While one certainly doesn't need to be a vegetarian or vegan to be interested in learning about homesteading without raising animals for meat, you can not only feed yourself and your family simply by growing grains, fruits and vegetables, but you can do so with far fewer resources including land, additional grains, and water.
Starting with purely plant based options, we will dig in to the math of growing everything that we need as the core of a plant based diet, as well as answering the question of whether or not it is a healthy option. Once vegetables are in hand as our core strategy, we will look at adding in honey, milk and eggs before finally discussing the pros and cons of meat production. This is not to dissuade anyone from pursuing any strategy they like, but simply to make a logical argument about what you need to be healthy vs how much land, time and money you need to build your families diet from scratch.
If you are not going to be raising animals for meat, you will need a substitute as a primary source of calories. Grains are both good sources of calories, but also protein, carbohydrates (and fiber). They also have enough versatility in how they can be prepared to allow for variety as a diet staple. Let's take a look at some numbers.
| year | crop | U.S. average yield volume | volume to weight | weight to calories | total calories|
| 2019 | corn | 167.4 bushels per acre[(https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/tm70mv177/k0698t917/rj430r77v/crop0620.pdf)] | 56 lbs per bushel [(https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/41880/33132_ah697_002.pdf?v=0)] | 2,081 calories per lb | 19,508,126 calories per acre |
| 2019 | wheat | 53.6 bushels per acre | 60 lbs per bushel |||
| 1917 | corn | 35 bushels per acre[(https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/ORC00000242/PDF)] | 56 lbs per bushel | 1,594 calories per lb | 3,124,240 calories per acre |
| 1917 | wheat | 20 bushels per acre | | 1200 calories per lb | 1,788,000 calories per acre |
The first row in the table above is what an average, commercial farmer in 2019 could have expected to harvest from planting an acre of corn. This corn is what todaywould be referred to as 'conventional' grain, which will likely include using GMO seed, fertilizer, insecticide, etc.. The second row would, by today's standard, not only be considered organic, but would not have benefited from automated machinery, watering systems, etc.. For the purpose of our calculations, let's just go ahead and use the 1917 numbers. They should make a reasonable minimum in terms of expectation for what a new homesteader could produce in their first few years.
The most calories needed in a household will be an active, adult male. In order to keep the calculations simple, let's just use those numbers rather than trying to figure out the average consumption within a household. This person will require 3k+ calories a day[(https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-2/)]. Since we have seen that an acre of corn can produce 3m+ calories in a year. Divide the two and you get 1000 days worth of food. Divide that in to 365 days and that acre of corn can support 2.7 people for a year.
No one is suggesting a diet of 100% corn, but corn is the most calorie dense of the grains, so it makes for a logical starting point as the 'staple' crop in a diet. Perhaps more commonly by American standards that staple is typically more likely to be wheat (bread, pasta, etc.). At roughly 1.8m calories per acre, we are looking at 1.63 adults getting their entire caloric intake from wheat. If we wanted to stick with wheat as our only staple we would need two acres to match corn. But this is probably a good place to transition to a more wholistic approach to our source of calories. In that case we can discuss dedicating half an acre of corn, or one acre of wheat and consider further sources for the other half of our calories and dietary needs.
There are several concepts that are so commonly believed that many people assume they are facts. One of those is that only animal meat provides a complete protein. This is not true, and the famous counter argument is that all plants have protein and just look at a gorilla or a bull to see what kind of muscle a plant based diet can produce. Luckily we have science, and don't have to resort to anecdotes. There is a great tool on the web called [Cronometer](https://cronometer.com/) which we will use from here on out to build up a simple, plant based diet that meets all of our daily nutritional needs. This is not a recommendation for a way of eating, simply a method to simply test the viability of plant based foods as a substitute for meats.
At the other end of the spectrum calorically is vegetables like leafy greens