Urban homesteading is a growing movement to bring some of the back-to-basics lifestyle into an urban setting—although, if you look at urban homesteading closely, you will discover that, rather than a new movement, it is basically a re-adaptation of the way our grandparents used to live. Urban homesteading is about learning to be as self-sufficient as possible while lessening your impact on the environment. It is adapting a “less is more” attitude in the things you own, the things you do, and even the careers you pursue. It is implementing a “use up, reuse, or do without” attitude that was common during the Great Depression. It is finding more happiness in simple things and taking the time to slow down and enjoy them.
The Dervaes family from Pasadena, California, has been practicing urban homesteading for more than twenty years. Their website, urbanhomestead.org (http://urbanhomestead.org), .ffers an account of the family’s experiences. The Dervaes’s “10 Elements of Urban Homesteading” are:
Grow your own food on your city lot.
Use alternative energy sources.
Use alternative fuels and transportation.
Keep farm animals for manure and food. Practice animal husbandry.
Practice waste reduction.
Reclaim graywater and collect rainwater.
Do the work yourself.
Work at home.
Be a good neighbor.
Grow Your Own Food
Start by assessing your home. Whether it’s an apartment or a bungalow, there are places you can plant some of your own food. Whether all you can manage are some herbs on a windowsill or a couple of upside-down planters that grow tomatoes on your apartment balcony, it’s a start. Get rid of the lawn and plant a garden. Get rid of houseplants and plant herbs and vegetables. Be creative, and you will be surprised at what you are able to accomplish.
Studies have shown that the average fresh food item has traveled between 1,300 and 2,000 miles before reaching the dinner plate. Because of this long-distance transport, as well as the machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, and other goods used in large-scale agricultural production, the food production system is a significant user of energy, accounting for 15.7 percent of the total national energy budget in 2007.
Use Alternative Energy Sources
Where can you replace traditional energy sources in your life? Can you use solar-powered panels anywhere in your home? How about something simple, like using rechargeable batteries or line-drying your clothes (wind and solar power combined)? If you can’t find a place for adding alternative sources, how about looking at ways you can decrease consumption?
Use Alternative Fuels and Transportation
Opt for a hybrid car. Take a bus, ride a bike, or walk. When you have to drive, batch your errands. Instead of running an errand or two every day, do everything at once, planning your most efficient route to save gas and time. Also do as much bill-paying online as possible, to eliminate some errands.
Practice Animal Husbandry
You need to initially consider your city zoning ordinances or homeowners association rules before you begin to add livestock to your life. You also need to consider the needs of the animal and the impact on your neighbors before you decide that you can raise a cow in a 10 × 10 backyard. However, there are many animals that do well in confined areas and will allow you to enjoy the experience of animal husbandry. Rabbits and chickens are animals that primarily stay in coops and just need a place to run during the day. Depending on your acreage, goats can also do well on a fairly small amount of land. But before you bring any animal onto your property, make sure you have strong enough fencing to keep them where you want them to be.
Practice Waste Reduction
Now is the time to think about what you’re putting in your trash. Urban homesteaders take recycling to a whole new level with composting, repurposing, garage sales, thrift stores, and bartering. One of the offshoots of this new attitude is Freecycle.org (www.freecycle.org), . network dedicated to keeping things out of landfills. The following is the site’s welcome statement:
The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,934 groups with 8,352,217 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free.
Each ton (2,000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 gallons of water. This represents a 64 percent energy savings, a 58 percent water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
Reclaim Graywater and Collect Rainwater
You can easily divert your rainspouts to rain barrels and collect rainwater for your garden and other outdoor needs. You will need to decide how you want to divert graywater in your home. If you are on a city sewer system, both your graywater and blackwater escape your home through the same system. You would need to separate the system, being sure the blackwater goes directly to the sewer system or into your septic system.
When you are without debt and obligations to others, you have the freedom to choose the lifestyle you want to enjoy. With a minimalist lifestyle, you can choose to work from home, because you don’t need the high-powered, large income anymore.
How do you live simply? Look for ways to save money in everything you do. Here are some examples:
Turn off the lights and open the curtains.
Walk instead of drive.
Cook at home rather than eat out.
Hang your clothes on a line rather than using a dryer.
Read a book instead of watching a movie.
Put on a sweater instead of cranking up the thermostat.
Buy energy-efficient appliances.
Buy clothing at resale shops.
Turn off your computer and spend some time outside.
As you implement these ideas, you might also find that not only do they help you save money, they help you enjoy a better lifestyle.
Frugal tip: get your candles to last longer. Chilling the candles before you use them makes the wax burn more slowly and evenly. You can just refrigerate them for eight hours before you burn them.
Do the Work Yourself
Do you know how to change the oil in your car? Do you know how to do basic wiring or plumbing? How about carpentry? Have you ever tied a quilt? Do you know how to make a dress or bake bread? Can you cut hair?
These are some of the skills our grandparents had when they had to do everything themselves. Having these skills can move you in the direction of self-reliance. If you are not familiar with any of them, you might want to sign up for classes offered by many community colleges or craft stores so you can learn a few.
Work from Home
Early homesteaders worked the land and raised vegetables, livestock, and eggs. Some did carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing, or baking to supplement their incomes. Urban homesteaders create websites, do graphic arts, sell crafts on etsy.com, and become consultants. Their goal is to forget the nine-to-five “rat race” and find a job that frees them from conventional hours, intraoffice politics, and routine. Today, with the Internet at our fingertips, working from home is becoming a reality for many every day. And, if you can work from home, moving off-grid is a much more viable option for you.
Not everyone can just quit their job and start working at home. But you can try some part-time work from home to see if it can eventually replace your day job. Some potential home-based jobs are:
Selling your crafts or artwork
Selling food items, from specialty preserves to your own honey
Selling fresh herbs or other home-grown produce
Cutting, delivering, and selling firewood
Being a hunting or fishing guide
Being a computer consultant
Offering housecleaning or janitorial services
Writing about your urban homesteading adventure and selling the story
Doing medical transcription
Be a Good Neighbor
You should be the neighbor you would want to have. One of the basic ideas behind urban homesteading is bringing communities back together. Being self-reliant doesn’t mean being alone. There is a shared responsibility of community when you become an urban homesteader, and an opportunity to learn from each other.