Homesteading in the city is a practical, efficient, and cost effective way of providing high quality, great tasting, nutrient dense food for your household. It is a method of homesteading that many people have overlooked. Homesteading in the city does not require any land, and you don’t have to move or quit your job. It also avoids a lot of the problems with the traditional method of homesteading, plus it significantly reduces the amount of work required. First we will look at the problems with the traditional method of homesteading and then look at the advantages of homesteading in the city.
What most people promoting homesteading will not tell you is that the traditional method of homesteading is a life of poverty unless you have a source of outside income. Homesteading is a smaller version of a small farm and has little income. The great difficulty of trying to make a living from a homestead is seen in the following statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest statistics that the USDA has for farm income is for 2004. While those statistics are not current, what they reveal has probably not changed much. According to the statistics, 82 percent of all the farms in the U.S. had less than $100,000 in sales of farm products, while 18 percent had more than $100,000 in sales, and only 8 percent had more than $250,000 in sales. For a farm to have $100,000 in sales may sound like it is doing well, but the profit margin is very low. After all the expenses are subtracted off – farmland land rent or mortgage, fertilizer, seeds, fuel, equipment costs, animal purchases, vet bills, feed, electric, supplies, etc. there is very little left of the $100,000 to pay the farmer or homesteader for their labor. The USDA report states: “For the 82 percent of U.S. farming operations that have annual sales of $100,000 or less, off farm income typically accounts for all but a negligible amount of farm household income.” (http://www.usda.gov/documents/FARM_FAMILY_INCOME.pdf) This is an incredible and sad statistic. 82 percent of all the farmers in the U.S. make practically nothing off of farming.
The bottom line is that homesteading is not self sufficient financially. A person almost has to have off homestead income in order to have enough income to cover living expenses and medical costs.
Another problem with the traditional concept of homesteading is the economy of scale is too small. A homestead tries to raise everything it needs and has a little of this and a little of that. The homesteader can end up spending almost all their time raising their own food, preserving it, spinning, weaving, splitting firewood, developing the homestead, etc. just trying to exist. For example, it takes almost as much time to care for one beef cow as it would to take care of 50. Each type of animal, type of poultry, each species of vegetable or fruit requires a certain amount of time, equipment, and expertise. The more different kinds of things that one tries to raise, the greater the chance that other things will suffer because there is not enough time and expertise to produce the quality and quantity of food that is desired.
Homesteading in the city (or in the country) that I am recommending takes on a different approach. My mother practiced homesteading in the city and I got the concept from her, even though she never called it homesteading. Our family lived on a small 1/3 acre lot in town with 40 full grown trees on it. There was no place to have a garden. She did have a spot where she was able to have several tomato plants. Instead of growing our own food, my parents sourced some of it from local sources that they trusted. My parents bought a large 20+ cubic foot chest freezer which they kept well stocked with food. They bought a quarter of a beef each year from a farmer. Sometimes they bought a number of jugs of milk from my uncle that had a dairy farm and put them in the freezer. Another uncle planted a number of rows of sweet corn at the edge of his corn field each year. We would go to their farm for corn day and process 1200 to 1500 ears of corn, cutting the corn off the cob and putting it into freezer boxes. It was like a holiday, except we socialized by working together. My mother would go to a local orchard each year and buy three to five bushels of Red Haven peaches. We would help her can them so that we would have great tasting peaches to eat that winter. She would often buy several 20 pound boxes of blueberries when they were in season and put them in smaller containers and put them in her big freezer treasure chest.
Homesteading in the city is not about trying to grow all of your food or even to preserve all your own food. It is about buying food from local farmers and sources that you know that have a great tasting product and that is nutrient dense. It is buying food in bulk in season and freezing it or canning it for the rest of the year. Homesteading in the city is letting others do the hard work of raising the meats or fruits and vegetables, and you reap the rewards of their labor. It is about being part of community rather than being individualistic.
And since you are homesteading, don’t forget to buy “insurance” for your big freezer that is filled with all those delicious, nutritious treasures. If the power goes out you don’t want to lose all that wonderful food. The “insurance” is a generator. It does not have to be a whole house generator, and it only needs to run several hours each day to keep the freezer and your refrigerator from warming up too much. A 3000 watt generator can be purchased for a little over $300 or a 5000 watt generator for about $600 and will last for many years.
The right tools make homesteading in the city easier. We bought several of these propane burner units this year and are very pleased with them. They are similar to a turkey fryer burner, but they produce a lot more heat (170,000 BTU’s) than a turkey fryer ( 40,000 BTU’s). It is also much more fuel efficient than the propane weed burning torch that we used to use. You could use a large galvanized wash tub with this burner to can 19 quarts at a time. The burner is available from Agri Supply for only $39.95 http://www.agrisupply.com/carolina-cooker-12-in-cooker-stand-and-burner/p/49469/
In addition to keeping the heat out of the house, we feel this method is much safer than canning on a stove top. A person is not as likely to burn themselves with the hot water when taking jars out of the canner. The burner is only 12 inches high and very sturdy, which keeps the canner close to the ground. It is much easier to take the jars out as well.
You can also make your own mini walk in cooler with a window air conditioner and a Coolbot. I first saw this idea used at Cathy’s uncle and aunt’s house. He had made a closet (about two feet deep and six feet wide) into a reach in refrigerator where they could put things from the garden. He used a small 6,000 btu window air conditioner as the cooling unit. There are many times when a fruit or vegetable is available, but you don’t have time that day to freeze or can it. It needs to be refrigerated so that it can hold until you have time to get it put up. This summer when we put in a new walk in cooler for the eggs, we used a Coolbot controller and a high efficiency window air conditioner. With this setup, we use 30% less electricity than with a conventional walk in cooler refrigeration unit and it is a fraction of the cost.
The Coolbot was designed by a farmer for their CSA farm. It can be purchased here: http://www.storeitcold.com/
Here is a suggestion for a homesteading food gathering trip in the Lancaster Pa. area:
The first stop is Community of Oasis at Bird-in-Hand 60 N. Ronks Rd, Ronks Pa 17572 http://www.reallivefood.org/
Oasis has organic, grass fed, raw milk for a reasonable price. They also have a large variety of cheeses. Their drinkable yogurt is very good. .
Next door in the same building is Lancaster Ag. There you can buy soft rock phosphate and high calcium lime for your garden or raised beds. They also carry garden blends of organic fertilizers.
Continue north on Ronks Rd. several miles to the village of Bird-in-Hand. There, just down from the corner at 2805 Old Philadelphia Pike is the Bird-in-Hand Farm Supply store. It is an Amish hardware store with prices that are considerably lower than Lowes or Home Depot. There you can buy a quality Amish made pulley style clothes line. But the real find is their food room hidden on the left side of the store. We did not find it until the second time we visited the store. There you can buy raw organic cheese for $4.35 a pound in five pound blocks. The price is a little higher for smaller sizes. They also have some of the best prices on canning supplies. You have to look carefully, most of the food is not organic, but there are some great deals on some other food items as well.
If you need some organic potatoes, continue east on Old Philadelphia Pike toward the town of Intercourse. On the left is an Amish farm with a white house that has a sign for organic potatoes. We have purchased 50 pound bags of potatoes from them several times when we ran out of potatoes. Note: most Amish farms are not organic and do not use organic practices. Just because Amish farms are selling produce along the side of the road does not mean that it is nutrient dense, health giving food.
The last stop is several miles north of Bird-in-Hand on Ronks Rd. On the right you will find Miller’s Natural Foods. It is a large health food store on an Amish farm.
One of the real joys of homesteading in the city is the satisfaction of having a bunch of good food in the freezer, or canned on the shelf. It gives you a feeling of self-sufficiency knowing that you don’t have to run to the grocery store every time they are calling for a snowstorm to make sure you don’t run out of food. It also gives you a satisfied feeling, knowing that you have stored away some really good healthy food for the winter.