Becoming (Accidental) Urban Farmers

Reader Contribution by Tobias Whitaker
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An urban homestead is as unique as the individuals who own the property. Our homestead developed slowly. In fact, my wife likes to joke that we are “accidental homesteaders.” We did not buy our village home nestled on 1/16th of an acre with the goal of becoming urban farmers, it just sort of happened out of necessity.

Like a lot of folks across the country, my family felt the crunch of the economic downturn in the early part of 2000. At the time, I was a new homeowner and my wife was eight months pregnant with our second child when I lost my job. I had a small kitchen garden and it helped during my transition from one job to another.

This all was a wakeup call, though, and I felt the need to expand my garden in an effort to feel more secure in my ability to provide food for my family. Luckily I did so, because three years later I suffered another layoff due to funding cuts.

As you can see, my initial venture into homesteading was a result of economic strain. Though there are a number of benefits associated with homesteading, such as health, land stewardship, and self-sufficiency, they were all secondary at the time. It really came down to dollars and cents and how to make my family more self-sufficient in the face of adversity.

I decided to look at my small property, which is located in the rural village of Sidney, NY, as an asset rather than a hindrance. It was not a lot of land but if utilized properly, I was sure that it could provide for us on a number of levels — and thankfully, it has.

I approached the whole project from a perspective of ingenuity that was simply the result of not having a lot of money to put into the venture. I bought my tools used when possible. I built my raised beds out of the rocks that are so plentiful in the rich soil of southern New York State. I purchased heirloom seeds and then traded with other gardeners in an effort to build up my seed catalog. I was as frugal as possible, and it paid off in the long run.

I now have five apple trees of various ages and production on the property. I grow raspberries, blackberries and strawberries as well as many other varieties. I have nearly twenty raised beds and garden plots that contain everything from edible flowers to culinary herbs and heirloom vegetables. I raise hens for eggs and rabbits for their manure and meat.

All told, there are nearly 45 varieties of plants on my 1/16-acre that my family can eat.

It is very empowering to grow your own food. It is a commitment and it is hard work at times but it is the most rewarding venture, aside from being a parent, which I have done in the last decade. I am eager to take my experience and try to expand upon it.

I still feel I can produce more food on my homestead. I believe I can extend my growing season. I would also like to investigate the potential of adding quail and dwarf goats to the mix.

Regardless of where this journey leads, I now have a strong foundation after nearly a decade of urban homesteading, and I will share my experience here with you all. Stay tuned.

As a third-generation micro-farmer, Tobias Whitaker had strong early influences in regards to responsibly working the land and taking pride in producing his own food. Tobias is currently working on an urban homesteading bookand is also exploring ways to increase his yearly yield and lengthen his growing season. You can find him online atSeed to Harvest blog.

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