There has been a lot of talk about this term and its use in the past week. I have always referred to it as my backyard homestead, but the idea is basically the same. We live in town and have a small backyard space that is currently serving as my own little farm. As always, it is a work in progress, but I thought that it would be fun to talk a little bit about it here.
My first garden was only about ten by ten and was not terribly successful. It was born about five years ago. Much like a tattoo, once I had one garden, my thoughts went to having another. The next year we added about 25 square feet to the garden and planted a few more varieties. We learned the importance of added amendments to the soil, and I started to actually read about how to have a more successful garden. And it paid off a little more. Then it was official that I had the bug. I even did a pretty good job of getting hubby involved.
The homestead process really started rolling after the birth of our son. I began to really think about the world that I wanted him to grow up in, and about what I could do to make his world more safe and sustainable. The more I read about food safety and security, the more I longed to do more. Then I picked up the book Lasagna Gardening and learned how much more I could do to grow food in our small space. I built my first lasagna bed about three years ago. Adding organic material to the bed is easy because I have recruited some neighbors to save grass clippings and leaves for me. They may think that we are crazy, but you would be surprised how happy people are to get rid of that stuff. We also created two small raised beds. Suddenly, we were growing more food than we could use.
This happy problem led to further study into how to make use of what I was growing. I picked up the Ball Blue Book to learn about how to can. I had vague memories of my great grandmother doing some canning, but had no idea where to start. We started with salsa because we had a glut of tomatoes and salsa creation did not take any special equipment. After some jams and canned fruit, I found a pressure canner at an auction and started canning beans as well. I am still working on food dehydrating, and on creating a root cellar, but those things will come in time.
The next year, my husband and I set up a booth at the local farmer's market. We loved the sense of community there and wanted to be a part of it. You would be surprised at how much you can learn from "real" farmer's that can help the urban farmer. They always seem happy to share their knowledge with anyone who will listen. We sold some things from our garden, resold fruit from local pick your own places, and sold baked goods and jellies. It was great.
Now, I have approximately 8 gardens in my backyard of various shapes and sizes. The grass has given way to nice fertile patches of ground. My toddler does not have a lot of running room during gardening season, but he likes to make friends with worms and dig in the dirt, so the trade off is okay. The next hurdle I hope to conquer is to have some livestock. I would like to start with rabbits this year and then possible move on to chickens and bees.
Other things that we do on our little homestead? I cut my husband's hair myself, bake bread, sew and knit. We have a couple of apple trees that are still maturing and grow strawberries, black raspberries and blueberries. In the late spring we have secret berry patches where we go out to forage for the free berries. I make soap and my own cleaning products in order to create less of an impact on the Earth. Most of all, I try to meet my neighbors, share the fruits of my labor with them, and talk to them about what they can do in their own backyards. If times get tough, I don't want to be the only one in my neighborhood with a garden.
The message that I am trying to get across is that you do not have to start with everything at once. You do not have to spend a lot of money, in fact that is what we are trying to avoid. Maybe your homestead will start with a container garden on your patio, or with a pet rabbit, but whatever the case it does not matter how small you start. Once you get started, you may find that it gets in your blood, and that you add a little each year until you are a pretty successful urban homestead yourself.