First, I need to start off by setting expectations by stating that modern homesteading is a spectrum. There is one thing that all homesteaders regardless of the type have in common and that is the goal of striving for self-sufficiency. This means growing your own food, raising your own livestock, canning/food preservation, focusing on renewable energy and even making your own clothes. Homesteaders are not defined by where they live but rather by how they live.
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In my own homesteading journey I currently define myself as a suburban homesteader but at some point in the future, I want to move to a more complete homestead. I dream of having a few acres of land, my own livestock and enough space to grow all (or almost all) the food we need. But for now, I make the most of the space I have in my suburban backyard, grow food in my front yard and leveraging hydroponics to grow food year-round in my basement.
A very brief history of homesteading in North America
Historically homesteading was a way of life for many people. The primary goal (from a legislative perspective) was to entice people to live on and farm the land.
In the United States, The Homestead Act came into being on May 20th, 1862 when it was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The goal of the act was to encourage people to migrate west by enticing them with 160 acres of public land. Before it was truly theirs they had to commit to working and living on the land for 5 continuous years and they has to pay a small fee.
In Canada, back in 1872, the government introduced The Dominion Lands Act which was created in the hopes of encouraging people to come to settle in the prairies. This was crucial in order to prevent the United States from attempting to claim the land. The Dominion Act was closely based on The Homestead Act of 1862 in the United States and offered 160 acres of land to any person over the age of 18 who paid the $10 registration fee.
Modern homesteading is basically the resurgence of an old practice. In a world that is hyper-focused on cheap disposable products, convenience, and social media modern homesteaders are bringing some self-sufficiency back into the mix. They are bringing back that sense of pride in knowing they can take care of themselves. That they are not so reliant on the mainstream conveniences.
Another aspect is recapturing those vintage skills that were commonplace (and common sense) in the past. If you ask anyone today if they can take care of themselves, as long as they have a job then their answer will most likely be a resounding yes. But this is far from the truth, take out the internet, the grocery stores, the clothing stores, electricity, central heating, running water, etc and I am pretty sure most of them would answer differently. I am going to assume you have been in a grocery store the day before it will be closed because of a holiday? It’s like people are preparing for an apocalypse!
This is the most extreme form of homesteading. Those who practice off-grid homesteading are for the most part completely self-sufficient. They grow their own food, raise their own livestock, harness renewable energy, have an outdoor cold cellar and are pretty much the badasses of the homesteading community.
This lifestyle is definitely not for everyone and you have to be a certain type of person to be able to live this way. But the benefits to the environment are huge. It must be an amazing feeling to wake up every morning and know that you can fully take care of yourself and your family. This is not a feeling that most people today will ever experience.
This is closest to the historical version of homesteading, and my goal for the future. While it may seem idyllic it is labour intensive but deeply rewarding. If this is something you aspire too then you will need to invest a lot of time in planning. You will need to ask yourself how far along the homesteading spectrum do to aspire to go. There are so many questions to ask, these are just a few to consider.
- Do you want to grow all your own fruits and vegetables?
- How will you preserve your food?
- Are you going to raise and butcher your own meat?
- Where do you want to live?
- Are you going to rely solely on renewable energy?
- Where will your water come from?
- How much land do you need/want?
- Will you make your own soap, cleaning products and clothes?
- Are you going to buy a house or build it?
- How will you generate money from your homestead?
- Are you going to practice biodiverse farming?
I honestly dream of the day when I can get up in the morning and put on my boots and head outside for a day of chores. That isn’t to imply that I think it will be all sunshine and happiness. I crave being outdoors, being in touch with nature and working hard. I think it is one of the most rewarding feelings. In the summer, as soon as I am home from work, I change, put on my boots and head out to the garden. When it’s really hot in the middle of summer The Hubby will keep tabs on me. He does this so I don’t get heatstroke as I tend to lose complete track of time once I get into my garden.
This is my niche and I love it. The suburbs tend to afford a larger garden than you are going to get in an urban setting. Suburban homesteaders are taking over their back (and front yards) and ditching the grass in order to grow food. Some are lucky enough to be able to keep backyard chickens, I myself am not due to those pesky by-laws. If you are in the ‘burbs and are permitted and looking to get backyard chickens you can find the best breeds for your situation here.
Canning and preserving is another great way to increase your self-sufficiency even if you live in the ‘burbs. I grow over 14 types of tomatoes in my suburban backyard garden! I use a lot of them to make small batch tomato sauce that we enjoy during the winter. When my raspberries are in season I pick loads of them to make my delicious homemade raspberry jam. I will be adding some fruit trees this year and also be building some raised beds.
I also make my own soil by composting like a pro, and this year I am planning on adding vermicomposting to the mix. One of the best things you can add to your garden to increase yields is worm casings (basically worm poop).
Urban homesteading is for the city dwellers that still want to become more self-sufficient. It is amazing how much food you can grow even with a small backyard or by growing food not lawns in your front yard. This is also a great way to meet your neighbours and encourage other people to start growing their own food.
As with any manner of homesteading canning and preserving is key. This is easy to do in just about any kitchen, you could even do it in a tiny home (I am tiny home obsessed, you can read about it here). You can compost in the city, just make sure you take precautions against trash pandas (racoons) and other city animals.
Even in an apartment, there are things you can do to be more self-sufficient. You can create a window garden or get yourself and Aerogarden so that you can start growing hydroponically indoors. Also if you are lucky enough to have a balcony then you can fill it with as many containers as you can. In this situation, square foot gardening will definitely be your best friend and help to make the most out of the room you have.
You can even compost in an apartment to make amazing soil for your plants. At this point, you may be wondering how this is possible in an apartment. So let me explain. There is an amazing composting system that you can keep right under your kitchen counter that won’t smell or attract flies. It’s called a Bokashi composting and it uses fermentation, to generate garden friendly microbes, yeast, and fungi. This is important as they are the building blocks of healthy and productive soil. If you want to check out the Bokashi Composting Starter Kit click here. I love it because you can even include bones and meat, plus it makes amazing compost tea!
So what does your homesteading journey look like? Are you living your dream, just getting started or merely pondering the possibilities?