How big a yard do I need?

This was a question that was asked many, many times in the months leading up to the purchase of my family’s home late last year. It was probably THE question, really, as new listings were immediately considered or discounted based on the square footage of the lot. We live within a fairly dense neighborhood of Newburyport where the average lot size is far less than a quarter acre. The combination of my profession (landscape architecture), the fact that we have two young and very active kids, and that we plan to continue cultivating our own fruits and vegetables meant our desired minimum lot requirement was greater than average for our preferred location. We were lucky to find what we were looking for, and I cannot wait to get out in the yard once the ground thaws.


But how big a yard does one really need? The other day I stumbled upon this infographic online, which breaks down the necessary yard size to sustain a family of four. Genius. The average person consumes 2300 calories per day, so if you break that down into the literal square footage necessary to grow a variable diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains, that translates into just under a half an acre per person.  If you add to that some meat (for those of us who like a little bacon with our lettuce and tomato), dairy, and eggs, the number increases by another 375 sf or so. The infographic describes ways to reduce area needs based on types of dairy, etc., but the bottom line is that it takes roughly 2 acres of land to feed a family of four.

This graphic has generated some criticisms: corn is unnecessary for humans and livestock, cattle destroy the environment, some animals have smaller area requirements, there are more efficient ways to grow food, but the take home message is that we can all become a little more self-sufficient, even in baby steps. And what if we consider the square footage of our rooftops, community gardens, or sharing the under-utilized land of our neighbors who live in neighborhoods with larger lot sizes? I know I plan to trade some of my produce this year for a friend’s eggs. Baby steps…



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