What Does It Really Take to Feed Your Family?

In Farming, General, Media, Sustainability by Cathryn

America has a love affair with farmers.  From iconic imagery, like American Gothic, to reality television shows that help a handsome young farmer in his quest for a wife, we have inherited a respect for their independence and dedication.  Even with 98.5 percent of the population completely removed from agriculture, images of the American farmer permeate our culture and construct our heritage.

The coupling of this healthy respect with a desire to return to what many view as a simpler, more thoughtful lifestyle has heavily influenced many foodies to recreate small portions of their lives.  From city dwellers keeping chickens in backyards to urbanites building community gardens, a growing number of Americans want to explore farming in a real, tactile manner.

As these trends receive increasing attention, it becomes increasingly important that these noble, well-intentioned desires also become more informed.  Fresh laid eggs on subdivision breakfast tables and shopping bags of fresh basil aside, the business of farming is serious work.

So, what would it really take to feed the average family of four intent upon growing and raising every scrap of food to hit the table? It would take about two acres.

This idea seems somewhat hard to imagine.  Luckily, a group called One Block Off the Grid developed this infographic to show exactly what this family would have to raise and the amount of land these crops and livestock would require.

Notably, said family would have to adopt some dietary changes that the majority if Americans might not consider acceptable.  Beef and traditional milk would not be an option.  Instead, they would need to adhere to a diet that allows only limited portions of pork and poultry with dairy products created using goat’s milk.  For many months of the year depending upon the climate, even on this hypothetical farm based in a nearly ideal climate, vegetables would only come from the supply they spent many hours carefully canning and stocking on pantry shelves.  Fruit would actually have to be viewed as a treat and not what mom substituted for real dessert.  Incredible hard work and significant land ownership aside, this family would hardly be living the locally produced dream that is so easy to envision in the fine dining restaurants that tout the movement’s virtues.

Examining this scenario can turn up many ideas and feelings as unique as their creators.  What it should turn up almost universally though is a healthy respect for American agriculture.

Our society enjoys an abundance and variety of food heretofore unimaginable.  We have access to nutritious, affordable food that the vast majority of the world envies.  Despite rising rates of obesity, the prevalence of calorie-laden options and a general propensity toward the often deliciously decadent, the vast majority of Americans have the luxury of pondering their food issues with a full stomach.

Maybe, we should thank our farmers.  They do work tirelessly cultivating the vast tracts of land needed to feed a growing population.  They keep abreast of the newest technology and practices to constantly improve their operations.  While most of us sleep peacefully, farmers are already awake and in their fields making sure that we have something on our breakfast plates.

Tending a plot of tomatoes is an excellent way to explore our heritage while cultivating something to proudly serve guests.  At the same time, it is imperative that we continue to embrace our respect for the farmers who make life as we know it possible.