Guide to Urban Homesteading

Learn about urban homesteading skills, such as small-scale composting, urban beekeeping, and how to set up a rainwater catchment system.

| April/May 2014

City Seeds Urban Farm St. Louis Garden

A 2 1/2-acre vegetable garden, native plant nursery, and dwarf fruit tree orchard comprise City Seeds Urban Farm near downtown St. Louis.

Photo by Jason Houston

If you live in a city and dream of someday being able to work the land and become a modern homesteader, consider this: There’s no need to wait — you can easily do many homesteading activities in the city. You may not have enough garden space to grow your own wheat or corn, but you can harvest an amazing amount of many crops from a collection of containers. Owning your own milk cow is likely not an option, but keeping backyard chickens certainly is. Plus, in the city, it can be much easier to build a community of like-minded neighbors who can share tools, knowledge and friendship.

Here’s what it can look like: In a single year, six households working with the organization Daily Acts in Petaluma, Calif., produced more than 3,000 pounds of food; foraged 2,000 pounds of local fruit; collected more than 4,000 pounds of urban organic waste to be used as compost and mulch; planted more than 185 fruit trees; installed five greywater and rainwater catchment systems that saved tens of thousands of gallons of water; tended to bees, chickens, ducks, quail and rabbits; and worked to reduce energy use and enhance public transportation opportunities. All of this from six households! (For another example of urban self-reliance, read about a Midwestern neighborhood that created a “homestead hamlet” in Neighborhood Gardens Create Community Food Security.)

Learning traditional skills such as canning, fermenting, soup-making, seed saving, sewing and knitting, beekeeping, candle-making, and water and energy management brings you and your neighbors together in constructive ways. These urban homesteading tasks will save money, create abundance, harness your creativity and put you in touch with the necessities of life. Classes and lectures, neighborhood elders, community projects, and resource books at the library can help you learn these skills.

Why not start re-skilling your community today? The following steps will get you moving along the path to more sustainable urban living.

1. Observe and Interact

Slow down and look critically at where you live before taking any action. Through observation, you will make wiser, more responsive choices about your homestead that will have long-lasting results. Learn everything you can about your bioregion: Can you trace the water you drink from source to tap? Who is growing your food? Where do your garbage and sewage go?

Observation should not only include a clear-eyed assessment of the natural resources where you live — water, sun, wind, and available space for growing — but also interactions with your neighbors. For example, consider how close your neighbors are to where you want to site your chicken coop. Sharing a flock, chores and the bounty with your neighbors will be more efficient.

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