Top Ten Survival Foods You Should Grow

Can you live off your land if there’s an emergency? Can you meet your food needs for even a few weeks?

Planning perennial agriculture systems, such as food forests, along with getting some chickens is a really good plan long-term – but if you had to start gardening like it’s the end of the world – right now – what would you grow?

Here’s my top-ten list.

Potatoes51. Potatoes

Potatoes are probably the ultimate survival crop. They tolerate poor soil, bear abundantly, handle a variety of climates and are packed with calories. Space-wise, they beat the living daylights out of grains, plus they store for a long period. In some climates, you can plant potatoes in spring and fall and get a double harvest. If you pick purple varieties, they’re high in anthocyanins, though the yields I’ve had from them are much lower than their white cousins.

2. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are healthier than white potatoes and provide an additional benefit: the leaves are a green vegetable. With a decent sized patch of sweet potatoes, you can feed your family plus get plenty of nutrition. Nothing says “all is well with the world” like a big pile of sweet potatoes. Except for maybe a word bubble reading “all is well with the world.”

3. Kale

Kale, though not high in calories, is a nutritional powerhouse. Face it: you need plenty of nutrients to keep moving. People with deficiencies get sick a lot more often. Adding kale to your diet is good preventative medicine, plus it’s easy as heck to grow. A cold-hardy vegetable, you can plant in fall or spring across most of the US and be eating kale for a long time. Add it to smoothies, throw it in salads, mix it into stir-fries, dry it into chips or give it to your chickens as a nutrient boost. Kale is hardcore.

4. Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are the plant you can rely on when nothing else does well. They also provide calories during the winter. Though it’s not the easiest root to live on, it’s a perennial stand-by that’s going to be there for you when it counts. Bonus: you get tons of biomass from the stalks you can use for compost.

Corn15. Corn

The first of the “three sisters,” people have lived on corn for thousands of years. Of all the grains, it’s the easiest to handle on a small scale. That said: I’m not talking about sweet corn. I’m talking grain corn – the kind of corn you use for making grits and cornbread. Note: If you plan on making corn your main staple, be sure to nixtamalize it or supplement with other foods. Otherwise you can end up with nutritional deficiencies. Overall, however, it’s an easy-to-grow storable source of calories.

6. Squash

The second member of the “three sisters,” squash is good stuff. Some varieties are boring and bland, others are tasty. Personally, I like the giant Hubbard squash as well as the ultra-tough Seminole pumpkin variety. Squash are nutrient rich and will store for months at room temperature, making them a good addition to your survival garden.

7. Beans

The final member of the “three sisters,” beans are reliably productive. Many varieties can be used as green vegetables and for dried beans. My favorite green bean is the “snake bean,” though it’s terrible for dried beans. On the dry bean side of things, you’ve got plenty of choices. Just take a look through the Seedsaver’s Exchange catalog and you’ll have a hard time picking one type to try. Unfortunately, beans don’t produce a very large yield for the amount of space they consume – but I figure they make up for their stinginess by also adding nitrogen to the soil.

8. Cassava

Cassava (also known as yuca, manioc and tapioca) is one of my personal favorite plants. Though finding cuttings isn’t always easy, once you have them, you can grow enough canes to grow cassava for life (provided you live in zone 8 or south). I sell a good variety here. Toxic until boiled, cassava roots are a dense source of calories. The leaves are rich in protein and can be used like collard greens. Since the entire plant has cyanide in it, it’s practically pest free. In colder climates, cassava freezes to the ground in the winter and will come back in the spring.

Cabbage9. Cabbage

Cabbage is healthy, grows with moderate ease, and is storable for a decent amount of time under refrigeration or in a root cellar. If you ferment it, it stores even better. Sauerkraut fueled Germany for untold centuries, and its cousin kimchi is a Korean staple. Live fermented cabbage is incredibly healthy. It can fix stomach complaints, provide you with a lot of bioavailable nutrition, and make your house smell amazing.

10. Garlic

Garlic, though not what one might consider a “major” crop, is healthy, easy to grow, calorie dense, space efficient and makes life better. It stores well, can be pickled, and is hardy enough to withstand quite a bit of freezing. I planted it in the fall in Tennessee and it would sit through most of the winter, and then burst into growth in the spring. We ate a lot of garlic – and it tasted much better than anything you’d get in the store. Garlic also has anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties. Add it to your garden!

So there – that’s my top-ten list of survival food crops. Think I missed one or ten? Let me know… and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong.

Just kidding.


About David Goodman

David Goodman is a naturalist and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David writes a regular column for Natural Awakenings magazine in North Central Florida, posts on the Mother Earth News blog, owns a nursery of hard-to-find tropical edibles and grows roughly 1.5 zillion plants on his one-acre homestead. In mid-2012, he launched as a place to share his ongoing experiments with tropical and temperate crops. He currently has over 20 intensive beds, multiple field plots, over 100 fruit trees, two food forest projects in different climates and a series of ongoing experiments in-progress - all of which bring him closer each day to complete food security. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie. Visit his daily blog here: The Survival Gardener Follow him on Twitter here:

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10 Responses to “Top Ten Survival Foods You Should Grow”

  1. Lisa Lynn Says:

    Great list! I’ve tried to narrow it down, but gosh, there are so many good veggies :)


  2. xtron Says:

    beans can be double cropped for greater yeilds in most parts of the country. i follow beets and peas with kidneys or pintos. the green beans can be replanted with more green beans, if you pay attention to maturity lengths and first frost dates…as long as the beans are filled out before the first freeze, they will dry down just fine after the plant has frosen off.


    • David Goodman Says:

      Good info. Plus, by adding beans after beets, you’re restoring nitrogen to the soil as well as getting higher food yields.

      I’ll have to try drying some beans indoors – haven’t done that yet.


  3. April Says:

    Wonderful list! I might also include ginger. You can grow it year round, like garlic it makes everything better as well as having natural anti-microbial properties and lots of important vitamins and it’s nearly impossible to kill. Around my area, cabbage and other cruciferous veggies are prone to a very destructive worm so we tend to shy away from those as staples.


  4. Naty Says:

    Hi. Could you please tell me what vegetables and fruits I can grow in the SW region of Virginia? and when?


    • Chet Says:

      Naty, the best way to find that out is to call the extension office where you live. Just do a google search for it with your city and state… then call them up and they can get you those answers. I got some good advice for when a certain pest is born from mine a few years ago and they were able to tell me to the week, so that I could range chickens over that plot of ground where they’d wipe out the pest before they made it on my trees. They’re a wealth of information, use them.


  5. Paula Ohara Says:

    I am growing potatoes for the first time, but blue potatoes in containers. I am sure my harvest will be small, but I will replant using the potatoes as “seed.”

    I normally grow more corn, so next year will definitely plant more. Tomatoes are on my top ten list. They are prolific, versatile, can be canned or dried, and grow better than anything else in my garden.

    I added oca, yacon, and mashua this year. I can barely wait to add Yucatan and sweet potatoes!

    I also added beautiful amaranth, which is gorgeous and nutritious…seeds.

    Something that should be on every preppers list is purslane. It’s a weed and I believe the only land green that contains significant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. It grows prolifically and is delicious, with a slightly lemon flavor and very fresh taste.

    I’m growing jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes. I will let them take over! I am holding yellow nut sedge. It’s invasive, but grows an edible legume underground. If shtf, then I will plant. I sprouted some in my window to observe. They are crazy! Sharp blades with vigorous roots. I can see why they would be invasive! They also reproduce three ways, making them impossible to get rid of. They attract wildlife, so protein lol. I might grow indoors in pots. Oh, and they were the original ingredient in Spanish horchata.

    I planted the three sisters this year, together in mounds. They definitely do well together. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Growing beans is extremely good for your garden. Also, I did an experiment and successfully grew and ate garbanzo beans from a $1 bag of dried beans, expired, from the grocery store. They did better than any of my other beans! Eat fresh off the plant and tons of beans! They grow straight up, planted only a few inches apart, watered every other day and not much. Incredible harvest!

    Plant dwarf fruit trees. They are cheap. I bought two from Walmart for $10 each and two from Costco for $30 each, which were grafted and already baring fruit the first year! We also sprout seeds from the apples we eat and have many that are two feet tall in 6 months! We will see in many years what they produce lol!

    I liked your post! Keep sharing :)


  6. Kauairosina Says:

    Boy how I wish we could grow garlic here on Kauai. Dog gone it . haven’t been able to yet and we use tons of it.


  7. Matt Says:

    What you all don’t seem to understand is this. You NEED 3 basic types of calories to survive. Fat, protein and carbohydrates. These are necessary to survive in certain proportions. The list presented here does not seem to address this at all. None of these seem to address the need for fat. While fat is everywhere in modern society with potato chips and McDonald’s, it is almost nowhere in most gardens. This must be addressed, or you would die. While fat is the easiest to find now, it is the most difficult to find in nature or plant-based gardens.


    • Chet Says:

      great point Matt. I know for me, the ducks, chickens and geese that roam my orchard are how I’m planning for this now. And I think we ALL need to be planting more nut trees. Why we don’t is beyond me. The problem is how long they take. I am so glad I planted them 3 years ago, they still aren’t enough to live on, but someday they will fill this void your talking about.


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