The Art of Self-Reliance: Bloggers Document Urban Homesteading Movement

The idea of a little farm in a big city sounds daunting to some, impossible to others, but to bloggers who are reclaiming their bit of city green space and saying no to Big Farm, self-reliance is not only possible, but the preferred way to live a rich and rewarding life.  A small movement of people are eschewing the outsourcing of their everyday needs and are choosing, instead, to produce as much of what they need at home, transforming tiny plots of land into thriving gardens, raising chickens and goats for eggs and milk, canning, preserving, cheesemaking, soapmaking, and any other project on which Mother Earth News has advice.  And, in true 21st century form, they’re blogging about it.

Why urban homesteading?  To be honest, it’s nothing really new.  Asians and Cubans have been growing food in big cities for decades.  Community gardens have thrived in many urban areas.  But as awareness of environmental issues grows, and as the origins of food become harder and harder to trace the further we get from farm to table, many city-dwellers have chosen to take matters into their own hands, producing for pennies what they had to rely on others to procure.  Documentation on the internet makes sharing information readily available.  It’s also a feasible alternative to moving completely off the grid.  For those who enjoy the benefits of urban life, such as culture, nightlife, and public transportation, it’s a way to stay grounded in the city.

You may have heard of Pasadena, California’s Dervaes family. They’ve transformed 1/5 of a residential acre into a blueprint for urban homesteading.  They grow 350 types of plants which yield 6,000 pounds of food per year–from a 1/10th of an acre garden, which supports not only their family, but provides income for the four adult family members living at home through their Dervaes Gardens food supply business.  In addition to their produce, they have chickens, ducks, and goats which supply milk and eggs, and have incorporated several sources of energy, including brewing their own biodiesel, to futher increase their self-reliance.  Their online journal can be found here.

Undoubtedly the hippest of the urban homesteaders, Los Angeles bloggers Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, and the Homegrown Evolution blog explore not only the “how” of urban homesteading, but the “why”, and also cover news that might interested urban homesteaders.  Their book, The Urban Homestead, makes the DIY ethos seem incredibly possible, particularly for those on a budget, utilizing would-be waste into productive re-uses in accessible, entertaining language, and don’t shy away from lamenting failed projects or frustrations with this type of lifestyle.

Urban homesteading isn’t just for those with a Southern-California growing season.  Leda Meredith blogs about urban homesteaing from her Brookyn, NY apartment on Leda’s Urban Homestead.  She just finished a year of eating only food from a 250-mile radius of Brooklyn, which was made easier by her wealth of knowledge of food foraging–finding edible plants growing in the wild, a subject she teaches classes on. And Patrice Farmer (ha!), a single mom in Michigan, is raising her daughter–and chickens–on an urban homestead and documenting it on A Single Mom’s Adventure into Urban Homesteading.  If the idea of raising chickens in your backyard intimidates you, just read her blog and see how possible it really is.   Urban Hippie Mama is another favorite, blogging about raising a family (and a garden, some chickens, and some goats) in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s most amazing about these different urban homsteading movements is the varied responses to the challenge of utilizing urban spaces and the creativity involved in reclaiming what has been discarded, both literally and figuratively to support human life.  Blogs like these not only document individual homesteaders processes, achievements, and struggles, but share that information with others and empower them to do the same.  We’ve had a small garden for the past three years, but after reading the Coyne and Knutzen book, I began to see the vast possibilities of what I thought was too-cramped a space.  Now, I’ve got several urban homesteading projects in the wings, and undoubtedly, I’ll blog about it.

  1. Melinda

    I agree, I think it is a growing movement. Not only in terms of gardening, but overall sustainability.

    For a year, we lived on 1/2 acre in the country and attempted to live self-sufficiently as much as we could. We found it surprisingly unsustainable, due to the lack of public transportation, the distances needed to travel, the unstable rural economy and its low wages, and the amount of pesticides and herbicides we were regularly exposed to living near local farms.

    We now live in the city (one which we picked specifically for its sustainable urban planning), and we live much more sustainably. I believe this will be a growing trend, as gas and food prices rise while the economy ebbs and flows.

  2. web design

    The idea of a little farm in a big city sounds daunting to some, impossible to others, but to bloggers who are reclaiming their bit of city green space and saying no to Big Farm, self-reliance is not only possible, but the preferred way to live a rich and rewarding life.

  3. Uncle B

    To pay for the economic situation we find ourselves in and to survive the coming great depression, we must go beyond the victory garden methodology of the 1940’s and call on plastic greenhouses, GMOs, hydroponics, uber-composting and massive re-education of city folk in country-side plot and roof gardening. We must take Israel as an example of what can be done! We have paved over the best topsoil in the world and contaminated the best farmland as our population has grown, and each one of us has evolved into a beast that requires a horrendous amount of calories daily just to survive – we are a bigger, hungrier people than even those of the Victory Garden era! (1940’s – check soldiers’ uniform sizes, they went up!) To survive we will develop communal gardens and fish farming techniques, neighborhood hydroponic gardens, community composters, and sharing of food and knowledge about its production on smaller scale. Around the edges of this gentler, more humane way of life, its detractors will rage and eat dollar bills, no longer worth saving, using them even as fuel for warmth. The oil is soon all gone folks!

  4. Lauren

    There are hundreds of urban homesteading blogs out there. These people are doing a great thing not only for themselves, but for society at large– they show us that it’s possible to be more self reliant and a better steward of our resources. I’ve collected a pretty big list of these blogs at this address- http://www.pathacross.com/Education_Blogs/ for anyone interested!

  5. Rachel Kaplan

    We want to let you know about our upcoming book, Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living due out in April. It’s a beautifully illustrated how-to and why-to for the urban homesteading movement, and covers topics ranging from Organic growing and soil building to community resilience and natural building and small animal husbandry herbal medicine preparation. It’s the first book of its kind to privilege permaculture as the design tool for the 21st century. It also features interviews with urban homesteaders already living the dream, and original artwork from K. Ruby Blume throughout the book.

    We hope you’ll check it out, and spread the good word about the homesteading way.

    Oh, and by the way, the Dervaes family spoken of in the above posting has started a little urban homesteading war by trademarking the terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.” You can imagine the outcry from the DIY urban homesteading community. Check out the FB page “Take Back Urban Homesteading(s)” for a little background on this sad debacle from a formerly honorable homesteading family.


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