Urban homesteading is the practice of producing a significant amount of food, including small livestock and poultry, for personal consumption and/or for sale as part of a home-based or cottage foods economy (producing certain foods for sale from your home or at a farmer’s market). At the very least, an urban homestead could look like a garden and a couple of egg-laying hens in small suburban neighborhood. It can also look like a larger scale operation with a goat or two on a half acre or more within city limits.
Who are these urban homesteaders?
If you research “urban homesteading” you’ll find that this movement is embraced by individuals with a desire to live more simply and to be producers rather than consumers in several areas of their lives. Their homesteads range from just a few thousand square feet to an acre or more. They’re people with day jobs, tech jobs, online businesses; they’re stay-at-home parents, retirees and groups of college students – many without any formal training in traditional farming or livestock management. They could be anyone – what they all have in common is their DIY nature and a desire to get back to the land.
The beauty of urban homesteading is that there aren’t any hard and fast rules outside of what your city or homeowners association will and won’t allow you to do. You really can do as little or as much as you choose depending on your knowledge, skills, resources and motivation. If the thought of milking a goat twice a day every day isn’t your thing, then you don’t have to do that! The key is to start small and find what works for you (and your family) and build from there as new passions arise and you become more knowledgeable and skilled.
What are the benefits of starting an urban homestead?
This is usually the biggest reason for people to start an urban homestead. Growing or raising your own food gives you access to the freshest and most local food, and it’s more nutritious! Cutting down the number of “food miles” your meal has to travel from farm to fork means you’re eating food that has been picked or preserved at the height of it’s freshness – meaning more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients for you. It also means more food security – both in terms of having enough in times of scarcity (think natural disaster) and safety (think food recalls).
Become more self-sufficient
Another reason people get into urban homesteading is for the self-sufficiency aspect. Skills that promote self-sufficiency, and thus allow you to be able to rely less on the outside world to your meet basic needs for survival, include:
- Gardening – Employing sustainable practices such as organic gardening and permaculture to produce fruit and vegetable crops.
- Small livestock – Raising animals such as chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, bees, fish, etc. for milk, eggs or meat.
- “Putting up” – Canning, preserving and fermenting the garden harvest, foraging, and bartering for goods or services with neighbors and fellow homesteaders.
- Creation of a home-based business – Most states allow urban homesteaders to produce and sell ‘cottage foods’ from their home as a means of becoming more financially self-reliant. These foods are often limited to fresh produce, jams, honey and baked goods. You can learn more about cottage foods and individual state laws at this link.
The daily tasks and responsibilities that go along with running an urban homestead provide ample opportunities for teaching children – and adults – skills, values, work ethic and stewardship. They also allow you to spend more time with your family learning a new skill or honing a new craft. The sense of accomplishment and pride you both get when the work is done (or attempted with all of your might) is very rewarding. The skills your children learn while under your wing as a homesteader are invaluable, including: cooking, gardening, animal care and husbandry, building and minor carpentry work, resourcefulness and caring for the land.
Being a good steward of land and resources
Being an urban homesteader often means forgoing fancy gadgets and “making do” with what you’ve got in an effort to reduce your impact on the environment. This may look like:
- Using alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal or passive solar.
- Harvesting rainwater or using greywater for irrigation, using alternative modes of transportation (buses and biking) or hanging clothes on the line to dry
- Composting and vermicomposting
- Using a root cellar to store apples, winter squash, root vegetables, fermented foods and more.
In addition to creatively using or repairing what you’ve got on hand, you can find many free or low cost materials, tools and resources on your local Craigslist. Making wise use of the materials you already have plus growing your own food (and thus decreasing your ‘food miles’ while simultaneously sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere) is a great way to lower your carbon footprint and make a lesser impact on the environment.
One of the biggest draws to the urban homesteading lifestyle outside of fresh food is the idea of living a simpler life. Growing your own food and raising some chickens isn’t just about self-sufficiency – it’s also about learning and entertainment! When you shift your focus from the need to be entertained by a screen or by social media to that of caring for and raising animals or bees, you naturally slow down. You listen, you learn, and you follow your instincts. You start to want less and you stop trying to keep up with the proverbial Joneses and somehow life becomes fuller and richer than you could’ve expected. Though the work can be hard, the days can be long, and sometimes the “simple” life can feel harder than the mainstream lifestyle you once had, there’s just something special about a life with a little less stuff and a little more substance that you’ve created with your own two hands.