I have farming in my blood. My dad was a farmer. His father was a farmer. His grandpa was a farmer. You get the point. Yet as an adult, I moved to the city and left the country life behind me… or so I thought. I had an urge to get my hands in the soil and eat farm-fresh eggs. That had me wondering, can you really homestead in the city?
While the Homestead Act of 1862 granted land to applicants after five years of living on the land and demonstrating improvements, modern homesteading has no such requirements. Believe it or not, it is taking place right now in backyards across America. Friends and neighbors in urban areas are returning to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency lived by many of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
A good starting point for any want-to-be urban homesteader, is your local municipal code. The code states what is allowed within city limits. For instance, if chickens are allowed, code dictates (typically) the maximum number of hens allowed as well as the minimum square footage for the chicken coop. In some instances, code will list exclusions. For example, in our city, municipal code prohibits pot belly pigs. One other item to keep in mind is whether or not you live in an HOA (home owner’s association). In many communities, HOA policies trump city ordinance. That means that even if your city allows chickens, your home owner’s association may prohibit them, leaving you hen-less.
Now while I no longer live on 160 rural acres, I am contented on my 1/3 of an urban acre. This micro homestead changed my perspective. For instance, I don’t need to raise 50 chickens (nor is that quantity allowed in city limits), but 8 hens is plenty to keep us in fresh eggs and even have extra to sell. Plus, I don’t have to spend hours cleaning out a large coop, my small one can be spruced up in less than 30 minutes.
Another item that an urban homestead can accommodate is backyard bees. Keep in mind that your backyard is simply the home for the hives. The foragers fly beyond fences and property lines and into the neighborhood. They seek out what is in bloom and which plants have a great nectar flow. You don’t have to shoulder the burden of providing all of the flowers for your bees. In this respect, living in a city is great. The vast array of blooming trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals is greater and more varied than if the hives were set up at the edge of an alfalfa field in the country. This means that the nectar flower typically last longer and that there are more foraging choices in the city.
And what homestead would be complete without gardens? In a city setting, gardens are scaled down from acreages of their country cousins to perhaps a few hundred square feet or less. But a scaled down garden doesn’t mean that you have to scale down on flavor. Imagine growing heirloom vegetables in raised beds or containers? You have the pleasure of farm-fresh produce, but without the hours of weeding in a field. Just remember that you don’t have to grow all of your own food. Simply select what you like and raise that. Perhaps you prefer tomatoes? Maybe strawberries? What about containers of herbs?
Homesteading can also speak to skills. Maybe you yearn to make your own cheese? How about creating your own wine from fresh fruit? Perhaps you want to make your own non-toxic cleaning supplies? Or maybe you want to spin your own yarn? What about canning? Don’t worry if your parents did not teach you those skills. These days, homesteading skills are just a click away through online classes. If you prefer a hands-on learning, sign up for workshops through various businesses. Organizations that offer classes include, but are not limited to: cooperative extension, city recreation department, local nurseries and/or botanic gardens, or individuals. To find these classes and workshops, pick up schedules at local businesses, read your local publications, or do a web search. If your community does not have these resources, check with friends, family, or neighbors. Maybe you have an aunt that would be happy to teach you how to can? Or perhaps your neighbor can show you how to make fresh cheese?
Lastly, homesteading is a frame of mind. You don’t have to do it all in order to be a homesteader. (Don’t get bogged down with the thought of trying to raise rabbits, goats, chickens, bees, hogs, tend to acres of gardens, and make your own clothes… plus try to hold down a 9 – 5 job. Pick and choose what works for you.) Do you feel a connection to local food? Do you want to do more yourself? Your homestead can be whatever you want it to be (as long as it complies with municipal code).
Take baby steps. This will make the goal of homesteading attainable. No homestead is created overnight. It does take time. Focus on one item at a time. If growing food is your main goal, by all means, start with building a garden. Once that has been developed, then move onto your next homesteading goal.
With clear goals, time, and a review of city ordinances, you too, can create an urban homestead. Joy and a sense of self-sufficiency can be found in something as simple as biting into a ripe tomato picked from your own garden or gathering eggs from your chickens. Urban homesteading is one trend that is here to stay.
To help you get started, read, “20 Steps to Create an Urban Homestead”. With a little time and effort, you too, can homestead in the city.