An Introduction to Urban Homesteading

Also known as backyard farming, small-scale homesteading, suburban homesteading, modern homesteading or city farming – urban homesteading is all about living a more sustainable lifestyle that practices going back to the basics of less consumption, less buying, less dependency on the supply chain, and more making – and sometimes, just making do.

a book titles An Introduction to Urban Homesteading

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Urban homesteading means different things to different people

For some, it is a stepping stone to a future goal of a rural, off-grid farm with lots of acreage for livestock, enormous gardens, beehives and orchards. For others, it’s a health choice where growing and making their own food is necessary due to allergies or illness. Others will DIY everythingpossible, and try not to rely on paying others to do the chore. And still others are content with only doing a little cooking from scratch with vegetables from their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

Urban homesteading, just like homesteading in a rural area, is all about being more self-reliant.

Urban homesteading is a mindset

You may think that urban homesteading doesn’t apply to you because of where you live, how you currently live, or your goals. Well, I’m going to tell you that it DOES apply to you. If you want to be a homesteader, then you ARE a homesteader!

Most homesteaders will say that homesteading itself is a state of mind rather than how much space you have.

So let’s dive in and see what urban homesteading is all about.

Do I need land to homestead?

This is usually the very first thing you may be asking yourself, and one reason why you don’t think you “qualify” as a homesteader.

The short answer is: Nope!

You may live in an apartment in the middle of a large city, in a stately brownstone in town, or in a split ranch in the suburbs.

Your urban homestead can be a balcony with room for a few containers, it can be a kitchen windowsill, a tiny hydroponic set-up in your apartment, a small patio, a big backyard, or even a plot in a community garden.

There is no “requirement”!

What about livestock?

You don’t have to have animals!

Really.

I don’t. Not even a beehive.

I live in an older, established suburban neighbourhood, and someone way down the street tried keeping chickens. The people who lived in the houses around hers complained so much, that she had to get rid of them. So yeah. Not a livestock-friendly neighbourhood.

Some of us just don’t have the ideal setting for that. Or the desire.

And it’s OKAY!

Homestead where you are.

YOU decide how deep into this lifestyle you want to go.

And before we go any further, let’s get this next topic out of the way.

Being self-sufficient is bullshit

Yeah, I’m going to go there.

A lot of people will fight me on this one, but hear me out.

I don’t care how far into the backwoods you go – no one in modern times can be self-sufficient.

By definition, being self-sufficient means being totally reliant upon yourself.

No outside help.

Or materials. Like cloth to make your clothes. Or gasoline. Or anything metal or plastic.

One of those guys on the TV show The Last Alaskans was living as a fur trapper all by himself up near the Arctic Circle. Even HE had a plane and made regular trips to Fairbanks. He had factory-made metal traps, guns, ammo, canned food, clothing and a radio. How can that be self-sufficient?

So stop stressing out about how to become self-sufficient, because it’s just not attainable. It’s setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Instead, we are going to successfully become more self-reliant.

Ok? We good?

Now let’s talk about how we are going to get there.

How do you get there from here?

Let’s start out with some easy stuff that you can do right now and where ever you live. None of these even require a pot full of soil either!

1. Prepping, “lite”

I’m calling this “prepper lite”, because I am by no means a SHTF (shit hits the fan) doomsday apocalypse-is-coming-build-a-bunker prepper. (If that is your goal, that’s cool. You do you.) I do however suggest being prepared for an emergency – like quarantine, yucky weather or even a bad case of the flu where you don’t want to leave the comfort of your comfy bed for a week.

Storm-specific prep

As I do every year, in the fall of 2019, I prepared and stocked up my pantry and freezers for the upcoming winter months. I really hate driving in the snow, so I tend to shop less frequently in the winter, and live off the pantry as much as possible.

This also really saved my butt when the COVID-19 lockdown went into effect in March 2020. I was able to live off my pantry for over two months – without leaving the house.

2020 is also becoming a record-breaking hurricane season, and I’ve already gone through one tropical storm that included two near-by tornadoes, wind damage and power outages. And the snow season hasn’t even started yet!

Click on the photo for some easy steps to follow so you can prepare for the next storm:

Side of car covered with four feet of snow during a blizzard

An urban homesteader can (and should) be prepared

If anything, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic sure taught us a LOT about being prepared! I don’t know about you, but here in the NYC suburban area, it was (and still is as of October 2020) difficult to find lots of foods and products.

So, one of the things you can do right now is to pick up a few extras of the things you use the most when you go to the grocery store. I’ve seen people who live in apartments with little storage room storing stuff under their beds in large plastic totes.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of stuff, but this next step will help you determine what to stock up on.

2. Cook from scratch

Not only does cooking from scratch save you money, it also lets you customize your food to your tastes, dietary requirements, and budget. You get to control what goes into your food, while cutting down on packaging and waste too!

I’ll give you just a few ideas here (click on the photo), and I will add lots more in upcoming posts.

Food mill, wooden pestle, stock pot, tomato, parsley and bottle of red wine

3. Living on less

This one can be really fun! It encompasses recycling, repurposing, reusing, zero-waste, and even some simple DIY projects.

A great way to live on less is to shop at flea markets, neighbourhood garage sales and buy nothing groups, or to swap with family and friends. You will not only save money, but keep perfectly good items from going to the landfill.

Simple DIY fixing and mending projects – like fixing a running toilet, or replacing the washer on the garden hose – are easy and satisfying jobs that not only get things working again, you will also save money by doing it yourself.

You can find other ideas here, when you click on the photos:

This Blue Heaven vintage plate, saucer and teacup, vintage napkin holder, cloth napkin and stainless flatware are all cheap alternatives to their disposable counterparts.
White towels hanging on a clothesline to reduce laundry costs

4. Make your own products

Another way to start urban homesteading on a small scale and in a small space is to start making your own cleaning products and skin care products. You don’t need anything more than a small kitchen to make these, and they really are a fun way to start on the path of DIY.

Click on the photo:

Half of a lemon

As we progress, I will show you how to make your own home décor items – and even how to make your own clothes! (There is a whole section on my website for sewing.) But for now, we will take this one small step at a time.

5. Crafts (and gifts)

This is where you can get the kids involved. I’ve taught kids how to make household and gift items such as candles, potholders, and even sheets of recycled paper. You can have a blast with these, and get your holiday gift-giving taken care of too!

Click on the photos:

Potholders made from recycled T-shirts and a red enameled cast iron stockpot
A step-by-step tutorial on how to make roses from recycled cardboard egg cartons

6. Growing your own food

Ok, so now we are getting to the bigger, more complex aspects to urban homesteading. But don’t be afraid! You can start small by having a few herbs growing on your windowsill.

If you aren’t in a position to grow anything just yet, join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a share of the harvest of a local farm.) You can even start by going to a local Farmer’s Market and buying from the local growers there.

If you are in a position to grow your own food, there are alternatives here as well. Containers on your balcony or patio are a great way to have a few tomato plants. Or if you have a tiny patch of yard, you can grow even more food by planting on the ground, and training vines like beans and cucumbers to grow UP – thus extending your space.

If you long for a garden, but have no land at all, see if your town has a community garden area. For over 9 years, I used two plots in the community garden in my city to run a program that taught high school kids how to grow organic vegetables (which we then donated to city residents in need).

And for those with yards – you can grow food in with flowers right in your front yard, as well as an all-vegetable garden in the back yard.

There are tons of possibilities – and I will show you how! Gardening is something I have been doing here on my 100′ x 100′ urban homestead since I was four years old. My dad had an organic vegetable garden here on the property starting in 1950, and I literally learned at his knee by pulling weeds with him.

Along with vegetables, you can grow your own herbs for cooking, crafting and even for medicinal purposes if that is what your goal is.

There is also fruit growing, which can be crops like strawberries and raspberries, or trees like apples and pears, or crops such as grapes or blueberries.

I am going to dive deeper into gardening soon, so stay tuned!

For now, click on the photo to read this:

Slices of tomatoes - fresh from the garden. Just one of the 12 reasons to start a garden!

7. Preserving the harvest

Something that a lot of urban homesteaders do is find ways to preserve their harvest. That includes canning, dehydrating and freezing whatever they harvest from the garden. You can do this too with what you have gotten in your CSA or purchased from the Farmer’s Market or bought in season at the grocery store.

Slices of fresh tomatoes and fresh basil leaves on a rack in the dehydrator

Click on the photos to read more

bottles of finished opal basil vinegar and jar of steeping opal basil vinegar

and last in this roundup of urban homesteading topics and skills…..

8. Selling what you make

Once you get a few skills down, you can even start selling what you make.

I do, by selling the clothing, accessories and home décor items I make from brand new, rescued fabrics. I buy the materials from a non-profit, creative reuse center that receives the materials as donations – rather than have it go to the landfill. For instance, the handbags I design and make, are made from faux leather remnants from a local restaurant seating manufacturer. What is left after making an order of bar stools and banquettes is then donated to my local creative reuse center, EcoWorks. I buy the materials at a great price, and use it in my designs. I have gotten to the point where all my materials are now rescued and zero-waste.

In addition to the local Farmer’s Markets, I also sell at outdoor craft shows. Selling is rewarding, and a lot of fun – and brings in some income to the homestead.

Click on the photo for some tips if you are thinking about selling your products:

Ultimate guide to setting up a craft show booth and a completely set-up booth

Are you ready to begin?

From the very beginning skills needed to give you the confidence that you are prepared for a snow storm, to the point where you have the skills where you can sell what you make, the urban homesteading lifestyle can encompass all of these skills, just a few – or somewhere in between.

I am going to guess that since you are here, you are interested in learning more about how to become a more self-reliant urban homesteader. Great! Let’s get you started and on your way to self-reliance!

One of the first, and easiest things most urban homesteaders start with, is to get themselves prepared for bad weather, a period of illness, job loss or when you just can’t (or don’t want to) get out and shop for necessities – what I call “prepper lite”.

By signing up for the free ebook below, you will start on your journey of being a self-reliant urban homesteader!

a book titles An Introduction to Urban Homesteading
Get your free copy of the 45-page ebook!

Once you sign up and download your free ebook, over the coming weeks, I will email you with easy steps to get you well on your way to being prepared!

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