There are many reasons to quit the rat race and build a suburban homesteading lifestyle for yourself and your family. Now, more than ever before, the need to regain more connection with the land, the soil, with people, with the food that we eat, makes homesteading an attractive, but sometimes misunderstood lifestyle.
The pioneer homesteaders of the 1800s applied for plots of land, in the middle of nowhere, and moved themselves and their families to try to forge a life and a living. It was a hard grind, many didn’t make it, but the American dream of a little piece of land was sown, and the dream continues until this day.
The concept of modern homestead farming has moved on somewhat, from the traditional view that a homesteader needs to have acres of land, raise cattle, ride a horse, and live in a timber farmhouse with inspiring vistas from every window.
Homesteading today, is more about a way of living, not ‘where you live’. Homesteading in the suburbs, transforming a small plot of land, or even apartment homesteading on a balcony, into a place of production and abundance is becoming a dream that anyone can aspire to. And it’s an aspiration that you can start right now, wherever you are.
The city or urban homesteader is always looking to make the most of their lot AND THEIR PLOT. Seeking to become less reliant of mass produced food, polluting transportation, spurning products full of chemicals that we’ve never heard of. Transforming their lives and the lives of those around them with a desire to tread a softer, less damaging path on this fragile planet.
The suburban homesteader is keen to produce more and consume less. Saving money by not making reckless purchases of goods that are not needed, and in the process, reducing the need to sell their time for money. The whole concept of homesteading in or around a city means you can do more with less, enjoy closer connections with other like-minded people, and help to make your locality a nicer, happier place.
Ways To Make Suburban Homesteading A Part Of Your Life
#1: Reduce Waste And Become More Efficient
Waste is a massive problem in the modern world. Food packaging surrounds everything, plastic, polyurethane, all heading towards landfill. The average family throws away hundreds, often thousands of dollars worth of food every year. We leave lights on, televisions on standby, we buy new replacements when the existing product still has years of life in it. And for what?
Convenience, keeping up with the latest tech, seeing that the guy down the road has something new, so you need it too? We are all guilty, but small changes can lead to big change over time.
Taking the concept of making your property more of a closed system can be quite a revelation. Minimizing the waste that leaves the property, either down the drains, or in the garbage bin takes some thought, but it can be done. To start with, reduce the potential waste materials that actually enter your home. Go to a grocery store where you can put your fruit and vegetables straight into your bag for the trolley, where paper bags are available instead of plastic.
Go to the meat counter get a butcher to wrap your meat in less packaging, or take a box for him to put your meat in. Reject heavily packed foods and products.
Minimizing ‘garbage in’ reduces ‘garbage out’. But there is more you can do. Save plain cardboard to sheet mulch your garden. Create a worm farm or compost bin for vegetable scraps. Use clear plastic bottles as mini greenhouses to protect new seedlings. Have showers instead of baths. Simple things that reduce the waste water or packaging, or food waste that leaves your property.
Easy stuff? Not bringing it in in the first place makes for a much simpler life. Just think of a closed vs open circuit. The open circuit haemorrhages materials out, beyond it’s perimeter. Stuff coming in, stuff draining out. Doing your best to reduce the influx and exit of ‘stuff’ is a major part of the suburban homesteading ethos. Give it a try. It becomes a bit of a game 🙂
#2: Get Rid Of Some Lawn
Did you know that the domestic lawn is the most irrigated ‘crop’ in America? And we can’t even eat it! A great book called Food Not Lawns really opened my eyes to the waste that is the grassy area that adorns almost every modern home. The book is so much more than the concept of tearing up your lawn and planting vegetables. It espouses the idea of cultural transformation within our communities and societies as a whole.
This study from NASA focused on the impact of lawns on the environment and water resources.
It’s kind of embarrassing really, when we think about the food we buy, the pollution and death that is involved in producing it, and transporting it to our local areas. The packaging, the waste. And every Sunday we head out in the garden, fire the mower up and walk backwards and forwards over this turf that could be cabbages, tomatoes and carrots. We never use the lawn, we don’t play lawn bowls, we hardly ever sit on it, but we like to look at it, and see that it looks neat and tidy.
The suburban homesteader isn’t about ripping up every inch of lawn. But he/she will take some, and turn it over to production. That could be in the shape of annual vegetables and/or perennial plantings (which I recommend highly). Fruit, berries, roots and tubers. Herbs. These plants can be as beautiful as any flower bed.
So, if you’re a lawn geek, just take a bit, start small, create a new bed. Plant some perennial food crops. You might find that you take a little more each year as you enjoy the abundance that you have created.
#3: Get Out Of Debt
Debt is strangling many families around the world. Consumerism and materialism are compounding debt, with most Americans having an average of $15000 of debt hanging over their heads. The numbers are similaar across much of the Western world. It’s scary stuff.
We complain about taxes, about increases in the cost of living, about a tiny percentage increase in the price of fuel, when in reality, it is our spending practices and inability to put a little aside for a rainy day that is crippling us, not the government or the big corporations. Of course, they have blood on their hands in many ways, but at some point, we, as a nation of consumers need to say, “NO! I don’t need that new car, or the latest iPhone, or a new Xbox. I’m doing just dandy as I am”.
#4: Food Security
Food security at a global, national and regional level is something that doesn’t get talked about enough in the mainstream media. Even now, in 2017, most developed countries are importing huge amounts of food to feed their populations. What happens if war breaks out in one of the regions that we depend on? In fact, the risk of that is becoming higher and higher as international friction develops.
It might not sound too worrying, that you can’t get your bananas for a while because some geo-political embargo is taking place, but as the world is becoming ever more embroiled in conflict, local food production needs to play a much larger role in supporting local communities.
A study from the Ohio Agricultural Research And Development Center states that Cleveland could produce most of it’s own food, and that other cities could easily do the same. Cleveland itself was found to have more than 3000 acres of empty lots as a result of manufacturing industry downturn and job losses, which could easily be turned over to food production. The 2900 acres of flat rooftops they found could easily be used for local agriculture too.
Becoming a food producer, and working together in local communities to increase food production is becoming a necessity if we are to ensure food security. The suburban homestead is a perfect place to do this. Imagine if EVERYONE in your city grew at least something in their garden. And bartered for other goods. The food that could be grown locally would turn the food sector on it’s head.
#5: Build Suburban Homesteading Communities
Although suburban homesteading is gaining a huge amount of traction, it can still be something of a lonely place in a city or town, where no-one else seems to be doing it. The internet has become a lifeline for many people homesteading in a city or town to find blogs like this one, tools, skills, anf forums where other urban homesteaders hang out.
You’ll often find that friends and family just don’t get it, they think you’ve turned into a hippy as you turn your back on the life you used to lead. I’m surprised how many people I know who think that growing your own food is kinda weird.
You’ll get excited as your seedlings start to grow, when your first tomato ripens, and others just won’t understand your joy. Rural homesteaders, or those living in agricultural belts have likeminded people all around them, but in a town, it can seem like you’re all alone.
But, there ARE people close to you doing what you’re doing. You just need to find and connect with them. Community garden schemes are a great place to find other people living a simpler homesteading lifestyle in the city. Start a Meetup group, put a card in the local garden center, arrange a meeting or a coffee morning.
From this the opportunities for joint working parties comes into play. You all spend a few hours each month at each others property, learning, doing, laughing, supporting each other. Check out farmer’s markets, where you’ll find many other people running small cottage industries who may align with you and your values.
Community and human connection is a very important thing, not just for getting things done, but for health and happiness. The homesteading community is a wonderful one. Active, engaging, inspired. Join one, or start one.
If you’d like to be inspired and wonder how others are homesteading in the suburbs, this video is for you:
There are many challenges to suburban homesteading for beginners, but the homesteader usually finds interesting and elaborate ways to overcome such challenges. Love what you do, know that you ARE making a difference, and keep on with your incredible journey.
Got any ideas or tips for new suburban homesteaders? Leave a comment with your experiences, you might just help someone out.
Join me for fun and adventures in homesteading land.