During this phase of pandemic and lockdown, these questions remain: Is subsistence farming the ideal way to live during these times? Should we just grow food for ourselves only for a period of time? What is the importance of subsistence farming now?
While the Food and Drug Administration said that the United States isn't experiencing any widespread food shortages amid the coronavirus, for now, I believe that as a homesteader, subsistence farming or what is called smallholder agriculture can bring organized food to your doorstep, just like it did mine. With just only a small parcel of land to grow your food, this concept has proven to become cost-effective and cheaper, especially during this time of the pandemic. And that is just one of the benefits!
With subsistence farming, I'm sure you have lots of questions circling your head too. How do you know if your homestead is good enough for subsistence farming? If not, how can you transform your homestead for subsistence farming?
If you want to know more about subsistence farming, please read on.
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In this article:
- The Practice of Self-Sufficiency
- Characteristics of Subsistence Farming
- Advantages of Subsistence Farming in Your Homestead
- How Big a Backyard Do You Need to Live Off of the Land?
What You Need to Know About Subsistence Farming
The Practice of Self-Sufficiency
Subsistence farming is the practice of self-sufficiency in which the farmers focus only on producing enough food for personal consumption. There is a direct and immediate relationship between production and consumption.
The main goal of this kind of farming is the family's survival.
Mostly, subsistence farming appeals to rural farmers because it provides them sufficient food, lessens expenses in transportation to a city and provides the opportunity to continue living in rural areas where life expenses, such as housing, and land are more affordable.
It also means that a family who practices subsistence farming is self-sufficient in terms of food and nothing needs to be borrowed or purchased from another source.
Characteristics of Subsistence Farming
Normally, only the family members — and maybe a few others — can work on the subsistence farm. But since we are all on a self-quarantine mode, it is up to the family members to till the land. Having lesser people do the work means shelling out lesser money too, making subsistence farming cheaper.
Usually, the land used for subsistence farming is very small, only 1 to 3 hectares since the main goal is only to produce consumption for the family.
In the case of having bigger farms, bigger lands might be needed. For maintaining bigger lands farmers might consider investing in their farming equipment and energy sources.
3. Fruitfulness and Efficiency
The subsistence farming is designated as low of inputs which are commonly provided by the farmer himself. The overall productivity tends to be low as farmers only need to provide for their own food supply, ideal especially during this time of pandemic.
With subsistence farming, there is no need for fertilizers and pesticides, and they could try to grow their products without using chemicals. Some farm animals could be useful in the process such as goose, duck, chicken, and others.
4. Power and Transport
Almost everything in subsistence farming is done without any help from fancy contraptions. Farmers plow the field, carrying out procedural tasks like grinding sugar cane and transport products.
The technology is mostly very simple.
Solar panels could be a smart investment for bigger scale farms, providing renewable energy and helps save money in the long term.
5. Income and Level of Living
Living off their own harvest and not having to worry about growing crops for extra income, the income and level of living of most subsistence farmers are below the poverty line.
Subsistence farmers still need to spend money to grow their crops and raise farm animals but since all this is for self-sufficiency, the crops may not bring any income other than food. Farm animals could bring a small amount of income depending on the situation.
6. Importance of Livestock
During this time, it is especially important to take care of your livestock. Not only does it provide a special safeguard to the farm families but farm animals are like savings for farmers. When this lockdown and pandemic are all over, it can be consumed or sold during crop failure or it can use for expenditures. Plus the eggs, meat, and other livestock products come free to the subsistence farmers.
Farm animals can help farmers to get a little amount of income. For instance, sheep wool, chicken eggs, goose eggs, duck eggs, cow milk, goat milk, among others, could be sold in small natural product markets.
7. Rationality and Risk
Subsistence farmers can be motivated to raise their standard of living, so long as the changes must fit into their current farming operations. They are now mentally ready to take risks and use the advantages of modern inputs.
8. Element of Uncertainty
Like any other kind of farming, uncertainty is one of the things you have to consider. Failure of crops is always a possibility that may ruin one as a farmer. With our trying times, keeping a closer eye out on the crops is best.
Advantages of Subsistence Farming in Your Homestead
1. Cheaper Farming Methods
Subsistence farming does not make use of expensive equipment that commercial farming needs like automatic weeder, cow milking machine, potato harvester, and tractors.
Unlike modern agriculture, farmers utilize simple and non-expensive farming methods of weed and soil management to produce healthy crops for the harvest.
2. No Need to Hire for Labor
Immediate family members do their part without the need to hire for external labor. Simple small-scale farming methods mostly do not require an extra hand to help with the production. This is good especially during this time of the pandemic.
Money that is supposedly used to hire individuals for farming purposes is given priority to more pressing family matters.
There are different options which can help those who need more labor power without spending extra money! There are multiple online platforms that connect volunteers who want to work on farms in exchange for free accommodation and food, with the farmers who need extra labor work.
Agricultural tourism is becoming more and more popular around the world, and people just want a place to stay and some food, which should not be a big issue for farmers for they’re already self-sufficient.
This also helps people to understand the value of farming once they experience it firsthand.
3. Ready Source of Employment
A high level of education and special skills are not required for an individual to get into subsistence farming. Basic farming skills such as being able to handle a cutlass and a hoe is enough.
Planting as well is based on the conventional locality timing, so it’s easier for people to venture into subsistence farming.
4. Ready Supply of Food
Ready food for the family is one of the advantages of subsistence farming and this is probably the most important given the current crisis. The primary source of food in most rural families is their own individual farms having their own chickens for eggs and milking their own cows, for example.
This way, family members don’t need to worry about fresh food supply as long as the homestead is well-organized for food production.
5. Good Use of Perennial Crops in Planting
Folks who are into subsistence farming cultivate perennial crops, save seeds, and take advantage of perennial crop planting in the process. Perennial grains do not require replanting which in turn provide these benefits:
- Use of annual rainfall – Perennial crops roots grow deep down under which allows the plant to tap into water reserves in deep-soil. The roots also have access to lots of available rainwater because they remain in the ground all year long.
- Reduces soil erosion – The extensive root systems of perennial crops grow to a depth of about eight to ten feet. This kind of reinforcement prevents the soil from eroding. The decrease in washing away of topsoil also reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer and farm chemicals that are sources of river and stream pollution.
6. Prevent Rural-Urban Drift
A lot of people who have lived in rural areas and are dependent on subsistence farming for a very long time prefer their own methods of simple living. Most of them could not afford adequate accommodation and don't see a compelling reason why they should settle for a life in the city.
These folks are content with what food they can produce from the land, thus, preventing people to move from the countryside to the city. Such preference allows village folks to remain in the rural areas helping prevent rural-urban migration.
A special shout out to eatdrinkbetter.com for the amazing infographic below:
How Big a Backyard Do You Need to Live off of the Land?
More and more people are turning away from grocery stores and utility companies in favor of their own back yard. The idea of becoming self-sufficient is an alluring one, but exactly how much land would you need?
Assuming a family of four, here are land requirements to sustain yourself for one year.
Average U.S. Roof Size: 2,000 Sq Ft. 1 Year of Electricity Requires 375 Sq Ft.
According to EIA average home in the U.S will consume 10,972 kWh of electricity in one year. It may fluctuate higher or lower depending on your heating or cooling needs.
Assuming the house is facing south and there are 7 hours of sunlight, it would take about 25 solar panels (using panels of average efficiency) to fulfill energy requirements, which would take about 375 square feet of the roof surface.
9,200 Calories for a Family of Four, per Day Requires 76,666 Sq Ft.
Maintaining a vegetation diet of 2300 calories per person, per day requires .44 acres per person. This included fruits, grains and of course, vegetables.
In an ideal setting, suitable farmland can also grow fruit trees to provide a well-rounded diet. Some vegetables require much more land than others, including potatoes and cucumbers.
1 Year of Wheat Requires 12,012 Sq Ft.
The average person consumes 1.5 pounds of wheat a week. In order to maintain that diet of wheat, you must allow for at least 3,003 square feet of wheat per person.
If some of this wheat is going to livestock, adjust for the extra.
If You Eat Meat, Eggs And/Or Dairy, 1 Year of Meat Requires 207 Sq Ft.
Let's say you wish to add a little bacon to your self-sustained diet then starting off with three pigs. This can feed a family of four twice per week, for a year.
If you wish to add some piglets to the mix allow 9 square feet per pig or piglet.
1 Year of Dairy Requires 100 Sq Ft.
If you wish to add dairy to your diet forget about getting a cow for they are not land-efficient. Think about a Nubian goat instead.
A Nubian goat can produce 1,844 lbs of milk a year. Keep in mind that goats, like cows, do require some grazing land and companionship.
1 Year of Eggs Requires 65 Sq Ft.
A hen can lay anywhere from 80 to 300 eggs in one year. The average American eats about five eggs a week.
For a family of four eating 1,000 eggs in a year, it would require 13 birds to put scrambled eggs on the table in the morning.
1 Year of Corn Requires 2,640 Sq Ft.
Corn is multifunctional produce that is necessary when growing animals in your backyard farm. However, corn is not land-efficient.
You would need at least 2,640 sqft of corn to produce enough for your family and animals. We did not include corn in our final calculations, assuming instead that you’d prefer to buy bushels of corn feed (a bushel of corn is 56 pounds) for less than $5 each.
You will need a backyard that is at least 89,050 Sq Ft this is about 2 acres.
If a family of four is willing to buy flour instead of growing their own wheat, they’d only need about 1.5 acres to have a mixed diet of veggies, eggs, meat, and milk.
Self-sufficiency in your homestead requires dedication to maintain enough food supply for your family's daily consumption, especially during this time of crisis and pandemic. With that said, the simplicity of subsistence farming also has its own ups and downs.
However, if you have some understanding of basic farming and you're willing to live a simple and quiet life and of course, grow your own food with some groceries and supermarkets running out of stock now, you might do well with it than what is expected.
What do you think about subsistence farming? Let us know in the comments section what your thoughts are on why homesteaders should practice subsistence farming now.
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Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.