Many folks believe that you need to live out in the country, with a lot of land, to be able to homestead. However, nothing could be further from the truth! While rural properties have some benefits, it is completely possible to homestead in the city! If you live in town and want to start homesteading, “Urban Homesteading for Beginners” is for you!
You can homestead anywhere: rural properties, suburbs, and yes, even urban areas.
Too often, we kid ourselves into believing that we can’t do anything about our level of self-sufficiency because of where we live.
Homesteading is a lifestyle that removes oneself from the “consumerism” mindset and focuses instead on being a “producer” of the things we need.
Homesteaders thrive on independence and self-sufficiency, working to produce or create most of what they need to have a satisfying life.
While urban homesteading may seem like a recent trend, maintaining a self-sufficient life in the city isn’t anything new. On the contrary, as our modern culture is coming to terms with the fragile nature of our supply lines, we are seeing the value of returning to our roots.
Not everyone can live in the country, many wouldn’t care to. Yet, throughout much of our country’s history, everyone was expected to contribute to their own needs and well-being in some tangible way, even in the city!
How to Become an Urban Homesteader
Embrace Frugal Living
Frugal living is the foundation of every homesteader’s life.
The homesteading life avoids “consumerism” in terms of excess shopping, buying things with limited usefulness, and spending money on poor-quality items.
We all have limited funds to live our lives with. The successful homesteader makes sure that their hard-earned money doesn’t go to waste, but rather is re-invested in their sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle!
- Rather than buy the latest fashions, a homesteader would invest in canning supplies to put up the harvest.
- Instead of buying a new TV, the frugal homesteader would invest in meat rabbits or chickens to feed the family.
- Foregoing the take-out meal, a successful homesteader would put those funds towards sustainable lighting for the home, like oil lanterns or water barrels.
Regardless of where you live, if you want to homestead, it’s time to get down and frugal.
Start a Vegetable Garden
Most urban homesteads have some sort of yard.
It could be a front yard or a back yard, but either way, it’s where you’re going to grow food.
Growing food in the front yard of city property isn’t anything new. On the contrary, before WWII, virtually everyone grew gardens in whatever yard they might own.
The plethora of grocery-shopping options, that we have in today’s society, didn’t exist back then. People didn’t have the disposable income to shop for groceries very often, either.
Nearly every family grew a basic herb and vegetable garden, often from seeds that they saved from the year before. Trellising fruit along fence lines and porches was another way that folks grew food and made use of the space they had.
I often hear people talk about how poor their soil is in the city. The reason is that all of the topsoil was stripped away when the homes were built, leaving nothing more than lime and rock, in many cases.
That’s why urban gardeners often grow in raised bed gardens!
Raised bed gardens are filled with soil that you create or purchase, so you’re in complete control!
The beauty of raised bed gardening is that you can plant just about anywhere!
You can either build your own raised beds, according to your own specifications or purchase kits. Either way, they are simple to build and they don’t have to be perfect! You’ll be surprised at how much food you can grow in a small area.
Your urban property will present new possibilities when you step back and clear your land of any and all current landscaping (in your mind, of course!). Try to look at your property as a blank canvas, and imagine the potential garden that is there!
What if those ugly bushes weren’t there? What if we cut that tree down? Should we dispose of that old shed and plant something there?
Notice which direction your yard lays, especially which side of the house faces South.
The south side of the property generally gets full sun, unless something like a tree or a fence is blocking it. South-facing gardens are coveted and the best place to grow those longer-season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.
If it’s your front porch that faces south (and you don’t have a front yard to speak of), then by all means grow in containers on the porch!
Whatever size or shape your yard is, look for a way to grow on it!
If for some reason you aren’t able to grow on your property, then consider a community garden.
Community gardens are often very inexpensive (sometimes free!) and can be a lot of fun! Digging along with other gardeners can bring new relationships that could be mutually beneficial. Trading seeds, tips, and extra produce can enrich your urban homesteading experience tremendously.
Finally, there are often empty lots that would be perfect for gardening in the city. Check with your city’s zoning department to find out what their policy is for use.
Canning Food on Your Urban Homestead
I’ve said it many times over the years and I’ll say it again…
You can grow enough food to feed an army, but if you don’t know how to preserve it, it won’t do you much good.
Any homestead simply must master a few of the food preservation techniques that work for them, but I recommend that you learn how to can.
Water-bath canning is the method you’ll use for fruit (including tomatoes) and high-acid foods. This is the method most people begin with because it’s less intimidating than pressure-canning.
Once you invest in a canner, jars, and a few tools, you are all set to can for years to come! It’s a one-time investment!
Supplies you will need to water-bath can are:
Pressure canning is the method used for low-acid foods like vegetables, soups, stews and meats. I do a lot of pressure-canning when I’m putting up meals for the winter. The supplies you’ll need are similar to the water-bath canning process, however, you will need a pressure canner.
I purchased my first canners from garage sales!
As long as they are in good shape, and the seal of the pressure-canner is in good condition, you should be able to can successfully.
However, if you can afford to buy a new pressure canner, it will be one of your best investments and will last many years!
Pantry Shelving Ideas
As you begin to preserve your own food, it won’t take you long to realize that you need a pantry to store your jars.
I have lived in smaller homes most of my married life and am quite familiar with finding creative ways to build shelves and create pantry areas.
Many urban properties have basements, which can be used for food storage, as long as they are reasonably dry. Keeping a humidifier running can help for the damp basement.
Sometimes, urban homes even have old cold-storage rooms! Take advantage of the vintage design of the older urban homes!
The empty space under staircases makes for a wonderful pantry area, you can add simple shelving with cinder blocks and wood slats.
Urban Homestead Kitchen
The kitchen is the heart and soul of any homestead.
Sustainable skills and equipment are necessary to prepare and preserve food for the family. As a beginning homesteader, I suggest that you begin to set aside funds to acquire the things you’ll need to create a self-sufficient home.
Depending upon what your long-term goals are, here’s a partial list of kitchen equipment that you may want to consider. Understand that it will take time to equip your kitchen with the tools you want and need. However, if you purchase good quality, your supplies will last for a very long time.
Ask for what you need for birthdays and Christmas! Start a sinking fund for your homestead kitchen and keep saving until you can buy what you want.
Cast iron will last for many generations if taken care of properly. I love cooking with my cast iron!
Your kitchen will need good quality bowls that will serve you well, whether you are baking cakes or scrambling eggs.
I purchased my stainless steel cookie sheets nearly 30 years ago and they’re still going strong!
During a trip to Amish country for Mother’s Day about 30 years ago, my kids bought me the entire set of Rada knives and the butcher block. My knives hardly look worn at all and will last for many more years.
Off-Grid Kitchen Appliances:
Off-grid appliances are the way to go if you want to be completely self-sufficient. Yes, they cost more but you’ll save on your electric bill, plus, the motor will never burn out!
If you already have electric appliances, plan to replace them with non-electric when they stop working.
Creating a Low-Grid Urban Homestead
The less power you use in your home, the more self-sufficient you become!
There are numerous opportunities to develop household systems that are either off-grid or low-grid.
–Use a clothesline instead of the dryer. There are so many creative variations of clotheslines on the market today, just about any urban homestead can find a clothesline solution!
-Use alternative lighting like candles and oil lamps, to offset your use of electric lighting.
-During the warm summer months, open the lower level windows of the home in the early morning, to let the cool air in to fill the home. Then close the windows as the temperature begins to rise. Many people used this method before the advent of public utilities and it still works today.
-Create some of your own energy with a solar generator and panels. These panels can be placed on your back porch or even on a rooftop to take in the sunshine, without any noise to draw unwanted attention. This is the solar generator that we own, it does a great job for us!
-Harvest rainwater by connecting a rainwater barrel to one of your downspouts. You can use this water for your garden!
Small Livestock on the Urban Homestead
Raising small livestock in the city isn’t as impossible as it may seem.
During WWII, it was very common to see a few backyard chickens in yards, along with meat rabbits in a hutch. This provided eggs and meat for the family to eat.
Today, many urban and suburban municipalities are allowing 4 hens to a property. Check into the municipal codes where you live to see what’s permitted or search your town’s website.
If your town currently doesn’t allow backyard chickens, be a change agent! Most hens make less noise than the native birds like Bluejays and Mockingbirds! As long as they aren’t running around loose, backyard chickens are a truly beneficial part of any urban homestead.
Learn Homestead Skills
Cook from scratch – Healthier and cheaper, meals cooked from scratch are a must for the urban homestead. Take the time to learn and perfect recipes, made from ingredients that you either grow or can buy inexpensively. Find recipes that your family loves and by all means, teach your children to cook and bake for themselves.
Sew/Knit/Fabric Arts – So many of us, myself included, didn’t learn much about sewing or mending while I was growing up. However, learning how to mend and sew are a critical part of a sustainable lifestyle. All clothing ages and needs to be repaired once in a while, yet so many people just discard clothing that needs to be mended.
During a trip to the British Isles a few years ago, I was amazed to learn that the Royal family is quite frugal! During a tour, it was said that Prince Charles always orders extra fabric when he purchases a new suit so that he can mend and repair it!
Eventually, clothing wears out. Rather than doing away with worn-out clothing, sustainably-minded folks will re-purpose the fabric by quilting. As a quilter myself, I find it amusing that most quilters purchase new fabric, bring it home and cut it into pieces, only to sew it together again to make a quilt. This defeats the entire premise of quilting!
I would be lying if I told you that I’ve never made a quilt from new fabric. However, as you and your family wear through clothing, remember to cut it apart and save the better pieces to quilt with.
Learning to knit and crochet is also beneficial for the modern homestead! You can make warm hats, mittens, and scarves for your family, as well as blankets and even gifts for others.
There are so many other worthy homesteading skills that can save you money, like candle making, soap making, woodworking, etc. that will also serve as “side hustle” opportunities!
Generate Homestead Income
Nothing says “independence” like entrepreneurship.
Creating a homestead business for yourself and your family will allow you to leave the “8-5” and focus on doing what you love to do!
Homestead businesses will vary tremendously, depending upon your interests and skill set. There are so many opportunities now, post-pandemic, that didn’t exist prior!
Final Thoughts about Urban Homesteading
If you are a city dweller and plan to live there long term, by all means, try homesteading! Dig deep into your community, find out what you can and can’t do, discover the other people who share your vision and then teach others what you’ve learned!