Limits of Foraging

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    I’ve long had this somewhat romantic idea that if some type of crunch hit, there’d be plenty of vegetation around to survive off of, and would only need to supplement my canned foods a little bit. I purchased my wild edible and medicinal plants books and cards, and went on some local plant identification hikes to learn what’s in the area.

    A friend recently moved to the country and put in a few garden beds. As we talked about our group, I decided to see how much land we’d need to put to garden in order to provide for our group at various sizes.

    BOY, was I shocked and rudely awakened from my blissful dream world. I found some estimates where the American Indians used to figure on about 10 square miles per square person. This would provide a sustainable level of harvesting wild foods without stripping the land bare. In lush areas, such as the Southeastern US, about 2/3 of a square mile per person would provide, whereas in the desert southwest, 12.5 square miles per person would be required.

    Using the figures for the five largest metro areas, I ran some calculations for how much land would be required to allow foraging for these largest cities.
    NYC would need almost 12.5 million square miles for lush foraging and just under 189 million square miles at 10 square miles per person.
    For perspective, that’s a radius of 1992 mi radius and 7756 mi. That would overlap most of the United States and Canada.

    For the four other largest cities, I found this for 2/3 sq mi for lush and 10 sq mi, then the radius for each. :
    LA 8.4 million square miles/128 million square miles, 1642 mile radius/6390mi radius.
    Chicago 6.2 million square miles/ 94.6 million square miles, 1410 mile radius/ 5488 mi.
    Miami 3.7 million square miles/ 55.6 million square miles, 1081 mi radius/ 4209 mi .
    Philadelphia 3.9 million square miles/ 59.6 million square miles, 1119 mi radius/ 4358mi radius.

    Well, foraging looked pretty bad when competing with all those people. On a micro level for just my wife & I, we would almost a 2/3 mile radius without competition for a lush area (which we don’t live in), and at 10 square miles per person, we’d need a dedicated 2.5 mile radius. With the population density in my area, I’d be competing with 6,230 other starving people for the same edible vegetation, IF it wasn’t winter.

    So I looked at gardening.

    Typical gardening in a lush environment would require 1.5 acres per person. Using intensive gardening techniques could get that down to .1-.2 acres per person, but .5 acres per person was more attainable.

    Using the same cities, I figured out how many square miles of land dedicated to gardening would be required to support their population and the radius:
    New YorkCity 14,763 sq mi, 69 mi radius.
    LA 10,023 sq mi, 56 mi radius.
    Chicago 7,391 sq mi, 49 mi radius.
    Miami 4,347 sq mi, 37 mi radius.
    Philadelphia 4,660 sq mi, 39 mi radius.

    In my area, we’d need over 1600 square miles to support the population. Again, that’s land exclusively dedicated to gardening.

    THAT’s when it really hit me about the importance of food storage. Gardening may be a good for those with adequate land or as a supplement when seasons allow. Knowledge of foraging is also helpful, especially if you’re on the move.

    If there is a crunch and food supplies are affected, it could get pretty ugly, but, dealing with THAT is a topic for another thread.

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