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Urban homesteading basics

Young couple collects vegetables from urban homestead garden

Are you a city-dweller or a suburban homeowner or renter? Are you interested in becoming more self-sufficient? Are you worried about a potential COVID-19 second-wave and the impact it will have on your pantry? Then it’s probably time to consider urban homesteading. 

What is a homestead?

Traditionally, a homestead is a piece of land with either a house, farm or ranch on it. The homeowner — and homesteader — live in the property while using the land to grow food and raise livestock that is used to feed the homeowner and family. The guiding principle of a homestead is self-reliance. To be self-sufficient, homesteaders concentrate on growing, raising and using whatever is in their possession, using their own hard work. For any resource that a homesteader cannot produce on their own, they will either barter or work to earn and buy. 

Homesteading Guide 2020

What is an urban homestead?

Over time, though, the homestead definition has changed. Rather than focus on complete self-sufficiency, made possible by living isolated on your own plot of land, the urban homestead focuses on the adoption of self-sufficiency principles while still living in a city or a suburb of a city. 

So, if you’re ready to let go of relying on grocery stores and home deliveries and start your journey towards more self-sufficiency then it’s time to explore urban homestead basics.  

Homesteading in the city

young couple of gardeners collects fresh vegetables in urban homestead garden

“How is homesteading in Canada possible, if I live in the city?”  

Turns out you can homestead — become more self-reliant using the resources you have available to you and a bit of hard work — wherever you live. That includes in urban houses, city condo-apartments and even suburban homes. 

A few simple, basic ways to get started include:  

  • Start your backyard farming project. Produce and grow your own vegetables and, if the climate where you live allows, fruit. 
  • Start preserving your food. Want to make home-grown or bulk-bought fresh food last longer? Learn how to preserve this food through canning — the process of storing food in sterilized jars — and through fermentation. Another great advantage of doing this is you and your family will no longer be exposed to the preservatives and chemicals used in commercially canned products (used to improve the shelf-life of these products). 
  • Get crafty. Learn how to sew, paint or even spin your own wool (assuming you have sheep and sheers and loom, among other supplies). Regardless of what inspires you, there’s always a way to get artistic and crafty and either use these items yourself or sell or trade them to support your self-sufficiency goals. 
  • Raise livestock. For those working on healthier animal product consumption or those that want to stop supporting commercial farming, one important step is to start raising livestock. Chickens and rabbits are a good option for urban homesteads, as many cities allow you to keep these animals in backyards or in pens on your property. Cows, sheep and goats may be a bit ambitious, but you can certainly think outside of the box, such as building and stocking your own fresh-water pond. 
  • Get off-the-grid. One of the biggest goals for most serious homesteaders is to reduce or eliminate their energy and resource consumption. Getting off-grid is no longer an abstract, hippy-inspired pipedream. These days, even urban homesteaders are installing rain barrels and rooftop rain collectors (to use free water for growing crops) and solar panels (to tap into the grid and give back energy, while reducing hydro costs).

Basic rules for urban homesteading

Watering cans hang near urban homestead garden

If you are a beginner, then all of this self-reliance talk may seem a bit overwhelming. Not to worry. To help, here are some basic rules to follow, regardless of the type of project you take on or how self-sufficient you aim to become. 

  1. Before you start any project, consider how much space and time it will require to start, continue and grow the project. Starting a project is often the fun part; it’s new and exciting. Constant upkeep and maintenance, however, is where you’ll really see the fruit of your labour. Be sure to ask experts or other community members how long each type of homestead project requires when it comes to ongoing work. 
  2. Be sure to check zoning and bylaw regulations. There’s no point in building a mini-barn in the backyard if municipal bylaws restrict you from raising chickens or keeping other barnyard-type animals. 
  3. Make a plan. This can’t be stressed enough. If you’re planting a garden, consider where the sun shines and plan out where to plant each vegetable or fruit tree (or bush). Then write the entire plan. Be sure to reference this plan and make notes about your progress and the obstacles you face. The more you document, the easier it will be to assess, modify and tweak a plan for better results the next year.  
  4. Finally, don’t forget the water. Whether you’re raising animals, taking care of a beehive or growing a garden, water or a water source is vital. Some beekeepers keep a pet dish of water, just in case their bees can’t find a natural source. For gardeners, learn to assess how wet your soil is and how much each plant requires. Then monitor it daily. For livestock, remember that animals can also become dehydrated and typically need a fresh source of water on a daily basis. 
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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.