Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Urban Homesteading Matters

My favorite house in our neighborhood!  I hope that my house and yard can someday look something like this one.

Seeking Sustainability Right Where We Are
As gardeners and homesteaders, many of us dream of having our own plot of land somewhere, where we can grow to our heart’s content and become self-sufficient.  That is one of the things that I dreamed of before moving into our house in a neighborhood that isn’t quite urban, but isn’t truly suburban either.  I also dreamed of having a sustainable neighborhood, being close to things, having lots of things within walking distance, having a great public transit system available, and decreasing my carbon footprint.  There are these two seemingly conflicting desires about where to live within me, and it’s hard to say where I will ultimately end up living.  

I prayed about it, and ultimately left it up to God to find the right place for us to live.  In the end, He blessed us with an older house with lots of character and lovely traditional woodwork, a decent sized yard, great neighbors who look out for each other, within an area close to transit, many sidewalks, and plenty of parks and green space around us.  I guess that in a way, I got a little bit of both worlds.  We love our house, even though as an older house, it needs a little more “love” than many newer houses, but to me it feels like home.  I grew up living in an older house, in an urban area, but somehow still growing to love nature and later on, becoming a gardener.  Sadly, far too many people who grow up in urban areas do not get the opportunity to connect to nature and where their food comes from.   Fortunately, my parents instilled in me an appreciation for nature and stewardship from Day 1 of my life, so I guess that I had an advantage that way.

Because I grew up in an urban area, I guess that you could say that I have a big heart for making urban areas more sustainable and revitalizing our urban communities.  Cities are growing on this planet, and before long, the majority of our human population will be living in them.  Cities are very resource intensive, and most often require loads of energy and resources to run them.  This presents us with a big problem:  How is humanity going to meet its needs for the future in a sustainable fashion, especially with more people becoming increasingly disconnected to the natural world in an era where there is less and less of the natural world that exists?  How on earth are we going to feed everyone?  How will we run our economies?  Where will our energy come from?

We can start by turning many of our lawns and yards into sustainable, ecologically-sound, food production systems.  We have a real opportunity to utilize our lawns, our rooftops, and even our basements to grow food (don’t get any wise ideas now- I’m talking about aquaculture and growing edible & medicinal mushrooms and the like, smarty pants! :) ).  This is where I believe that urban homesteading can play an especially important role.  We can at least reduce our dependence on food that comes from so far away by growing a lot of our own fruits and veggies, and we can try to source other things locally as much as possible.  I believe that this is going to become increasingly important as drought conditions plague many areas out in the American West where we’ve been sourcing a lot of our produce from for the last several decades.

I recently read an article that discussed how California is going to continue to experience drought conditions into the foreseeable future.  Since we’ve all become so comfortable with sourcing our produce from California for so long, we’re going to have to start looking for alternatives to sourcing our food.  That, and prices at the grocery store are likely going to continue to increase.  That makes distantly-sourced food seem ever more unattractive. 

I would say that for the most part, most produce from the grocery store isn’t the greatest and best tasting anyway.  I think that while it is difficult to produce everything yourself on a small urban lot, everything that you grow yourself is going to help you.  It is going to save you money in the long run.  It is also going to be much healthier for you, since the freshly harvested produce that you grow right where you live will still contain the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that may not largely be present any more in store bought produce.  And, you know where it came from, not from some large corporation that doesn’t necessarily have your best interests (or your health) at heart.

There are many other advantages to being an urban homesteader.  Growing herbs, for instance, is like growing your own pharmacy right in your own backyard.  It is wise to learn about the safe use and identification of different herbs, of course, but it is comforting and empowering to know that you can at least provide some basic level of medical care for yourself.

There is the advantage of eating nourishing, whole foods that you prepared and preserved yourself.  Again, you will know where these foods came from and how they were made.

There is the growing empowerment that we gain once we start learning new skills.

There is a greater sense of community around us as we get to know our neighbors and share the abundance of what we have.  We help each other out and look out for each other.

There is the decrease in our energy use, as we seek simple and low-tech ways of living and doing things.

There is the reconnection with nature, which awakens us to the natural world and how we are all in this together.

There is the reduction of waste as we realize that we don’t need more “stuff” to be happy anymore and we no longer need to source as many inputs from outside of our homestead systems.  We begin to realize that there are many things that money cannot buy and we find that our souls and spirits find greater satisfaction in the immaterial than in the material things.

Setting the Example and Expanding Our Thinking

I took a walk in my neighborhood the other day.  My destination was one of our neighborhood parks, but on my way there, I was able to check out some of the houses, buildings and the landscape in better detail than what I can do while driving my car.  One of my favorite points along the way was this awesome house that has a beautiful landscape with fruit trees in the front yard, and solar panels on the roof and in the backyard (you can see them from the street).  I always pass by this house and think, “Man, they are doing it right!  We all need to be moving much closer to that.”  I think that we need to change the overall dominant paradigm of grassy lawns before more of our neighborhoods can actually look more like that, but with every family that decides to reject the dominant paradigm of lawns and actually do something useful, sustainable, and self-sufficient with their property, they are setting a great example to others of what is possible, even in an urban area.

And we simply must start thinking about sustainable possibilities.  The future of our children, our grandchildren, and generations beyond them depends on it.

What do you think?  Why do you believe that homesteading in urban and suburban areas is important?

One of the lovely neighborhood parks near us.  We are very blessed to live in an area with abundant parks and green spaces. 

One of our neighborhood friends…  

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