we farm (i.e., towards perennial polyculture). One question: If you took a wild bison (for example) and processed it nose to tail, what would the caloric breakdown be between fat and protein? Wouldn't that (plus some carbs) be a potentially reasonable breakdown for humans to consume? Otherwise, we're throwing away some of the lean?

(32556)

on December 31, 2012
at 10:28 PM

Paleo doesn't need to be meat-centric.

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 10:46 PM

Agreed, but currently many, if not most, folks are eating meat-centric paleo.

(9402)

on January 02, 2013
at 05:15 PM

I am implying that the Earth could sustainably support the curent population on a paleo diet - including those that choose a meat centric version (regardless if it is most healthy or not).

5

(1672)

on December 30, 2012
at 11:55 PM

limited space? the solution is invertebrates.

huge source of protein and nutrients there.

grow far quicker than fish and chickens let alone bigger animals. virtually limitless under the right conditions.

(20898)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:49 PM

nope, you need the herbivores. Check out the stuff that Joel Salatan does. The whole plant, herbivore, human cycle is needed for self sustainability.

(225)

on December 31, 2012
at 03:42 AM

Agree 100%. Nutritionally dense sources of protean that by weight require less food and substantially less water. I've eaten crickets and Meal worm loaf. Neither were great, but the possibilities are amazing...I doubt it will fly off the shelves though :)

4

(831)

on December 31, 2012
at 12:10 AM

People are doing it on less all over the world. We feed a family of 5 on less than 5 acres. Here is another excellent example: http://urbanhomestead.org/

(9402)

on December 31, 2012
at 02:08 PM

Nice! Thank you.

4

(32556)

on December 30, 2012
at 03:58 PM

Sounds possible to me. Here's one person's take:

http://www.farmlandlp.com/2012/01/one-acre-feeds-a-person/

3

(178)

on January 02, 2013
at 03:06 PM

you know, thats been my dream for so long... living off my farm, fishing in the stream, spinning wool from my sheepies, canning meat and veg in my sunny kitchen, gathering nuts and fruit from my trees. Just have to FIND the dang place!
so far I haven't seen anyone mention the barter system. I personally don't know how to care for ruminants, it's completely overwhelming to me. but I can garden like nobody's business. I'll give farmer Bob a good deal on fruit/veg/nut flour, if he'll give me a good deal on a cow carcass, butchered for me of course. Thoughts?

2

(3924)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:31 PM

One huge factor that you left out of your equation is that humans produce more than food on their agricultural land. We also use it to produce fuel and fiber, such as wool, hemp, cotton, and timber products. People desire other products besides food . . . So, we also have to ask if people would be willing to give up these products in order to eat a Paleo diet.

In addition, we must also ask if taking all the current agricultural land in the world and putting it into food production is sustainable. I would argue that we already have turned too much our land into agricultural land and that the only sustainable solution is to return some of our arable land to forest, perennial crops, grasslands, wetlands and pasture. I am currently writing my dissertation on how farmers can work together to produce more ecosystem services on their land which are services humans need to live, but agriculture alone cannot produce enough of these services and usually produces disservices instead (think of soil retention as a service provided by perennial crops and erosion as a disservice produced by uncovered soil and poor tillage practices). We need more perennial cover that also supports a diverse animal population, not less which is the trend in agriculture today.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:45 PM

Cotton is a good point. According to https://www.cotton.org/edu/faq/ it looks like, US uses 10.3M acres to produce 17.9M bales. Global production is ~100M bales, which would require ~57.5M total acres (or 0.008 acres per person). This would change my 1.713 acres/person to 1.705 acres/person.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:40 PM

Leather and wool should be obtainable as a byproduct of raising cows and sheep for food, right? I don't envision bio-ethanol as part of any long-term sustainable solution and think we would ideally not utilize agricultural land for energy, but instead focus on solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, whatever.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:50 PM

I'm guessing you're familiar with Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms? That's what I'm thinking. My understanding is that type of farming (perennial polyculture) creates top soil each year, prevents erosion and produces a variety of nutritious animals/plants for human consumption. I'm asking the question that if we used all available agric. land in that way (a huge shift in farming, I know), could we support everyone on a paleo diet. The going assumption that I feel everyone takes for granted is that the Earth cannot support 7B people eating a paleo diet that includes a sizable proportion of meat.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:37 PM

Thanks. Very insightful. Though note, the above land sizes do not include an additional 4,038,719,460 hectares (almost 10B acres) of forest which could be used for timber. Though I imagine we could also use the forests to get some food in a sustainable way (without cutting down the trees) which would be incremental to the 1.7 acres/person.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:48 PM

I'm guessing your familiar with Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms? That's what I'm thinking. My understanding is that type of farming (perennial polyculture) creates top soil each year and prevents erosion and produces a variety of nutritious animals/plants for human consumption. I'm asking the question that if we used all available land in that way (a massive shift in farming I know), could we support everyone on a paleo diet. The going assumption that I feel everyone takes for granted is that the Earth cannot support 7B people eating a paleo diet that includes a sizable proportion of meat.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 09:09 PM

As far as the Joel Salatin/Polyface Farm model, I think that could definitely make a huge difference in the amount Paleo foods available. The only problem I see is that model works best in areas with good agricultural land (which remains fertile by the way they work it). But much of the world's agricultural land is not that great and unfortunately in the US we keep allowing urban sprawl to consume a lot of good farmland, especially in the Midwest where I live. Everyday, some small farmer calls it quits and his very good quality farm becomes a subdivision. It really saddens me to see it.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 08:58 PM

In many places in Europe, marginal pasture has been used in a sustainable way for centuries to graze fiber-producing animals (mostly sheep). These animals are usually only consumed as a way to cull the herd of old, sick animals or an unsustainable number of animals. It wouldn't be practical or sustainable to try to turn this pasture land into meat production land. They are better left the way they are being managed now. That said, I know there are many ways we could change our agricultural practices to produce more meat, veggies, fruits and nuts.

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 08:51 PM

Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. I was not including our current forested areas in this. Only agricultural land, which includes pasture, rangeland, arable lands, and permanent crops such as orchards, coffee etc. Most people think of agricultural land as land for food, but the world's people use a lot of agricultural land for fiber and fuel. If people in developing lands could no longer use their agricultural land for fuel, we would have to find other ways for them to warm their houses and cook their food. Also, a lot of sleep-sloped and rocky pasture is unsuitable for cattle or meat production.

2

(26217)

on December 31, 2012
at 06:50 PM

I think I could definitely feed a family of 4-5 on a 2 acre plot.

One could develop a proper, self-sustaining, small-scale aquaculture in a large above ground pool (something in the 700 sq foot range).

For chickens, the rule of thumb I have heard for meat and eggs is 3 birds per person + 20. Assuming you are going with a fast growth breed (like the Boilers) that would be 35 birds -- which would need a 200 sq ft enclosure within a 1/4 acre for rummaging.

So the chicken and fish are contained in half an acre (with room for a decent storage shed).

You'd probably need a few milk cows too (at least I would) so add a half an acre for them.

That would leave a whole acre for farming which would be more than enough to grow veggies for a family of 4-5. You would probably even get enough that you could can or freeze enough for the winter months.

Add in 2-3 deer that wonder into the yard at the wrong time, and you could easily live in a sustainable fashion.

The margins are pretty tight though, a drought or disease and you'd be up the creek without a paddle. But your question was 1.7 per person, so a family of four might be able to bank on ~7 acres. I definitely think that is doable.

The only thing that would negate it for me is that I have no idea how to farm without going to my local farm and getting the seed tape....

(26217)

on December 31, 2012
at 07:43 PM

Thanks Matt, Again, this is where my ignorance of farming becomes a problem. But if I could do the talipa, chicken, cows, and veggies on 2 acres, that's still 5 acres for hay (or I guess 4.5 because I haven't build my farm house yet)? or still not enough?

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:41 PM

Pasture isn't that productive. Maybe 3-4 acres per cow? Depends on the locale. You could get that down to 2-3 acres with rotational grazing maybe. Or shrink the animal... the smaller ruminant is the goat (which is what I raise).

(3924)

on December 31, 2012
at 09:48 PM

Those 2-3 deer would also need at least a few acres of good forage (or a lot more acres of marginal forage), so although you may be able to feed a family on a small farm, not everyone could. As soon as you have back-to-back farms, someone has to "feed the deer" with their pasture/woodlot/garden or the deer will disappear along with a big chunk of your family's protein/animal fat.

(41757)

on December 31, 2012
at 07:36 PM

You'd need a hefty supply of hay to support cows on 1/2 acre. That's would take a few acres to produce itself.

2

(10611)

on December 30, 2012
at 06:30 PM

If you mean industrial feedlot farming, possibly, but only for a few rich people. If you mean paleo in the ancestral sense, no. It took millions of square miles to support a few million nomads intent on extracting everything edible that the entire American continent produced. Food does not naturally concentrate itself into small plots. A couple acres supports a couple wild squirrels.

(9402)

on December 30, 2012
at 07:33 PM

Thanks. I was thinking more along the lines of Polyface Farms. Using technology, labor and intelligence to maximize the production on the land in a sustainable and nutritious way.

2

(26217)

on December 30, 2012
at 06:14 PM

Need at least 1.75

In reality I have a very small garden. Essential 4 10x2 foot strips. Plus a couple of pots for herbs . That's more than enough veggies to sustain 3-4 people. The problem is the animal supply. Fish and poultry can grow can be grown pretty quickly though.

(9402)

on December 31, 2012
at 02:09 PM

Thanks. It seems to me the whole setup is more sustainable if it includes animals of some sort to complete the cycle. Maybe that's my paleo bias speaking...

(3924)

on January 01, 2013
at 09:41 PM

I don't think it's a Paleo bias. Ecological Agriculture models support that farming works best when animals and crops are produced side-by-side in a system where by-products of crop production are used to enhance animal production and vice-versa.

1

(64)

on December 31, 2012
at 11:46 PM

Overpopulation is the underlying issue here. Too many people using too many resources and not replacing them. Whether it be food, feul, energy, water. The simple solution, we go back to being hunter gatherers and most of these seemingly complex problems slowly disappear. The agricultural revolution caused a lot more harm than good.

(9402)

on January 01, 2013
at 04:32 PM

Thanks for the input. I understand that the general sentiment is that the Earth is overpopulated. I'm just trying to move it towards a more quantitative/fact-based discussion, if possible. If we are over-populated, what the is the right upper limit for the Earth's sustainable population, assuming we can shift towards more sustainable/productive forms of farming (e.g., perennial polyculture).

0

(140)

on July 13, 2013
at 10:07 PM

Mike T,

You appear to have switched over accidentally from hectares to acres in your calculations. A hectare is ~ 2.5 acres, iirc, meaning there would be 1.7*2.5 = 4.25 acres per person, more or less.

(9402)

on July 14, 2013
at 12:36 AM

No, I just skipped over that step for brevity. It's 0.69 hectare per person which works out to 1.7 acres.