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A Pedant in our Midst

To: LastWord @ NewScientist
From: Lloyd Morgan
Date: 24 August 2006
Subject: Minimum Requirements Answer (NS-2565, 19 August ’06)

New Scientist’s Last Word,

I have just read Simon Iveson’s answer to the question posed about whether or not it is possible to fully feed a family of four for a year using 8 square meters of land. In his answer, Simon comes to the conclusion that it is probably not possible as it is unlikely that 2m2 would be enough to sustain one person.

There’s a problem with this though – 2m2 is not a quarter of 8m2, it is a 16th. A quarter of 8m2, enough to purportedly feed one person for a year, is in fact 4m2.

This therefore makes the statement (of 8m2 sustaining a family of four) wholly feasible. As Simon mentioned however, the cloud cover would reduce the amount of direct solar radiation reaching the land and inhibit the growth of food. Although one could increase the viability of this by dividing and scattering the plots of land around a larger area reducing the chance of all plots being concealed by clouds at any one time (four 4m2 plots spread around a square kilometre, for example).

To make it even more viable, if you were to get a group of friends and/or neighbours in on the experiment you could each grow one food item on your 8m2 plot of land. Having, for example, 16 people growing 16 separate food items on 16 separate 8m2 plots of land would be ideal. This would mean that instead of having to grow multiple food types in one plot – only one food stuff would need to be grown, allowing for specialist treatment of the land to increase the yield.

Feeding a (very slim) family of four on a single 8m2 plot of land may indeed be possible, but it is almost a certainty if we consider this area of land as the average taken to feed a family of four (spread across multiple plots also feeding multiple other families).

Lloyd Morgan,

If this gets printed, does it mean that I am a a published mathematician?