Urban homesteading is a growing movement, in which more and more people are starting to grow and raise their own organic food, make and create essential items from scratch, connect with their community, and live more frugal, lower impact lifestyles.
It is also known as backyard, suburban or city farming, and covers a wide range of activities or hobbies, that people are doing in their own space. It may be as small as a balcony, or several hundred square metres of a suburban block, or even, a semi-rural acreage near a city.
It isn’t just your garden or yard, but inside your house, on your roof, down your street, and over your fence. Urban agriculture embraces community gardens, school gardens, unused common areas, parks and reserves, verges, local farms and more.
Urban homesteading is for people who believe in the value of learning ‘back to basics’ or ‘simple living’ skills and knowledge, who are providing some essentials of living for themselves and their families. Those who enjoy the simple, but hard earned, pleasures in life, often whilst maintaining a ‘regular’ job and often a modern lifestyle.
Urban homesteading has been around since ancient times, with resurgence in popularity and necessity, during such times as economic depressions, back-to-the-land movements, Victory Gardens and war support campaigns. Many cultures around the world embrace urban homesteading, even if they don’t call it that!
If you are keen to get started with urban homesteading, this Beginners Guide to Urban Homesteading can answer some of your FAQ.
Urban homesteading encompasses a wide range of activities, similar to what traditional farmers or agrarian people would do to provide essential elements of living for themselves, but being done by folk living in smaller spaces, and balancing modern lifestyles too.
- growing your own organic food, including propagation, seed saving, organic pest solutions, homemade organic fertiliser, composting, soil conditioning, worm farming
- setting up water harvesting and storage (including grey water systems)
- setting up energy harvesting and storage or alternative energy sources
- incorporating recycling and reusing
- preserving, esp. the food you have grown, including dehydrating, canning (in jars), making preserves, jam and pickles, fermenting and smoking
- raising backyard animals, from worm farms, to chickens, rabbits or maybe even a goat, as well as bees, and fish
- making your own: food from ‘scratch’ – including yoghurt, labna and cheese; beer, wine and other beverages; bread, crackers and pasta
- making your own: clothes, homewares and presents – from knitting, to sewing, to crochet, spinning & dying wool, felting, reconstructing; woodworking, craft and many more
- making your own: soap, toiletries and beauty products – such as skin care, and hair care
- making your own: herbal and medicinal remedies, and gaining the huge amount of knowledge to use them safely
- cleaning, and housekeeping, using homemade natural cleaning agents, and homegrown/ home made tools, plus pest control, equipment repair and maintenance
- frugal living – being resourceful, making do, meal planning and using up leftovers, bartering, foraging
- building community bonds and resilience, such as community groups
Urban homesteading is about having access to affordable, healthy, nutrient-dense foods, and living a more mindful, purposeful, low-tox lifestyle. The benefits can be improvements in health, saving money, catering to allergies/ dietary requirements, satisfaction of a productive hobby, community connection and resilience!
There are great reasons why every day folk are taking on the challenge of ‘urban homesteading’, including…
- Education and awareness for your kids (and yourself), about the life cycles of what they eat & consume, as well as learning every skills
- A great way to get involved with your neighbours and in your community, helping to build resilience and adapt in place
- Satisfaction and having fun creating, growing, trouble shooting, connecting, being productive
- Good health from getting out in the fresh air, connecting with nature, doing some exercise, and eating better
- There can be environmental benefits from less carbon emissions, less reliance on fossil fuels, less pollution and less waste if you incorporate ‘closed-loop systems’
- You can be ‘ethically-minded’ by looking after the land, the animals and communities, knowing where your food (& other stuff) comes from, and who might have been affected by its production.
- Security of being able to feed and provide for yourself, your kids, your loved ones & perhaps your community, in times of rising food & energy costs, food unavailability, unemployment, environmental breakdown etc.
There may be reasons why urban homesteading may not be suitable hobby or adventure for everyone, as it does require an input of time, money, and energy.
Some common challenges include:
Budget whilst you can reduce costs by being resourceful, using affordable and low cost solutions, there will be some costs involved, but developing a good budget to follow, as well as finding areas you can save money, means you can put it towards the investment of an urban homestead!
Lack of space whilst you can grow produce in containers on patios, it may seem difficult to achieve what you want to do in an apartment or unit, or townhouse. Especially if your dreams involve milking goats and an apple orchard! Look into community garden allotments, rooftop options, or maybe there are local schools, daycares or nursing homes that may have space suitable for you to co-op with them. Find out if a local farm or producer has opportunities to volunteer or work, or farm-sit, to be able to ‘get your hands dirty’.
Lack of time life can be so busy and complicated that finding time to set up an urban homestead, or carry out the daily tasks seems impossible. Check the next section below for more ideas on this one.
Landlord and council restrictions be aware that if you are renting, live in an ‘estate’ or there is a communal housing board, there may be things you can and cannot do. Get creative with solutions, but make sure you get approval before implementing them.
Travel for work, or frequent relocation this may mean you create a more portable urban homestead, need to have good supports in your area who can help out while you are away, or that there are some things you cannot do.
Disability/ allergies/ other health concerns be aware of your limitations (you know yourself, or your loved ones best), problem solve and find creative ways to solve the issues you face, and try to see things as challenges to tackle, rather than issues that stop you.
Existing Animals/ pets this may change how you set up your homestead, such as the type of garden beds or chook enclosures.
Don’t let the challenges stop you from making changes in your life (and backyard). You may need to ‘think outside the box’ and get creative with solutions. Get inspired by all the other people who have done similar things, or are doing it just like you are! Research into ideas, existing organisations or equipment that can help with your challenges. Connect with others who are on similar journey to yourself and your family.
It does take time and energy to set up any infrastructure, and complete projects, as well as the time it takes to do the urban homesteading activities on a daily basis. Whilst it can be so rewarding and enjoyable, at times it may be overwhelming, exhausting, confusing, frustrating and physically hard work.
It can be a steep learning curve, where you have to research and work out every element, but once you gain the new knowledge or skills, and practice them, it takes less and less time.
- Being more organised can help, such as creating a roster for housework (or do less housework!), start meal planning, declutter and organise your house etc.
- Don’t expect to do it all instantly. Plan your projects or changes to your backyard in stages, and tackle one stage at a time. It may take you, and your family, several years to accomplish all that you put on to your plan. Do what you can, when you can.
- Join a local group to share skills & experiences – knitting group, poultry club, a ‘mens shed’, a gardening group, or an online community. Talking with other like-minded people who are going through the same thing as you, and any advice people can offer too.
- Do workshops, or an online program to help you learn the skills from an expert in less time that researching and trialling every option yourself
If your partner, children, room mates, or loved ones who may be affected by your newfound hobby are unco-operative or unsupportive, try these ideas:
- Create awareness – inspire and educate them using the same techniques you got inspired by
- Create a plan – ask for their input, or show them you have a solid idea of what you want and how it can be done
- Promote the positives – appeal to their desires and things they like (it could save us money, we will eat better, it won’t take away from your TV time, whatever!)
- Ease them into it – start with growing vegetables or fruit trees in containers, or look for a rent-a-chook option in your area
- Offer rewards – bribes may be worthwhile!
- Make it fun – try to get your family to see it as a challenge, rather than a boring chore
- Sometimes you just need to have confidence in yourself and your actions, as there will be doubters, there will be friends or family who think you have gone crazy, there will be people trying to argue with you and bring you down. That’s life! Just remember, you believe what you are doing is right, and there will be tangible rewards and benefits to show for it. Have some good points to use in discussions, or just don’t talk about it with them. Find a group, locally or online, who do ‘get you’ and what you are doing.
- Our story, Urban Homesteading – A Story of Soil and Soul
- Erica from Northwest Edible Life has extensive resources (and humour) on her website, as well as a great book, The Hands On Home
- Root Simple, and their books The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
- Goodlife Permaculture
- Milkwood Urban Permaculture posts
- Tricia at Little Eco Footprints has some great ideas and beautiful photos
- Australia site, The Witches Kitchen by Linda Woodrow
You can also check out my Dirt to Dinner Beginners Guides!