Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How did I become an urban homesteader?

My sister recently asked me what an urban homesteader was and it got me thinking.  What makes a person a homesteader?  It's not just having a garden or a few chickens in town, it's a total mindset. It means you believe strongly in growing your own food and not letting anything go to waste.  You are constantly learning new skills and you don't  let your lack of knowledge stop you from trying new things.  It means thinking up new and unique ways of doing everything having to do with gardening and animal raising because of limited space.  And every homesteader I have talked to has a different reason why they do it. Very few do it to be more "green" and to save the planet.  Many do it to provide healthy organic food for their family.  Others do it because they don't want to be dependent on the national food supply and the government.  And then there are those who do it just because they love it. 

I would fall into the last three categories.  I started gardening on a small plot at our first home.  I did it just because I loved it.  Every year my garden plan would grow and every winter I would read book after book on gardening.  Soon I was reading homesteading books that had lots of good info on gardening but also talked about raising chickens, pigs, rabbits, and goats.  Story after story of people in town raising much of there own food enchanted me and I began to dream of laying hens and a jersey milk cow.  I wanted my children to know where food comes from and was interested to life of hard work and simple living. 

This was not just a sudden thing for me either.  My fondest memories as a little girl was of my great grandmothers home in the country and playing by her chicken coop watching the amazing birds do there thing.  I loved to explore the pastures and fields and the highlight of my time there was bottle feeding day old calves.  As a girl I begged my mom to let me have a garden in our suburban yard and chopped the firewood every day for our fireplace.  I loved to cook and was cooking the family dinners from age 11.  My favorite books growing up were My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet.  My favorite vacations was going camping, river rafting, and shooting with my father.  He taught me how to make a fire in the woods, find wild foods like mushrooms and berries, and how to fish for my supper.

When my husband and I moved to Wyoming and five acres in the country it seemed my dream was finally coming true.  As soon as spring came we planted an acre of garden and we purchased some laying hens from a friend.  I can't describe my joy when the first egg was laid.  We all gathered round to admire it and the children had their first lesson on where food really comes from.  We loved the country life of silence and lovely vistas, something we never had in town with noisy neighbors and loud bass thumping music.  Every day had a new joy to discover.  My garden went gangbusters and I was soon supplying our one neighbor and the man who farmed the fields around our house with as much vegetables as they could want.  I loved just watching our chickens scratching around our property.  My eldest daughter discovered the joys of being able to explore in the countryside without fear of abduction and my youngest children loved going out to the chicken coop to find eggs and admire the horses in the pasture next door.We soon purchased rabbits for my daughter to have for a 4-H project and even acquired a few milk goats which gave us milk for our hungry brood.

But what does this have to do with urban homesteading you say?  Right!  Fast forward 5 years, one new baby, several moves, a new job for my husband and you find me with four children in a 100 year old Victorian home in a tiny town on 3/4 of an acre.  How did my dream go from total self sufficiency to living in town again?  Well the answer is complicated.  We loved the country but our children never had friends close enough to play with.  Also finding a reasonably prices piece of land with a house that wasn't falling apart was impossible.  So here I am making my little piece of heaven a productive food producing place.  Now to be fair it's not like living in Seattle or Portland and trying to have a large garden and farm animals.  We live in a very small town of less than 2,000 people and the main industry is wheat farming.  We are hours away from any major city and the nights are as quite here as they were in the country.  The favored topic of conversation is how the harvest is going and the expectations of the upcoming hunting season.

So what does my urban homestead look like?  My goal is to turn every square foot of our yard into some kind of food or herb production.  Right now we have planted raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, dewberries, 5 new apple trees, 2 peach trees, two pear trees, 6 grape vines, 3 blueberries, assorted herbs, a wintersquash cucumber and melon patch, 18 tomato plants, tons of green beans lettuces beets and carrots, 10 laying hens, 20 meat rabbits, Samson the guard dog, and Smoky the cat.  We have a fireplace and woodcook stove for heating and cooking on in the winter. And a huge basement for storing all our food.

The food producing plants are only utilizing half of our property right now.  We are planning to build at least 5 more raised beds and plant 4 more fruit trees, two more grape vines, and gooseberries and currents.  The trees will take at least 3 years to start producing, the berries will produce next spring, and we are eating something from the garden every night with dinner.  You can see that you can produce a huge amount of food on a regular sized lot in town.  I can much of our food and have processed over 80 jars of assorted fruits, jams, and veggies so far. Homesteading is a constant challenge and learning experience.  Every year something does really well and something fails completely.  This year we had cold weather all the way into July which is unheard of around here.  The consequence being that my melons cucumbers and pumpkins did not germinate and I had to replant them.  My larger pumpkins may not ripen in time for the first frost.  So my journey of homesteading continues every day.

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