When people hear the term homesteading, most think of a sprawling acreage in a country setting. Dusty roads. A herd of cattle. Water from the well. Pickup trucks. And while some homesteads fit this image, there is a growing trend of homesteads across the country. It is urban homesteads.
Now you may think, “how can you homestead in a city”? The biggest hurdle to overcome is the realization that homesteading is not just a way of living, but it is a way of thinking. It is also a way of engaging on a more personal level within your community.
Simple Steps to Creating an Urban Homestead
- Grow a garden. If space is something you don’t have, join a community garden where you can rent a small plot of ground for the gardening season. Plant what you love to eat. If you don’t have a local community garden, raise herbs in pots and place them on your patio, balcony, or fire escape.
- Hang your laundry to dry. Skip the clothes dryer hang clothes on a line or drying rack. Line-dried clothes have a fresh scent that makes dryer sheets envious. My mom used to say that her clean laundry smelled of sunshine and fresh air.
- Learn how to cook from scratch using whole food ingredients. Skip the pre-made mixes and condensed soups and learn how to make a meal using fresh ingredients. If cooking was something you did not learn while growing up at home, there are plenty of opportunities available. Check with your recreation center, continuing education program, or kitchen stores. Also check for classes offered by private chefs and catering companies. Start with a few simple recipes and then expand as you feel comfortable and confident in your skills.
- Learn the art of mending. Simple sewing repairs can save clothing or even items like a pillow case from being tossed if there is a small tear or rip in the fabric. Sewing on buttons is easy and is a repair that can be done in just a few minutes. You can create a sewing (mending) kit with just a few items: assorted needles that can be threaded; a pair of small, sharp scissors; thread suitable for sewing (skip the embroidery floss as it is not as sturdy); save the extra buttons that come with clothing and add them to the kit). Check with your local fabric store for introductory classes into sewing.
- Save seeds. Let a few of your homegrown plants go to seed and save them for the following year. NOTE: seed saving does not work with hybrid plant varieties. The seeds will not produce plants just like the plant you harvested from. Instead, save seed from heirloom varieties.
- Make yogurt and/or cheese. You don’t need a cow or goat. Simply purchase milk from the store or farmer’s market (but skip the homogenized… you won’t get good curd development). Many books are available on how to make yogurt and cheese as well as videos online. They are surprisingly easy to make and taste great.
- Stock a pantry with basic ingredients and skip the processed foods that come in boxes and cans. Basic pantry ingredients include (but not limited to): rice, beans, lentils, dried mushrooms, nuts, dried fruit, honey, grains, flour, yeast, sugar, and assorted dried herbs and spices. By stocking your pantry with these ingredients, you are more likely to make something from scratch rather than reaching for that can of convenience food.
- Compost. Turn your vegetative kitchen scraps into compost. If you have the space outside, go with a larger bin/compost container. Remember that meats and oils are a no-no in compost. They take a very long time to break down and tend to attract rodents. When your compost is ready (it should appear brown with no large discernible pieces of plants and smelly earthy) add you compost to your garden beds or planters.
- Clean your home with non-toxic materials that you can find in your pantry. Vinegar and baking soda are two items that make excellent cleaners. The internet is full of articles and videos on how to make various cleaners.
- Preserve food. Dehydrate, ferment, or can produce. It is a great way to use the bounty of your garden (or your purchases from the grocery store or farmer’s market). Check with your local cooperative extension office for preserving classes or with a catering service or private chef.
- Keep bees. If your municipal code allows it, put a beehive on your property. Remember, the honey bees will fly beyond the perimeter of your property line so don’t worry about not having enough flowers in your garden. Honey bees will fly approximately two miles looking for nectar, pollen, and water. Not only will they benefit your garden, but also your neighbor’s. And let’s not forget… the honey is a nice bonus.
- Raise chickens. Much like bees, refer to your local city code to see if it is allowed within city limits. If you allow your chickens to free-range in your backyard, they help with insect control, provide shallow tilling of your garden beds, provide fertilizer, entertain us with their antics, and of course… provide eggs! Making breakfast with a still warm egg from the nest box is truly a sublime experience.
- Barter/Trade for items you don’t have. Since urban lots can be small, be willing to trade some of your produce with friends or neighbors who are growing produce that you don’t have. If you don’t have any fresh produce to trade consider baking bread or cookies as trade. Not culinarily inclined? Offer a service such as babysitting or taking care of their garden when they go on vacation.
- Repurpose items. Cracked bowling ball? Don’t throw it away. Turn it into a garden ornament. Surplus glass canning jars? Turn them into vases, candle holders, or use them to store dry goods in your pantry.
- Collect rainwater to use for your garden. Believe it or not, some communities (and even states) prohibit collecting rainwater. Check your municipal code. If it is allowed, by all means, set up a rain barrel. It is amazing how much water you can collect from a brief 20 minute rain shower.
- Hold food swaps. Organize this event with other folks who enjoy canning or baking. Make at least six batches (or jars) of something you are willing to swap. Clearly label what is in your homemade creation. Perhaps you can swap a jar of pickles for a batch of brownies? At this type of event, no money trades hands, only food.
- Walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation. Getting out of the capsule of your car puts you in a closer connection with your community. It will offer you a chance to meet new people, enjoy a new experience, and provide a perspective of your neighborhood you may have missed from the comfort of your car.
- Buy second-hand items. One man’s trash truly is one man’s treasure. Not only do you save money over buying something brand new, but you save resources and lessen your impact on the environment. Cloth napkins are an excellent purchase at a thrift store. Look for well-made items. Some may need to be cleaned to look good as new. Be bold and experiment by mixing and matching colors and patterns.
- Regrow vegetables. Some vegetable kitchen scraps can be regrown such as saving the bottom end of a celery bunch or the root ends of green onions. The internet is a great resource. Look for videos on which vegetables can be regrown as well as how to do it.
- Share your knowledge. The skills you learn are a valuable resource. Empower others by teaching them what you have learned. With some encouragement, you may have a neighborhood of urban homesteaders.
Urban homesteading is within your grasp. Learn new skills and take them on one at a time so you won’t feel overwhelmed. Classes, books, and videos are available to show you how. Try to be sustainable in your day to day living, but please do what works best for you. Have fun, be engaged, and share what you have learned with others. Urban homesteading is indeed possible in this day and age.