Tips and ideas to start your urban homestead, a tiny farm in the backyard. Lack of land does not have to stop you from living your dream right now.
by Amber Bradshaw
Have you ever dreamed of owning acres of land instead of feet? Waking up to the sound of a rooster crowing instead of an alarm beeping? Or milking a cow instead of milking the clock?
Homesteading has been gaining a lot of popularity over the past several years to where it is almost trendy now to be a homesteader. People all over the world are cashing in their 401k, trading their 9-5 jobs and suits for a dusk-til-dawn job with overalls and hoes.
But not everyone can afford to quit their job and move out to the country to follow their Homesteading dream. The majority of us live in urban areas so we put our homesteading dream on the back burner. Lack of land does not have to stop you from living your dream right now, whether you have a balcony or 100 acres, you can be a homesteader.
The urban Homestead mentality
- Having the desire to remove yourself from consumerism, to buy less, and have more.
- Learning the ways of old and making things by hand and from scratch.
- Respecting the land and everything on it.
- Striving to live a sustainable lifestyle and support the local economy.
- Sharing your skills with others and passing down your knowledge.
Our Urban Homestead
We began our Homesteading journey right where we were at, on a ¼ acre lot 1 mile from the ocean in a tourist town, living in a neighborhood with a Homeowners Association; it is not the ideal location or situation but we were determined to have a homestead without moving from the beach.
On our little Coastal Homestead, we’ve had: chickens for eggs and manure, goats for milk and manure, bees for honey, and ducks for eggs, entertainment, and manure. We grow a lot of our own food, herbal medicine, and operate an online Farmers Market where I sell many of my artisan items as well as produce.
We have a variety of fruit and nut trees in addition to raised garden beds, vertical gardens, hydroponic gardens, mushroom growing areas, rainwater collection and irrigation, gray water irrigation, several composting areas and we are currently embarking on our next journey of renewable energy.
Five Ways to start your Urban Homestead
A word of caution. When starting your homestead, don’t adopt the philosophy “it’s better to ask for forgiveness later than permission now” you could end up with a lot of heartache and legal troubles. If you are wanting to raise livestock or even collect rainwater, check your local laws and homeowner regulations to make sure what you want to do is allowed and what the restrictions are before you invest any time and money into it. Always be respectful of your neighbors, not everyone appreciates the smell of manure- even if it is organic.
1. Remove Yourself from Consumerism
“Wanting less is a better blessing than having more.” — Mary Ellen Edmunds
- Become a minimalist. Go on a purge in your home, reduce the amount of clutter you have, and free yourself from clutter and ‘things’. When you start an urban homestead, living simply becomes more important than having the latest items.
- Stay out of stores. We are a buy, buy, buy society and the reality is, we don’t need it. If you truly think about (and focus on) the essentials to sustain life, you will rarely need to go shopping at a store.
- Turn off the TV. Corporations spend trillions of dollars every year influencing you to buy more and spend more through advertising on TV. Just think of all the things in your house right now that you would not own had you never seen the advertisement on TV.
2. Learning the ways of old
Learn skills of old and incorporate them into your life. There is a popular saying in the urban homestead world that is often referred to as “like grandma used to” or “like our ancestors use to.” Make sure you realize your limitations, your homesteading journey will not be enjoyable if you spend every waking hour making every single thing from scratch.
- Learn to make bread from scratch – this is one skill you will want to do more than once-yum!
- Learn to can food and preserve your harvest. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can buy in bulk from local farmers or at markets and can seasonal produce for storage.
- Learn how to sew, crochet, and knit. YouTube has some amazing how-to videos these days, it is so easy to play-pause-start over and play again until you get it right.
- Seek mentors- learn from people who are already doing what you want to learn. Check with the ladies group at your church, contact your local extension office for classes, reach out to senior centers, ask your library about groups that meet there or classes they offer, check extended learning programs at colleges. You will be surprised all that you can learn for free (or for a minimal cost) if you start looking.
3. Be a good steward of the land
‘Being a good steward’ is a passion of mine, some may even say my obsession. I feel that we were given this land to take care of and in turn, it will take care of us. We cannot be consumers without accepting responsibility for our actions. If we truly want to be homesteaders then we will respect the land we have been entrusted to.
- Learn to make your own non-toxic cleaners. Using natural cleaners saves our land and waters.
- Line-dry your clothes. You can save on energy and money by letting the sun do the drying. You can even hang dry inside if you don’t have a yard.
- Practice good animal husbandry. Being a good steward also means taking care of everything that walks on the earth as well as what is in the earth.
- Practice the 5 Rs:
- REFUSE to buy one-time use plastics and non-recyclable products.
- REDUCE the amount you use by becoming a minimalist.
- REUSE an item over and over again before recycling.
- REPURPOSE by giving a new purpose to old items. Turn that milk jug into a lantern.
- RECYCLE all items that have been through the first 4 R’s. Recycling should be the last consideration when making a purchase.
4. Live a Sustainable lifestyle and Support the Local Economy
- Grow a garden, even if it’s on a windowsill. Learn to appreciate the empowerment of providing your own food.
- Remove the barcodes from your life. If you are buying something with a barcode, chances are some of it (if not all of it) has been imported. Make it from scratch or buy from someone who does.
- Shop yard sales, thrift shops, and second-hand stores. Used does not mean poor or bad quality. Buying used is not only economically sound but it saves our resources.
- Shop local. When you shop local you support the local economy and help reduce your carbon footprint.
- Know your farmer. This is a big one- knowing where your food comes from. Many farms offer tours and roadside stands to help supplement their income, if not (at the very least) they will be happy to answer a few questions about what they produce and how you can purchase from them. Develop a relationship with your farmer, offer to volunteer in the fields, and learn from their experience.
- Buy what is in season. If you learn to eat only what is in season in your region, you will make a huge environmental impact and the food you receive will have optimal nutrients because it is picked at peak ripeness.
5. Share your knowledge
Many ways of old have been forgotten or lost because there was no one to pass the knowledge down to. Share what you learn with as many that are willing to listen, on your tips to start an urban homestead.
- Host workshops at your home with friends (make sure you charge for supplies if needed).
- Become a mentor to a child. Volunteer to lead a 4-H club or Scouts.
- Offer classes at the local library
- Start a blog
- Write an article for the newspaper
- Offer after-school programs for kids
Start living your homesteading dream right where you are at and create a life you don’t want to move from.
Amber Bradshaw is an environmentalist, garden, and outdoor enthusiast. She strives to get back into nature with a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle that fits a busy schedule and a tight budget.
Amber lives on the east coast with her family on a little over 1/4 acre and encourages others to do big things with small spaces. She is a wife and mother of three, runs an online Farmers Market, is part of a family contracting business, is a 4-H leader, and teaches extended learning classes at a local college. When not out in the garden you can find her sharing her latest homestead tips at My Homestead Life. Update: You can also see Amber and her entire family build their new off-grid homestead on HGTV’s Building Off The Grid: Smoky Mountain Homestead.