A Renter's Homestead

| 8/7/2008 2:58:59 PM

Tags: Cold Antler Farm, homesteading, renting,

I’m relatively new to homesteading. Brand new, actually. I’ve only been at it a few years. My gardens are humble, my livestock pint-sized, and the closest thing I have to a draft horse are my Siberian Huskies pulling a small sled — not exactly CSA startup material here. But hey, I’ll catch up.

While my current adventures in self-sufficiency are pretty light, they are slowly growing more complex and rewarding. Last year I was keeping rabbits — now I’m breeding them. I used to keep just a few hens for my own eggs — now I’m selling cartons at work from a larger flock. Every year I learn something new, make different mistakes, and get a little more comfortable in wellies and carhart. I’m getting it, but I wouldn’t be at it at all if I waited till the day I could buy a small farm to get started. You see folks, I farm and I rent.

Yes, I rent. I pay pet deposits, go to laundromats and the plumber does not bill me. It’s not the conventional way to go, but for me (and maybe you) it’s the only way to go right now. I am a firm believer that putting off what makes you content is happiness suicide. I don’t care what anyone else tells you, a homesteader doesn’t necessarily have to be a home owner. You don’t have to put off your fresh food dreams because you didn’t pick out the welcome mat.

Tenets like us don’t have to wait to start homesteading. There are things you can do right now that won’t break your lease or scare your neighbors. A henhouse with a few cooing Rhode Island Reds pecking around the yard makes less noise and causes less wear on a lawn then a Scottish Terrier. A small raised bed garden and some potted plants are even less obtrusive. I’m not saying to overhaul land that isn’t yours and pack it tight with 30 Nubian goats — but if your landlord can be sweet-talked into some small backyard projects, go for it with gusto (and if they balk, offer them a dozen organic free-range eggs every two weeks and some homemade tomato sauce. They’ll cave like spelunkers.)

Hey, even if animals aren’t a reality, and you can’t have a kitten (much less a Cochin) at your place there are no rules saying you have to pay a mortgage to bake your own bread or can green beans from the farmers market. Homesteading has so many intricate little parts that don’t require that romantic seven acres upstate — you shouldn’t wait. Start up that pressure canner and knit yourself a hat, son! Learn those skills you’ll use on the farm before you get there — you’ll be glad you did!

Jenna with DogsYou shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to get started either. A used sewing machine off Craigslist or a drop spindle and some roving might be all you need to start making your own clothes or spinning your own yarns. If money isn’t the issue, and space is, see if some of your friends want to get together and work on a community garden in one of their back yards or rooftops. You’d be amazed at what urbanites can do when they crave fresh vegetables. A lot of topsoil is being carried up elevators as we speak.

8/24/2008 4:03:56 AM

We are in the military stationed overseas and therefore have little choice but to rent. That hasn't stopped us from planting a nice little vegetable garden this year. I put in a raised bed and converted a flower bed to tomatoes. We have gotten our first ripe ones this week. I think the raised beds are a good idea for renters also because you can take them out, haul the dirt away, and lay down sod if you have to move and your landlord doesn't like them.

lynne aldridge
8/23/2008 10:57:32 AM

We don't have as much space, but do what we can to live like a rural peasant of pre-industrial Britain in a modern urbane setting. I make jams, chutneys and pickles from the crops we grow, have made cheese from cows' goats' and even buffalo milk and both myself and my partner are accomplished bakers. We rent a suburban terraced house on the Northern outskirts of London. We turned the scruffy 6 by 4 foot front lawn into a raised bed filled with herbs, and are in the process of turning the 72 by 14 foot back garden into a practical, productive yet attractive space. So far we set up compost bins at the far end behind the potting shed, planted a raised bed of shade tolerant perennials under the trees near the shed, sunk a washing up bowl sized pond and planted moist shade tolerant plants (including a clump of Ramsons a.k.a. Wild Garlic) in another "difficult" patch and made a small deck from reclaimed boards by the back door to catch the morning sun. The next big project is to make our own chicken house and run, using as much reclaimed material as possible. All this is with the blessing of our landlord. The previous tenants wrecked the garden by using it as little more than a ran for two German Shepherds. Because of potential dog contamination, and due to the fact we have lousy soil - a mix of solid clay and builders' waste, we will be growing in raised beds and containers. We are on the side of a hill, and there is an 18 inch drop across the garden and undulations lengthways. We have been picking various herbs, strawberries and raspberries, and if we actually get some sunshine, there may be some tomatoes later this month. We would have liked to grown crops at our previous house, but the landlord there wouldn't allow it, despite neglecting the garden almost to spite us. We also have an allotment. Again it's new this year as we gave up our old plot as it was too far to travel on public transport. We don'

8/23/2008 8:39:48 AM

Wow what a coincidence. I am on the way to look over a 20 acre sight about 100 miles south of Chicago. I too have a dream of Homesteading. Have always desired to live a sustainable life as well as teach it to my family. Currently, in my Chicago(south side) neighborhood, I have made an effort to live a sustainable lifestyle, have got a lot of neighbors involved and hopefully set the wheels in motion in their own yards. Would love to be able to raise livestock but highly doubt this to be possible within the city limits. Which brings me to my point(question), 'If I were to purchase this 20 acre plot(along a river) would anybody be interested in renting acreage to homestead?' Is there a homestead classifieds page? I know a lot of us desire this lifestyle and, through concerted efforts, we should be able to make a go of it. Some could raise pigs, or cows or hens etc and others interested could be gardeners hmmmmmmm and all could barter/share. Not a Commune, merely a decent way for folks to live their dreams. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks John

8/21/2008 5:20:41 PM

I heartily agree. I'm a renter in Berkeley CA and because I have very amenable landlords I, along with my housemates, are all pitching in and turning a pretty shabby lot into a fertile vegetable and herb garden. I know that I'll be leaving this place in a few years but until then I have an excellent opportunity to learn the essentials of gardening and maintaining a sustainable plot of land. The things I learn here I can take with me wherever I go, so for me it's totally worth it. www.greenishbrown.blogspot.com

scott messenger
8/21/2008 12:32:10 PM

I certainly applaud your efforts at self-sufficiency, and you definitely should not put off your dreams. The only reason I had to put in my two cents was because of a recent piece I heard on NPR's "All things considered." A renter had fallen in love with her rental, and had no intentions of ever leaving. As a result she invested countless hours (and countless dollars) on creating herself a wonderful flower garden. Well, things changed and the land owner did not renew her lease, despite her pleas. Her story did have a happy ending, sort of. Members of a gardening message board heard of her plight, and came to her rescue in moving 100's of plants from her rental property to her parents home. She has moved in with her parents, but I doubt that is the ideal living arrangements for her and her daughters. So she'll have to find a permanent place to live and then relocate her garden, again. Investing substantial time, effort, and dollars into something you don't own is always going to be risky. Again, I applaud your efforts, and look forward to hearing more about your homesteading efforts.

felicia luburich
8/18/2008 7:41:21 PM

Hello. What you are doing is wonderful. It was my own dream, in my youth, but Other matters intervened. Now I am free ( almost) of encomberences and would like to enter into a rural way of life. However, at my age, there is not time to wait everything out and learn everthing " the hard way". Hence I would like input to help me make the transition. I currently live in NJ and WILL move as soon as I sell my present abode. Meanwhile if anyone would email with me to help me determine the best places to investigate for relocation, it would be a boon. IE Is there a place comparable to the Cold Antler area in PA or did you move to your current location because it was necessary to move to a more out of the way place to find what you now have as a life style? ETC. If you have a cell phone you can call me after 9PM Mon to Fri or on the weekend on my cell at 732 668 7562. Speaking is quicker than writing. Or you can certainly email me at FEsrigoHL@aol.com . I also have large dogs, 4, the youngest of wich is the 14th generation of my own breeding, which includes 50 Champions. So I am well acquainted with breeding and all its manifestations; including the necessary dedication and expertise to have real success in being a benefit to the breed. I wish you all your dreams. You are right: you only go this way once and don't pay ANY attention to a person with priorities not in tune with yours. People who don't have or live their dreams are only too quick to try and disuade you from yours. Misery loves comany. Sincerely

ted lastsongleft
8/14/2008 10:50:32 AM

Greetings! I couldn't agree more with renting a homestead; all of the joy and none of the responsibility. As a current homeowner under the "Rural Development" program by the USDA, I'm actually on a very busy street in a residential area! Hardly rural! And even tho' the gov't helps you with your mortgage, I just learned that after you pay off your house, they want what they paid in interest IN FULL. Oh, you can live in the house, but you'll never own the deed. Anyway, as the sewer assessments of $10,000 or more are quietly creeping up my street, I really feel like selling my house and renting outside the city. Since my "lifestyle" [actually, it's that my life HAS style, for the record]tends to make me desirable to landlords, I'm sure there's a landlord out there that would love to have me move on his/her farm and fix it up and make it swell. Peace to all beings on the planet!

john rockhold
8/14/2008 10:00:51 AM

Beautiful dogs!! Your gradual, evolutionary approach to pursuing your dreams is inspiring. The bottom line is we have to go after our dreams, we can't wait for the "right" time. Thanks for sharing your stories, I'm looking forward to reading more.

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