Big Plans in Small Spaces
“Homesteading means being mindful of and grateful for the resources I have, and striving for more independence using those resources. My resources don’t just include my 1/6 acre; they also include local farms, family members with their own gardens and fruit trees who are willing to share or trade, and various places around me where I forage (for free!) otherwise unused food. Homesteading means stepping away from the industrial food system a bit, and becoming less of a consumer, more of a producer. Saving money and becoming thrifty is a natural side effect of adopting a ‘homesteading mentality.’ What things can I grow, forage, bake, ferment, sew, fix, re-purpose? How many ways can I become a little more self-sufficient and kinder to the world around me, no matter how small my property is?” -Andrea
Homesteader Profile: Andrea lives with her husband and three sons on a very average, 1/6 acre urban lot. She spends her days teaching elementary school, but her spare hours are spent growing food and planning all the ways she can maximize her homesteading space – usually with a handful of neighbor kids lending a hand. Andrea is author of little BIG Harvest.
Andrea’s Homesteading Journey
I live on 1/6th of an acre in Indiana. About 4 years ago, I read a book called Animal Vegetable Miracle that woke something up inside me. Around the same time, I watched a popular documentary called Food, Inc. I suddenly wanted to start doing whatever I could to provide healthier food for my family, so we started a small garden. Each year we add more garden space, in what I like to call our ‘nook and cranny’ style, in various spots around our yard. Even though our lot is not huge, we have started to see potential in so much of it, including the front yard, which we hope to tackle soon with fruit trees and gardens.
This summer we had roughly 110 sq feet of gardens. We’ve drawn up plans to add more raised beds in the spring to add about 96 more sq. feet–almost doubling our growing space! We feel very lucky to have a mulberry tree in the backyard that was here when we moved in. It was obviously planted by a bird or animal, because it’s not in the most convenient spot—but we treasure that tree, and love the preserves we make with the berries. In fact, we love mulberries so much, we forage for them all around our city as well. We want to add more fruit trees in the coming years, and in the meantime, I have found places to forage sour cherries, pears, apples, quince, and cornelian cherries.
We don’t have any ‘farm’ animals yet, because our city does not allow backyard chickens. We hope that will change in the coming years, because we’d love to have our own fresh eggs. Right now we have a worm farm inside, so we joke that the worms are our livestock. We’ve recently considered keeping a rabbit and a guinea pig as pets indoors so that we could collect their poop for the garden!
We have learned to eat from scratch much more often. Our pantry is not as full of pre-packed snacks and foods as it used to be, and now there are a lot of staples like our preserved harvests, flour, rice, dried beans, nuts, and other cooking supplies.
We have become much more in tune with fixing things that are worn out or broken before buying anything new.
Another change that has surprised us is how much less waste we produce now. Between two outdoor compost bins and the worm farm, very little organic waste goes into the trash. We compost everything we possibly can, including hair from our dog’s and our own haircuts! It feels really good to know that we have cut back so dramatically on the trash leaving our house, and as an added bonus, our finished compost makes amazing food for our gardens.
Andrea’s Advice for Urban Homesteaders
Understand your limitations and work with what you’ve got. I sometimes find myself slipping into a state of despair when I think of the space and resources that I simply don’t have. That is a surefire way to give up before you’ve even started! Celebrate every single square foot you have to work with, even if it’s just one growing box on your patio. The food that came from that square foot of space was one less thing you had to buy from the grocery store.
Try to find things that take little or no space to accomplish. A few examples: growing your own super-nutritious sprouts on the counter (or on top of the fridge), starting a simple herb garden in pots on your windowsill, and finding ways to grow veggies vertically (like in a garden tower).
Remember that homesteading activities go beyond growing food. It’s incredibly rewarding to learn to cook from scratch, make your own natural cleaning products, and reduce waste coming out of your home. Never forget that your efforts matter, even if you are living on a tiny city lot surrounded by neighbors (who will hopefully learn something by watching you). You may never know who else you inspired to try ‘homesteading’ in the city!