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City Homesteading: What You Need to Know Before You Start

Updated on August 5, 2011
City homesteaders are growing food, raising chickens and living off their tiny city lots.
City homesteaders are growing food, raising chickens and living off their tiny city lots. | Source

Chances are that most people reading this have at least toyed with the idea of living a simpler life, becoming more self-reliant, growing their own food and living off the land. The modern homestead trend is spreading across the country. What once was considered a rural lifestyle is taking on a new face in American suburbs and cities.

Homesteading is not just about planting a garden. It is a lifestyle, not a hobby. Where gardeners may have a small plot in the backyard, homesteaders are digging up lawns, raising chickens and doing their best to live off of what their land can provide. It is a labor intensive endeavor, to say the least. And it comes with no guarantees. There will be failures and there will be glorious successes.

If you are thinking about transforming your city or suburban lot into a homestead, there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

Be Prepared to Work Hard

Don't misinterpret the word simple. If my husband and I have learned anything along the way, it is that the simple life is not always easy. Living a simple life requires hard work and lots of it. If you are working outside the home, you'll have to do your homesteading chores after work and on the weekends. There isn't much time for play, especially in the beginning. But that doesn't mean that homesteading can't be fun or rewarding. If you aren't afraid of hard work then this won't be a problem.

Take it Slow

It is better to start small and add more projects later, that way you'll know how much you can handle. Taking on too many projects at one time is a recipe for failure or burn out. Start with a small garden, plant a fruit tree and see how it goes. You'll have the opportunity to learn from your projects, which in turn will help you plan successfully for the future.

Expect Problems

Any farmer, gardener or homesteader will tell you that you are destined for failures. It's part of the process, and nature has a lot to do with it as well. But, also know you are also destined for great success. Sometimes problems will arise because of mistakes you've made; other times they just happen. Learn from each problem and apply those lessons the next time around.

You Need a Plan

I can't emphasize this enough. Even though you are starting slow, with one or two projects at a time, having an overall plan will make the long term so much easier. When we started, our plan was to have a garden. We blocked off an area, put a garden fence and planted. A few years later, and the garden fence is now in the middle of the garden, acting as a grape arbor. Planning ahead would have been a good thing.

Know the Codes

Cities have a ton of municipal codes that affect what you can and can't do on your property, and even how you can do it. If you are planning on having chickens, milking goats, ducks or a front yard garden, make sure you are in compliance with local regulations. One complaint from a neighbor and you could be facing fines or even get shut down. Save yourself the headache and heartache and check first.

Julie McMurchie is a freelance writer. She and her husband are working on their city homestead in Southern California. You can read more about their projects, gardens, and their favorite cause - gardening against hunger - on their blog, Wood Streets Gardens.

Have you started your modern homestead in the city or suburb? What problems have you faced? What has been your biggest success?


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      Post-Menopause 6 years ago

      Lots of work gardening, but the food is yummy...I do not have my own, but use to help my grandma with hers when I was much younger. I remember those days, great article. Thanks

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 6 years ago

      You are right that growing your own fruit and vegetables does take a bit of hard work, but it is enjoyable so it does not always seem like it. Eating food you have grown yourself is very rewarding too.

      In the UK we have allotments which are areas of land rented out especially to grow food for families. The allotment to grow fruit and vegetables fell out of fashion for a number of years, many became neglected. Now they are so popular that their are waiting lists for them.