“To me, homesteading means engaging in a give-and-take relationship with the earth. That means growing your own food, cooking from scratch, raising backyard livestock, collecting rainwater, simplifying your life, reducing your impact, and basically not being a jerk to Mother Nature. She is, after all, part of the reason why we are surviving.” – Kelli
The Sustainable Couple
Homesteader Profile: Kelli, her husband, John, and their two dogs live on a 1/3 acre urban homestead in a large Eastern Iowa city. They share details about our homesteading adventure, including our gardens, our chickens, our home, and more at The Sustainable Couple.
Kelli’s Homesteading Journey
Our urban homestead and The Sustainable Couple was born about 5 years ago. We had lived in our new-to-us home for about a year and we wanted a small garden. At the time I was working as a high school language arts teacher and had the summer off. Tending a garden seemed like a nice summer hobby. I did a little research, discovered we’re right on the line between Zone 4 and Zone 5, and rented a tiller from the hardware store. What started as a simple 6’x8′ garden in the ground eventually became six raised garden beds, each measuring 4’x8′ for almost 200 square feet of raised bed space. We also have some edible landscaping under the shade of a few big trees, which adds about 50 additional square feet of space.
You could say that gardening was a gateway urban homesteading drug, because then came the compost bins. I even tried vermicomposting for a few months, but killed the worms by accident. And then canning and preserving the harvest.
Soon I realized that watering my garden from the faucet – and paying for city water – was not a good idea. So naturally we needed rain barrels, and installed 14 of them, complete with an irrigation system to get the water from the barrels to the garden.
With all of that wonderful organic produce, I began cooking from scratch. It’s a fun challenge to see if we can avoid buying processed foods from the store (our local food co-op). Then came our small backyard flock of laying hens, which we lovingly refer to as “The Ladies”.
Any urban homesteader will tell you that the moment they get an animal that produces something for the homestead, they feel like they’ve achieved the dream. For us, it was the yard birds that made it happen. Not only do we feed these partially free-range girls a 100% organic diet on a budget, but they supply us AND several neighbors with eggs. We sell about 2-3 dozen eggs a month. It’s not much, but it more than pays for their feed bill.
After about 5 years we realized we were building up this little homestead in the city without even knowing it. Our home was built in 1840, it requires a bit of upkeep. This is where my electrician husband gets to shine! Nearly 100% of our home renovations are DIY, frugal, and earth-conscious.
Heck, frugal, earth-conscious renovations don’t stop with our house. Our chicken coop is actually a retro-fitted HAM radio shed!
But we’re not done yet, folks. We’ve got some big plans for this year. In 2015 we hope to add more edible landscaping to the front of our 1/3 acre lot. You’ll see that we have quite a large front yard:
This is a lot of space that isn’t being used for food production. Talk about a missed opportunity! So, this year means blueberry and raspberry bushes, maybe two fruit trees, and lots and lots of herbs and ‘pretty’ vegetables (like rainbow chard).
In our home, we’re going to continue composting nearly all of our food waste (which isn’t much). We’re going to continue preserving our harvest, sharing bumper crops with the community, family, and friends.
Lastly, in 2015 we are going to refocus on making home the center of our homestead. To us, this means spending more time on our passions, with our family and with our friends. This means slowing down, unplugging, savoring the minutes. It means asking “Why?” and “Why not?” It means putting our homestead before our day jobs at times, because the heart of the homestead is in the hard work and love between the two people who share it: The Sustainable Couple.
Kelli’s Advice for Urban Homesteaders
Think big. Not in scale, but in idea. You can do nearly everything on a small, urban piece of yard or patio that a person with a few acres does in the country. You’re altering the scale and process by which it is done. We live in the heart of a city of 40k+ people. We live 5 blocks from a bustling, vibrant downtown district. We have chickens, and 6 raised beds in our backyard, and rain barrels, and a front yard garden, and edible landscaping. Last time I checked, this rivals some homesteaders who live on acreages. Think big, friends.