The Grow Biointensive Sustainable Mini Farm

Miracle Farm Blueprint

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Approximate Crop Area Percentages for Sustainability: 60/30/10

Approximately 40 beds (4,000 sq ft) for one person (~5,000 sq ft including paths)

high-calorie root crops (e.g., potatoes) for maximum calories -12 beds

60% carbon-and-calorie crops (e.g., grains) for maximum carbon and satisfactory calorie production -24 beds

Biointensive Plant Spacing

10% vegetable crops (e.g., salad crops) for vitamins and minerals ~4 beds

If desired, 50% to 75% of the vegetable crops area may be used for income crops.


General Aids for Planning Your Diet

  • 60% of the area: "Carbon-and-calorie crops"—High-carbon-producing and significant-calorie-producing (weight-efficient [see below], crops)
  • Grains: wheat, cereal rye, oats, barley, triticale, corn, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, etc.
  • Fava beans (grown to maturity for dry bean and dry biomass production)
  • Sunflowers (sunflower seeds very high in fat; maximum to avoid copper toxicity = 0.62 pound per day)
  • Jerusalem artichoke (if stored for a long time)—almost weight-efficient and minimally carbon-efficient
  • Filberts
  • Raisins
  • 30% of the area: "High-calorie root crops"—Area- and weight-efficient crops for calories

Crops for this area need to be both area- and weight-efficient. As defined for this worksheet, a crop is considered to be "area-efficient" if the annual area needed for total calories is 16 beds (1,600 sq ft) or less, assuming GROW BIOINTENSIVE intermediate yields. It is considered to be "weight-efficient" if the daily weight of food to be eaten for total calories is 9 pounds or less.*


Maximum to avoid potassium toxicity = 2.5 lb / day

Garlic (13.3 / 4.4)

Burdock (14.6 / 5.6) (assuming Carrot yield)

Parsnips (12.6 / 8.2)

Sweet Potatoes (14.2 / 6.4)

Salsify (6.8 / 7.4) (if stored for some time)

AREA in 100-sq ft beds / WEIGHT in lbs: e.g., it takes 15.7 beds of potatoes to produce the 2,400 calories per day needed by an average person who would have to eat 8.6 lbs of potatoes per day.

The crops below are weight-efficient but require more area to grow and produce relatively little biomass. Therefore, they should be included in the 10% "Vegetable Crops" category.

Beans (56.5 / 4.5)

Peanuts (34.2 / 0.9)Very high in fat

Soybeans (59.9 / 3.9)

Cassava (22.9 / 3.5) May produce modest amounts of carbon

The following crops can be area-efficient if yields are high enough, but the daily weight of food eaten exceeds the guidelines, so they should be included in the 10% "Vegetable Crops" category.

Onions Regular ( 14.0 / 15.3)

Turnips + Tops (9.0 / 9.8)

Leeks (14.8 / 19.5)

(assuming 2 crops are possible OR yield is two times intermediate)

Rutabaga (12.4 / 13.6)

NOTE: For diet diversity, you may choose crops that are less weight-efficient (e.g. regular onions, 15.3 lb per day); in which case, you need to have a significant amount of food from crops that are more weight-efficient (e.g. filberts, 0.8 lb per day) and/or increase your design area.

ROOT CROPS THAT ARE NOT GOOD CHOICES FOR THIS CATEGORY: Carrots (37.4 / 15.4) Beets / Mangels (roots only) (58.1 / 17.5) Radishes (63.5 / 34.8)

  • 10% of the area: "Vegetable Crops"—Low-calorie-producing, low-carbon-producing miscellaneous vegetables for vitamins and minerals
  • In the book One Circle by Duhon, different efficiency guidelines are used: an "area-efficient" crop can provide total calories with 700 sq ft or less (550 sq ft for a woman, 850 sq ft for a man), and a "weight-efficient" crop can provide total calories in 6 pounds or less for a man or 5.5 pounds or less for a woman.

"A [farmer] took up land [in Saskatchewan], dug a cellar and built a frame house on top of it; ploughed up the prairie and grew wheat and oats. After twenty years he decided the country was no good for farming, for eight feet of his soil had gone and he had to climb up into his house."

—Richard St. Barbe Baker, My Life, My Trees

Sustainability Worldwide

Nature grows plants close together rather than in rows. That's why so many weeds grow between the rows in commercial agriculture. The grow biointensive method of growing food takes advantage of Nature's propensity to fill any void with living plants through maximizing yields by growing bountiful crops on a minimal amount of area.

The Chinese miniaturized agriculture in a similar way over 4,000 years ago! They grew food by closely spacing plants and maintaining soil fertility (using nutrient- and carbon-containing compost) for thousands of years without depleting their resources. As recently as 1890 this process enabled the Chinese to grow all the food for one person on about 5,800 to 7,200 square feet, including animal products used at the time. other people in different areas of the world—Greece, Bolivia, Peru, Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico, and Japan—independently developed miniaturized forms of agriculture 2,000 years ago. How does this apply to our modern world? Recently, this kind of miniaturized crop-raising has appeared in Russia, Ireland, and other parts of Europe.

Ecology Action has built on the work of the Chinese, Mayans, and others by using traditional agricultural techniques that are thousands of years old, discovering the universal scientific principles that underlie them. We have spent years making mistakes, learning and relearning, as we attempted to streamline these techniques and make them available to other people (including developing written how-to materials that are easy to understand). The worldwide results of our research and information outreach have been amazing and rewarding.

The people in Biosphere II, a closed-system living project in Arizona during the 1990s, used techniques based on those rediscovered by Ecology Action: They raised 80% of their food for two years within a closed system. Their experience demonstrates that a complete year's diet for one person could be raised on the equivalent of just 3,403 square feet! In contrast, it currently takes commercial agriculture 15,000 to 30,000 square feet to do the same. Moreover, commercial agriculture has to bring in large inputs from other areas and soils just to make this possible, depleting other soils in the process. To raise all the food for one person in a developing nation takes about 16,000 square feet, given the diets eaten and the food-raising practices used.

The Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona performed the first tests for Biosphere II, documenting the status of the soil and crop yields over time. In the Human Diet Experiment, all crop tests involved sustainable Biointensive crop rotations including grains, legumes, and green manures, and all crop residues were returned to the soil after harvest and composting. Dr. Ed Glenn, who conducted the tests, stated:

"Although funding was not available to continue these experiments for the number of years necessary to draw final conclusions, the results supported the hypothesis that sustainable food production with few or no outside inputs will not only continue to produce high yields but will improve rather than deplete the organic constituents in the soil."

In India, just one copy of How to Grow More Vegetables became the textbook for a gardening program at an alternative technologies training center, Shri A.M.M. Muragapa Chettier Center in Madras State. That program evolved over a 15-year period into preparations for a national Biointensive program. We recently received word that village women who have been gardening the Biointensive way on their own small plots were able not only to raise food to feed their families but also to raise an annual income by growing crops in a small area.

In all 32 states of Mexico, millions of people are currently using Biointensive methods to grow food for nutrition intervention for themselves and their families. Each year, new people are taught these processes by extension agents, universities, governmental entities, communities, and organizations, or by those already using the techniques. It is estimated that 1.6 million people are currently using these practices. In addition, many Spanish publications and videos are spreading Biointensive techniques throughout Latin America.

In Kenya, the Manor House Agricultural Centre has been directly and indirectly responsible for training well over 40,000 mini-farmers in just a 16-year period. The Centre gives 2-year apprentice training to individuals who are sent by their villages to learn Biointensive techniques so they can go back and teach these methods to their whole village. There are also shorter training periods, and a local outreach program sends teachers out to surrounding areas on a frequent basis to educate members of the communities. The Centre has now opened its training program to international students.

In the Philippines, Biointensive publications, conferences, and workshops given by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction resulted in the initiation of a mandated national Biointensive educational program for all grade school and high school students.

There is also the beginning of a grow biointensive network in the United States. Ecology Action's 3-day introductory workshops have drawn many people who are committed to sharing their own enthusiasm for grow biointensive techniques with other people. This has been true of the 3-day workshop held in Seattle in September 1992, the one at Stanford University in March 1993, the one given in San Diego in November 1993, as well as more recent ones in Willits and around the United States. To date, 1,163 people from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and 20 countries have been trained in these workshops. People from different parts of the country who have


In order to preserve diversity on Earth: It is important to keep at least half of the Earth's viable land as a natural preserve. grow biointensive sustainable mini-farming—with its high yields and low local-resource needs—can help make this possible.

taken Ecology Action workshops have gone on to teach GROW biointensive techniques to other people. One woman's correspondence with Habitat for Humanity has developed into that organization's support of an associated project, Gardens for Humanity, which includes grow biointensive practices.

A group in Seattle has developed a rural Community Supported Agriculture project to sustainably grow all the food for people in urban areas with the Biointensive method.

We hear from people all over the country that they are starting to seriously use grow biointensive techniques, some to produce income as well as food for their families.

Even though we are pleased that so many people and programs have adopted grow biointensive practices, there is still a challenge to be met. Many people are successfully using grow biointensive farming techniques to grow food for nutrition intervention, but few are trying to grow all their calorie food needs on a basis that also feeds the soil adequately. When people say they are growing all of their own food, they generally mean that they are growing 5% to 10% of their diet (the vegetables that they can produce during the growing season). Calorie and sustainable soil fertility mini-farming and gardening is the next step, which needs to be catalyzed by each of us! The Ecology Action publications One Circle, The Sustainable Vegetable Garden, and the Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets 14, 15, 25, and 26 deal with growing a complete diet. Once this additional 90% of calorie-growing area has been established in the garden, it only takes an average of about 15 minutes or less each day per bed to maintain the garden!

There has been a great shift in human consciousness since Ecology Action first set up its research garden mini-farm 30 years ago. This shift has come about because many individuals have begun to realize that although they might not be able to change the world, they can change the way they do things in their own lives. Raising food in a gentle and conscious manner is one change that has made a difference.

Being disconnected from our food base has separated us from the soil and the life of the Earth. Producing food from a small area is a strengthening, slowing-down process—a way of tuning in to the Earth's needs as we meet our own. We put life into the soil, and the soil enriches our lives.

We as humans are part of the Earth's nutrient cycle, just as the plants and animals are. The Earth welcomes us by creating what we need. The trees are a wonderful example of this: they absorb our carbon dioxide and give us back oxygen to breathe. As we become more aware of and attuned to our place in the circle of life, then it will seem natural to plant at least 60% of our growing area in carbon-producing crops, which also produce calories. In this way our crops will give life back to the Earth that has fed us. As we become more responsible for our place in this exciting nutrient flow, we will want to grow all of our diet.

Despite its worldwide impact, Ecology Action has remained a small organization, believing that small is effective and human. We consider ourselves to be a catalyst: Our function is to empower people with the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them to improve their lives and thus transform the world into a garden of health and abundance. The message is to live richly in a simple manner—in a way we can all enjoy.

You can assist Ecology Action in this work by finding 5 friends and getting them involved in grow biointensive sustainable mini-farming and/or other sustainable food-raising practices. Together we can make a significant difference in the world, one small area at a time. This is our opportunity. It is fun to be part of the whole picture and part of the long-term world environmental solution! A healthy soil grows healthy crops, which grow healthy people, who can grow a healthy planet and ecosystem.

Sustainable Food

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