Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Picture the little, sweet granny shuffling her feet over to her beloved tomato plants in a city home where she's lived for many long years. Tended to lovingly, she waits for a tomato to be perfectly ripe, juicy and fragrant. When ready, she happily plucks it, slices it, and hungrily devours it. This is a moment she's waited for since the day she bought her little seeds at the local hardware. While she tastes it, really savors it, memories are conjured of days gone by-- being a little girl, perhaps growing tomatoes on a farm with her folks, or growing them with her husband while raising their children. But in the here and now, this is all she can do.
The land is gone. All that she has now is her small porch among city dwellers with enormous water guzzling lawns, with not a fresh homegrown vegetable in sight. But these are hers! And she knows she doesn't need anything more than this.
Her homemade cheese, made with goat's milk from a nearby farm, awaits her in the fridge. It shares the shelf with some apple juice she pressed herself. The bread she baked this morning is cooling on the rack. And as she tastes the tangy freshness of her tomato, the heavenly scent of the perfectly ripe fruit drifts up into her nostrils. It's all she needs to confirm it. Yep, she farmed this tomato. And it's, well...perfect.
What is your small farm? Is it the vegetables you grow on your apartment balcony? How about the cheese you produced in your suburban basement? Do you live in the city, and did you rip out your front lawn, ensuring a steady supply of homegrown veg for you and your family? Do you have a quarter-section and utilize your land to produce all of your families needs? Do you mill the very grain you produce on your land, supplying yourself with flour to bake bread?
People can get caught up on the word 'farm'. To some, farming means acres of grains, whirring tractors, and oodles of mooing cows. Anything less is, well, gardening. But in modern times, this is changing. A small farm has the same priority as a large farm: to produce and cultivate food. Buzzing bees that churn out honey, chickens for eggs and meat, goats that produce milk, fibers and meat, and vegetable crops can all be produced on a small allotment. Square footage is not an issue. Passion and motivation is!
For us, our little farm is our backyard homestead that we've created on our 25 x 150 foot town lot. An obscurely long rectangular that was virtually bare the day we purchased it. In one and a half years, she's been overhauled.
Main structures, such as a fence, greenhouse and cold frame, were added. The crusted, clay-like soil was tilled and amended with compost, straw and newspaper. Young grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, plum and apple trees now grace the yard. Hops for brewing beer have been planted. Barrels collect rainwater used for watering. Clotheslines are erected to ensure sweet smelling laundry, without the drain and cost of electricity. Native prairie grasses have been added. Sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, Swiss chard, tomatoes, peas, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumber and onions are grown here, processed, canned or frozen for the long prairie winter. All that's missing is our chickens and bees, both of which town by-laws prohibit. For now we must rely on wild bees for pollination. But imagine what else we could do with a little more time!
If you are growing vegetables, making a few homemade wares here and there...you are practicing good, old-fashioned homesteading techniques. If you are not doing these things...you can! Make the most of what you've got and get planting!
Liesl and Myles are urban homesteaders from Alberta, Canada. You can also find them at NEST.