The term “urban homesteading” is growing in popularity across the nation. Since December 2022, the search term in Google “Urban Homestead” has not trended below 25% on the popularity chart if you look at the past 12 month's trends.
Urban Homesteading trends up in popularity when the economic environment is lean - people naturally try to maximize their self-sufficiency. But what does “urban homesteading” actually mean? If you try to look it up, the dictionary will simply point to the definition for “homestead” which is a place where a family makes its home. However, “homesteading” means so much more. It has become the banner under which a wide and diverse group of people gather trying to be less dependent on the corporate supply chain and more reliant on what they and their local community can do. Add “urban” to the term and it is a name for a subset of the homesteading community that lives in a city or its suburbs. We urban homesteaders have a small back yard or balcony and dig deep into our bag of American ingenuity to achieve what our better endowed (land that is) friends in the homestead community achieve on acres. Rather than having material things, homesteading is rooted in skill development, a little trial and error and a healthy amount of resourcefulness. Many homesteaders have normal 9-5 or service industry jobs. On the weekends and in their spare time, they learn skills and work to build a community centered in local businesses and homemade products. Over 79% of the American population lives in urban or suburban areas of the country. Does that sound like you? Did you cringe at the great toilet paper crisis? How about when eggs were scarce? Are you tired of fast fashion? Have you found yourself standing in the grocery isles for far too long reading the laundry list of ingredients in packaged bread? If so, or if this little article has made you curious, there are a few things you can do to start exploring this “homesteading lifestyle”:
1. Know your laws.
Before you get started, understand the laws of your area. You may have a HOA that is layered on top of your local county or city laws. Understand your limitations and ordinances. If you disagree with them, talk to your neighbors and community, you may find there are many of the same opinion and you can work together to change the laws in a way that will benefit you and many others in your area. My area worked to change laws around rain water harvesting and now we are able to collect rain to use in our gardens.
2. Plant a garden.
Gardens can be as large or as small as your space allows. One of the (ahem) most inexpensive homesteading ventures, it can also be one of the most elusive to make successful. Start with herbs or tomatoes and then venuture out to watermelons and/or cabbages. Grow what works for your diet and your area. Plants can be a source of nutrition, beauty and it has been shown they improve mental health. If you look around your apartment or home right now, you may find a normal house plant or two that could be replaced with a fruit or vegetable bearing plant. Before you know it – your patio or back yard will be filled with edible delights and your search history taken over by research on maximizing your yield. As ab aside: we also have a few fantastic podcasts for your listening pleasure on gardening.
3. Community resources.
We were never meant to do it all alone. Look outside your back yard and local grocery store. There are local businesses surrounding most urban and suburban settings that provide things like fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Farmers markets, flea markets, craigslist, and some apps like Farmish.com are excellent places to look. Doing a google search will also locate local U-pick and ranches that will sell meat in bulk orders. This is a great way to lower your impact on the environment and support small local businesses.
4. Raise your own.
Chickens for eggs are the new “it” hobby. Coops are a great weekend project and chickens are birds full of personality. Ducks are also something to consider. They lay more often and some duck breeds do not require a pond (though they all love a good baby pool!). 6 chickens or ducks will keep you with enough eggs to bake and cook and possibly even share!
Get to know your hunting laws and locations. Hunting is a skill that will promote a sense of confidence and awareness not often achieved elsewhere. The time in the wilderness and the bushcraft you can learn will be lifesaving in certain circumstances.
6. Raising your own protein.
Look into rabbits or quail. It may sound like a hard thing to do, but remember, someone else is raising your meat and, if you eat meat, it may be best to take the raising and caring of those animals into your own hands. You can ensure they have the best life rather than leaving it to factory farms. Not your thing? That is ok! LIke mentioned earlier - check out local ranches and farms in your area. The animals have a better quality of life and you are supporting a small business.
There are many ways to preserve your harvest, be it a bulk order from a U-pick farm or Costco or something you grew yourself; preservation has been a necessity for generations. MTNDOGFARM on Instagram has fantastic pressure canning classes. There is also water bath canning, freeze-drying, dehydrating and many other ways of preservation. Pick a way (or a few ways) that interests you and start experimenting. I have had a great time with Wallaby bags and my dehydrator personally.
8. Cook from scratch.
We all have to eat. Food preparation and nutrition is a key component to human life no matter where you live. If you are like me, you have been guilty of ordering out food at least twice a week. Now, more than ever, it is better to cook your own food and control your own ingredients. Factory farms have questionable practices and pesticides have been discovered to cause a slew of health issues. Just starting with cooking one thing from scratch. Try your hand at bread or biscuits, you would be surprised how easy (and cheap) it is to make good quality bread products. Save your vegetable scraps and make your own veggie broth, or the bones from your rotisserie chicken cooked down makes an excellent chicken broth. There are so many ways to bring aspects of cooking from scratch into your life that not only increases the nutritional value of your food but is also less expensive. We now eat out maybe once a month and it has put over 600 dollars back into our budget just from that one lifestyle change.
9. Sew/Fiber art.
Did your grandmother crochet or your mother sew? Were you happy or embarrassed to receive a well-meaning homemade gift that may have been a little itchy? I can tell you, for me, it depended. Looking back, with those two lovely ladies now in heaven, I miss their skills and patience (and handmade Halloween costumes). Fiber arts are making a comeback as it has been proven that working with your hands releases serotonin and other positive brain chemicals unlike anything that typing or clicking achieves. Start with something easy – maybe an apron, skirt or bag and then move up to more complicated patterns. I am not very talented with the sewing machine, but I taught myself knitting via some clearance yarn and YouTube. I haven't made it past hats, scarves and blankets yet, but I can tell you they are fun to make! Also, to my surprise, my adult son’s favorite Christmas present last year was the big blanket I knitted for him.
This is by no means an extensive list. The one requirement for homesteading, urban or otherwise, is an insatiable level of curiosity and desire to learn. Take it one step at a time, one curiosity at a time and keep digging. Make a friend in the farming community around you, ask questions, immerse yourself in the dirt and grit and sun that makes up the elements of life and you will find yourself, before you know it, sitting quietly amongst your chickens, digging up worms for them to enjoy and photographing your latest pride and joy tomato plant.
Until next time, happy learning!