How to Farm in the City; Urban Homesteading
Usually when we think of a homestead or a small farm we think of a hand hewn cabin in the wilderness or an old farmhouse on at least 30 acres. This is not always so and, in reality, most of us could "farm" right where we are now, using the resources we have available to us. We don't because of our fears, our misconceptions and our lack of education on the subject. Perhaps some of us would even admit that we like the idea of growing our own food better than all of the work involved in actually doing it!
However, families across the United States, as well as other countries, are breaking the ground for urban homesteading. Watch this interesting video of one family in California that is not only growing their own food but making money at home by selling what they produce to local restaurants.
Profitable farm on 1/5th of an acre!
A Long History
Wouldn't you like to enjoy that kind of self-sufficiency? I sure would!
Actually this is not a new concept. Kitchen gardens were a matter of necessity in cities long before the advent of grocery stores. Most homes had a small courtyard area where they kept a garden and perhaps a few chickens and goats. If they had a bigger space a dairy cow might be added. As the United States grew towns formed around common areas that were used to graze livestock during the day.
During World Wars I and II Victory Gardens cropped up all over the world. It was essential to send as much commercially grown food as possible to the battlefields to sustain the military so patriotic citizens were encouraged to grow their own food. Rabbits, chickens, ducks, and goats were kept on suburban plots to take care of the family's needs. It was a source of pride for the homemaker to display the fruit of her labor on the pantry shelves- jars and jars of home canned fruit, vegetables, and even soups and meats.
Try to imagine the flutter and fuss among local Homeowners Associations today! In some places it is against the rules to even have an outside clothesline!
Common Victory Garden Vegetables
During this time produce that was commonly grown included carrots, leaf lettuces, spinach, peas, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers,onions, strawberries, and corn. In the south okra and eggplant might be added to that list, right along with black eyed peas and butter beans. The gardeners would till up any available space, eschewing rose bushes in favor of vegetables.
After all, who wants to pick thorns out of their teeth?
Front yards, back yards, and side yards were tilled and planted, as were empty lots where whole neighborhoods gathered to plant community gardens. It developed not only a local insurance policy against hunger but built relationship and esprit de corps among the neighbors.
A Return to Self Sufficiency
This is still a sound philosophy today. This is an age of questionable food supplies, poor business practices, a shaky economy, and the desire to not only be more self sufficient but to live more gently on the earth. We can learn a lot from our parents and grandparents about the way they survived during hard times.
Canning food is not difficult and it is as rewarding now as it was then. Being able to pick a juicy tomato, still warm from the sun, that has been grown on your very own property, and then take that tomato and process it into the homemade catsup that your children slather on their homemade french fries is a very nice feeling. Very nice indeed. There is the sense of having some control over your destiny, odd as that may sound.
Where to Start with Urban Farming and Self-Sufficiency?
It is important to start small and work your way into more extensive urban farming because it is easy to bite off more than you can chew and become overwhelmed. It's easy to give up when you feel that way so that you never really achieve your goals.
Take Note of Your Space
Do you have a yard big enough for a garden? Are you going to need to garden in containers? Look at your space carefully and creatively, and then assess your needs.
Square Foot Gardening is an excellent resource. This year, because of several difficult situations I just planted seed right in organic soil bags, putting a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage and planting through holes in the top. This is not my favorite way to garden but the green beans will be delicious in a few weeks and it will help financially. Use what you have.
Do Your Research
Read and make notes of what has worked for other people. Don't reinvent the wheel! Other people have done the same thing you want to do. Read their experiences and see what you can learn from them.
Check with Local Governments
Check with the Almighty Neighborhood Association if you have one. It is also a good idea to check with your town about permits, ordinances, and other laws that could affect you. There is nothing worse than the city coming in and telling you your tomatoes are a code violation just as the first bright red, juicy orb is ready to be picked!
The Mighty Mini
Consider miniature sizes. Everything from apple trees to goats comes in small sizes now. We raise Nigerian Dwarf Dairy goats for their profuse milk and small size. There are diminutive cows and petite sheep as well. Even if you have a small plot of land you should be able to get something.
If you plan on getting animals consider all of the expenses that come with them.Vet bills, feed, fencing, housing...even problems with the neighbors should be taken into consideration. Allowing your chickens to free range is great but they will still need supplimentary feed. They will need shelter and protection from predators, as well as fresh water every day. Larger animals will need even more care and be more expensive. Count the cost before you order those cute Golden Laced Wyandotte Chicks.
Your Time Investment
Consider the time you have to give to the project. Are you willing to give up your weekend football games to weed? Go to work exhausted because your doe had trouble kidding the night before? Even small urban farms have big farm challenges and troubles.
Get the Family Involved
Enlist the help of the whole family. It is hard to do on your own. If no one is behind you then you'll get burnt out and begin to resent all of the work involved.
Urban Homestead:Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
This is not so much a how to book as it is a "where to begin" book. This friendly guide has an overview of pretty much everything you'll need to know to become an urban homesteader from gardening to keeping chickens
Expand Slowly as You Gain Experience
As you get more experience in gardening and animal husbandry you can move further into the farming lifestyle, knowing your own strengths and limitations.
As you grow more of your own vegetables you can try different varieties and sell the excess to neighbors, small grocers and restaurants, bringing in a little profit. If you decide to keep goats you can use the excess milk in soaps that you might sell on the Internet. Angora rabbits can be raised for their fiber, and some people raise rabbits for meat. With the concern about ethical farm practices people will eagerly buy wholesome fresh eggs from chickens that live like chickens rather than are a product as in a commercial operation.
Try to think outside the box and move ahead with confidence. Do or do not do..there is no try.
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