A Renter's Homestead

Reader Contribution by Staff
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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!

You 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.

Point is, do not be discouraged if that dream farm isn’t here yet. It certainly isn’t for me and I have no idea when it will. However, until then there are a million recipes to test, country fairs to visit, local farms to tour and sheepdog trials to observe. So get off your desk chair and plant some peas in a pot. Yes, I know it’s not a rolling hillside, but hey, it’s something real we can put in our stomachs. And when all the tractor-and-Holstein wrapping paper is ripped off that’s what this is about in the first place, isn’t it? So let’s take what we can get tonight and be grateful for it.

Jenna Woginrich is the author of the forthcoming book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Publishing. Visit her Web site atcoldantlerfarm.blogspot.com.