Updated to add more clarification.

Given the following data, how large a territory would be needed to sustain a village of 500 people that has no outside contact?

Population: 500 humans (approx. 400 adults in workforce). They do not eat meat but do use goats for milk/cheese/butter.

Climate: Moderate temps ranging from 15-85 degrees Fahrenheit with a distinct Summer(3.5mo)/Fall(3mo)/Winter(2.5mo)/Spring(3mo). Spring is the rainy season with average rain fall enough to fill holding ponds for gravity fed irrigation. Assume they collect as much water as they need to supplement during the short dry season in late summer.

Landscape: rolling hills with mountains not too far away. Natural wooded areas contain some plants for gathering and lumber needs. Need to determine how large of a wooded area would be needed to be sustainable based on how much lumber they use.

Technology: Horse and ox driven plows. no electricity. Similar to medieval era in terms of harvesting and preservation techniques. large scale use of cold cellars dug into sides of hills. They also have water bath canning techniques that are quite effective. The people use the most effective growing techniques of the era and are skilled at avoiding crop loss from diseases or insect/animal damage.

Plant types: Grains, legumes/beans, soy, potatoes, peas, leafy greens(spinach, lettuce greens), broccoli, various fruit trees, various berries, squashes, onions, ect. Mushrooms are gathered from nearby wooded areas. Cotton for clothing/textiles

Products from Animals: goats milk, sheep wool

Animals for work: ox and horses. more ox than horses.

Criteria for Self Sustainability: By self sustainable I mean a village with zero outside trade and unable to travel beyond the immediate area. They would not only need to produce their own food but also craft anything else they may need to survive. Building materials for houses/barns/businesses, storage areas to hold raw materials as well as preserved foods and crafted items. Area for work animals to graze. Raw materials needed to make storage and cooking pots. Surrounding resources must be included in the total area needed to support the village. For example the size of forest needed to supply an ongoing supply of wood and a mountain area for a quarry.

If anyone asks for more information I will add it to the post.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You seem to only be considering food availability in these calculations. Even in the stone age we have evidence of people traveling thousands of miles to obtain resources unavailable locally. Would it be more accurate to say that you're wanting to know how much land is needed to feed 500 people, rather than fully self sustain? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think a lot of it would depend on crops grown but I also included work animals and textiles. Most things would be made from wood, which is why there is a forest, although knowing how large of a forest is needed to sustain lumber would be important. Stone could be quarried/gathered from the nearby mountains to fashion tools, as well as some basic metals. In my story this particular group of people is isolated for about 300 years in a 'parallel world' and do not have the ability to get anything from main world. $\endgroup$
    – Laura
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 22:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Specific technology questions - do they have the seed drill? Are they using 2 crop, 3 crop or 4 crop rotation techniques? Potentially a five-fold difference in productivity depending on the answers, though the very wide variety of available crops you have listed will cut into that - introduction of the potato was a game-changer in Britain. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 1:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please read Mu's Unbelievably Long and Disjointed Ramblings About RPG Design, chapter "Food Basis". It describes real pre-industrial food economy (and extends it to fantasy worlds). $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ In 300 years, Did the population begin at 500 or did it grow to 500? $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


Approximately 6 km2

A reddit post quotes the US Farm Bureau saying it takes 2.67 acres to feed one person. You've got 500 people, so that's 1,335 acres.

You also have farm animals that must be fed. Reddit also says it takes 0.46 acres to feed a dairy goat, and twice that for one steer. How many goats and oxen do you have?

Goats is up to you, but I assume the desire for oxen will be driven by the size of the farms. The internet says a two-horse team can plow 7 acres per day, so using the total from above, you'd need 190 horses. But I guess you'd only need that many if you have to plow all the farmland on a single day. If it's reasonable to spread out the plowing over three days, you only need 64 horses.

The internet says it takes two acres for the first horse and an additional acre for each additional horse, so now the total acreage is 1,400. Now we need to add a few more horses, with more acreage, so let's say 70 horses & 1420 acres.

For every 2 goats you want, add 1 acre and 1/14th of a horse.

For every steer you want, add 1 acre and 1/14th of a horse.

Let's assume you end up with 1500 acres. How much farmland is that?

It turns out that the acre is a really small unit of area. Google says that to convert acres to square miles, you divide by 640. That's 2.34375 mi2 (or 6.070285 km2).

Of course, that's 6 km2 of crops. It makes no allowances for farm houses, barns, grain silos, stables, roads, rivers, mills, bakeries, dairies, slaughterhouses, blacksmiths, tanneries, tailors, carpenters, or the town doctor. So, even if every single resident lives and works on a farm (which they really can't), the village will have a bigger footprint because it needs arteries, storage, and work space.

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    $\begingroup$ And they need lots of wood -- for their houses, for their vehicles, for their ploughs, for their barrels, and for their charcoal which they need for their ceramic pots. And they need at least some iron. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 22:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is that number for modern times? You know, with industrial fertilizers and scientific planting patterns and so on. The productivity per unit land rose massively a few hundred years ago, current productivity per area values are not remotely applicable for medieval technology. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 1:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 I think the reddit post was saying that the number would be better using modern techniques. So, my assumption is that these numbers are based on tech prior to the Haber process, at least. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Also, clothing requires acres, too. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 0:12

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