Home sweet homestead: look what's growing in the city

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | September 27, 2012

More and more people across the country and around the globe are becoming concerned about where their food is coming from and how it gets to them. The reasons behind this new drive for knowledge range from rising costs of produce transportation to apprehension about pesticides and processing; from an urge to make food production more local, to desires for healthy and sustainable living. Whatever the reason, urban homesteading, as it's come to be known, has some lofty goals, a growing number of fervent supporters and a lot to teach us.

What is urban homesteading?

While it can also be called urban farming, urban agriculture, urban permaculture or even just gardening, none of these fully captures the true essence of the movement quite like "urban homesteading." According to the Dervaes Institute, experts and long-time practitioners, urban homesteading comprises the following ten elements:

  1. Growing your own food on a city lot
  2. Using alternative energy solutions
  3. Using alternative fuels and transportation
  4. Keeping farm animals for manure and food
  5. Practicing waste reduction
  6. Reclaiming gray water and collecting rain water
  7. Living simply
  8. Doing the work yourself
  9. Working at home
  10. Being a good neighbor

Each of these elements can be explored in more depth, but generally speaking, at its root urban homesteading is all about living a simpler and more sustainable life amid the challenges of an urban environment.

Some home-grown benefits

Putting aside hotly debated topics about which many urban homesteaders are passionate -- like climate change or peak oil -- there are some clear benefits anyone can reap from this movement:

  • Saving money. Depending on your growing season and dedication, you can save hundreds of dollars in produce every year by gardening.
  • Feeling good and eating well. Gardening is a relaxing and meditative task -- and the result is fresh produce!
  • Growing a community. In areas without an excess of land on which to grow crops, community gardens are, literally, cropping up. These gardens are bringing communities together and teaching everyone involved about the process and benefits of growing produce.
  • Eating home-grown. Food grown locally doesn't need to be shipped to you. You get fresh produce, never frozen -- without preservatives.
  • Sowing diversity. In your garden you can grow whatever you like, from classic to more exotic produce.

5 simple takeaways for the average urbanite

You don't have to be an off-the-grid extremist to take advantage of what urban homesteading has to offer. Check out these ways to incorporate some of the tenets of urban homesteading into your own day-to-day life:

  1. Compost. Instead of trashing your organic waste, start a compost bin in a back corner of your yard. From food scraps to yard clippings, there are all sorts of compostables that you can turn into great fertilizer without much effort.
  2. Raise chickens. Imagine having your own personal egg factory in the backyard -- and the chickens can be as organic, vegetarian-fed and cage-free as you want. Just be sure to follow building codes and local regulations when you put in that coop.
  3. Leave your car behind. Try to eliminate all of the short trips you make in your car. Set a mileage and weather limit for yourself to stick to your guns (e.g., if it's under five miles and it isn't raining or snowing, it's biking time).
  4. Plant some edible landscaping. Instead of spending time and money growing thorn-covered bushes, try giving your landscaping a boost with edible plants. Start small with herbs and work your way up to a fruit-and-vegetable-producing paradise.
  5. Grow a community. Urban homesteading is about building a new way of life based in, and centered around, community instead of corporations. If you can inspire others to start growing different things, you've got a cornucopia of healthy, local food in the making. Not enough room to garden in your own yard? Find or start a community garden -- resources abound online.

Be a good neighbor; share the fruits (and veggies) of your labor; live well and sustainably. You may be amazed at how good it feels.

About the Author

Karl Fendelander composts, sprouts, gardens, cooks and loves every minute of it. When he isn't playing in the garden or writing about it, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.