why we want to start an urban homestead

image via Pinterest

Pittsburgh has finally thawed out from its usual long winter, and everything is green and blooming. This time of year is always simultaneously exciting and frustrating — we get teasingly warm days in between some chilly, windy days and nights. Joe and I are feeling especially anxious this year because we’re finally starting a project we’ve wanted to do since we moved in together: a small garden in our backyard.

It’s not going to have much this year — just tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and okra — because we’re total gardening novices. But it’s so exciting because it’s a huge piece of our long-term plan of living a more self-sufficient, sustainable life in the city. We’re starting out small, but eventually, years from now, we’d like to grow the majority of the produce we consume, raise chickens and goats, harvest rainwater and do most other things found on an urban homestead.

Joe gave me a copy of The Urban Homestead last year for my birthday, which was written by Kelly Coyne of the urban homesteading blog Root Simple. I’d been interested in and starting to live a more back-to-basics and eco-friendly lifestyle for a while, but I’d never considered that I could do much more right now than make my own house cleaners and bring reusable bags to the grocery store. I thought I’d need to have tons of land outside of a city to grow much of a garden and raise chickens. This book taught me that it’s way easier than people expect to do these things and more, but it does take some planning and elbow grease. As two people who constantly joke about our future farmhouse with 12 dogs and 18 cats running wild, living off the land as much as possible, I’d say we’re up to the challenge.

So, as we prepare to ~plant the seeds~ for this lifestyle journey, so to speak, we’ll be documenting it here and on Instagram. Right now, our plans include:

  1. Setting up a small container garden so we can take our materials with us whenever we decide to move
  2. Adding native plants to our yard to help preserve Western Pennsylvania’s ecological landscape (and attract bee and butterfly friends to our garden!)
  3. We already took a composting class from the Pennsylvania Resources Council a few weeks ago, where we learned how to make use of our food and yard scraps.
  4. Making more of our own food products at home: non-dairy milks, pickles, salsas, preserves, nut butters, etc., using zero- or low-waste practices in the process
  5. Learning to sew (in Joe’s case) and knitting and embroidery (in my case) and teaching ourselves sustainable building practices
  6. Figuring out more ways to reduce our energy consumption — which is already pretty low, honestly, considering we both mainly use public transit, walk or bike, and we use clean electricity
  7. Buying fewer things, particularly from big-box stores, and shopping secondhand when we do need to purchase something

The long-term plans like solar panels and farm animals will obviously have to wait until we’ve bought our own place and have the financial means for those kinds of large-scale projects. But I’d rather start slow than try to jump into a lifestyle that is bound to have plenty of bumps in the road.

Why are we doing this? Political and environmental events have sort of snowballed into a catalyst for lots more people to become more environmentally conscious; it’s a shame that it’s taken us so long, but it’s better late than never. And tallying up the lifestyle changes that we’ve already made that benefit the environment — like taking public transit and reducing food waste — made us realize that half of them were done out of necessity, anyway. Why not add to that in more concerted ways? People like us, with time and resources and privilege, are instrumental in making the lifestyle changes that could save us from complete climate catastrophe.

Aside from the obvious real-world ramifications, though, we just think it’s a more fulfilling way of life. Capitalism makes us believe we constantly need to buy new things to be happy, and it’s led to a disconnect between Americans and the food and products we consume. But I’ve yet to find anything in modern society that makes me happier than baking a pie from scratch, or finding a great vintage sweater for $5 at a thrift store. My parents had a huge garden one summer when I was a kid, and I loved shucking corn on our front porch and snipping onion tops for my mom to add to whatever she was cooking. My Mawmaw made beautiful quilts and lace, and I watched her pick ripe figs in her backyard every summer and spend weeks making preserves from them.

If we have kids, we want them to know how to cook and make and grow things and appreciate art and music instead of just material objects. This seems like the best way to make that happen, and to live happier lives in the process.

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