Can You Really Homestead in the City?

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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.

urban chicken

urban chicken

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.

honey frame from backyard bee hive

honey frame from backyard bee hive

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?

pasta sauce ready for pantry

pasta sauce ready for pantry

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?

kale-instagram-crLastly, 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.

 

 

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42 responses »

  1. I love your post! I am a suburban homesteader with 19 chickens and 2 dogs. I always wanted to live on a farm so now I have a mini farm but had no clue when I first started. I read articles, books and anything I could get my hands on to understand homesteading. I also have wonderful friends who have helped me along the way. I would love to expand to goats but not sure its possible with half an acre as I’ve lost all of my grass in the backyard thanks to the chickens! We have also done a gardens every year except last year but would like to expand it more. I have had little success with fruit trees and bushes.

    • Thank you! Sounds like you are on a great homesteading adventure. In our community, goats are allowed, but you are required to provide them with at least 300 square feet for both shed and pen for two goats. Perhaps you could do something similar, but provide hay?

    • Goats are definitely possible. We do it on 1/10th of an acre. They are a much bigger time commitment then chickens though. And present a lot more logistics problems. Unlike chickens you do need a male to get milk, and it is not easy to keep a male in the city. You also have to think about waste management and feed inputs. Where will you store hay? Are you going to pay to have it delivered? etc.

      Maybe what we do can provide some inspiration.
      http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2015/04/29/city-goats

      • Our community approved a goat ordinance a few years ago. The ordinance covers a variety of items: number of goats, size of enclosure, specific breeds of goats permitted, wether or female only. The city also requires an inspection of the goat enclosure… including shelter, passing grade on goat test (to demonstrate that you know how to take care of a goat), and once those two things have been done… then a vaccination certificate from your vet. At that point, you can then be approved for a goat license. You bring up very good points. A goat is so much different than a chicken when it comes to commitment. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You explained homesteading really well. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. I didn’t come from a rural farm when I was little, but my family was always in the yard growing something. However my father said that my great grandfather had a garden, so maybe I got some of his farming genes too!

  3. I live in the middle of the Dallas metroplex and just came back in from digging up some potatoes for breakfast. Backyard gardening is alive and well in the city! I also can. Didn’t know how, You Tube, is a great way to learn!

    • That is wonderful to hear! It truly doesn’t matter if you are in the county or the city… you can homestead. Way to go on growing potatoes and canning. (And yes, YouTube is a great resource). So glad you stopped by.

  4. As a city dweller, trying to live a healthier, greener and more natural lifestyle in an urban environment, I really found your post enlightening and inspiring. I am pinning and sharing this post!
    Also, I blog at UrbanNaturale so I was also attracted to the name of your blog. I would love to share your insights about Urban Homesteading on my blog, at your convenience. I will touch base with you.All the best, Deborah

    • Sorry for the delay in responding (was ill). Glad you enjoy the post. Living on an urban homestead is such a wonderful experience. I would be delighted to touch base with you about it. Have a wonderful day!

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  7. I have absolutely no background in farming – suburban girl though and through – but my husband lived on the land as a boy, so we are making a lot of use of our suburban plot, which is all new to me, but I am 100% in favour – it’s brilliant for kids to learn; it’s real life. You could say food is central to our psychology, so it’s really not healthy to be completely removed from the land where it comes from.

  8. I loved my visit here.. Someone after my own heart.. 😉 as we grow our own food on the allotment plot.. Love the Pasta sauce … Now thats another idea for my overripe tomatoes this year.. I made lots of soup last year to freeze.. 🙂
    Many thanks for sharing..
    Sue

  9. Love your statement that homesteading is a frame of mind. I totally agree – you don’t have to do everything. You can fit a lot and actually produce a lot of food in a typical backyard.

    • Thank you. I am a firm believer that homesteading is indeed a frame of mind. You don’t need to have a huge property to have the desire and a set of skills. It is amazing what can be grown in your own backyard.

  10. This is a wonderful post, and I relate to much of it. I don’t have my bees and chickens yet, but give it time. I come from a country background, too, but I can see a lot of advantages to urban homesteading, and am enjoying the learning process! One thing that I have also learned to do– forage. I get cherries from one neighbor, plums from another, apples, pears and quince from my uncle in the country. I know I can’t provide the majority of my food, but I can forage and bargain with others to add more to my pantry!

    • Thank you. And yes… foraging is great. Some folks with fruit trees don’t harvest and they gladly share. We also trade with friends… maybe they grow some herbs that we don’t have so we swap fresh eggs for fresh herbs.

    • Thank you. I am truly touched. This topic is really part of me. I guess the saying is true. “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl”.

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