Mohawk Sustainability recently hosted a webinar featuring the owners of Sentimental Farm. Rob and Chris are homesteaders who live a self-sufficient lifestyle on their farm by growing their own organic vegetables, raising chickens and collecting eggs, preserving the food they make and creating natural care products like soap and lip balm.
What Is Urban Homesteading?
The goal of urban homesteading is to become a household that is self-sufficient and self-sustaining as much as possible. This includes growing your own food and making a lot of your own household products. Urban homesteaders can operate in small or large properties, it’s not just for farmers!
Urban homesteaders also want to honour old-fashioned skills that support self-sufficiency. Urban homesteaders often share a few similar goals:
- Resist consumerism
- Be good stewards of the land
- Reuse and recycle
- Support local shops
- Share with others
- Pass on homesteading skills
These ideologies are all integral to sustainable living and all support reducing your environmental footprint.
Chris and Rob shared with us a few essential steps to follow to begin your urban homesteading journey. Rob highlighted the importance of starting slow, and to try not to get discouraged.
Aspects of Urban Homesteading
Grow Your Own Food
The most important part about growing your own food is to try and grown what you enjoy eating. If you grow vegetables that you don’t enjoy, then you won’t eat them and your hard work will be a waste.
When growing vegetables, using raised garden beds will dramatically increase your yields. With raised beds you can control the soil, the nutrients, decrease bugs and pests, and increase your yield up to 30%. Growing fruits and vegetables in raised beds also decreases weeds up to 60-70% which will allow you to do less maintenance.
To control the soil, the best thing you can do is number your beds, write down what is growing in each bed each year, and rotate your crops. Crop rotation is important because different fruits and vegetables require different nutrients. If you grow tomatoes in the same vegetable bed for five years in a row, you will deplete the tomato growing nutrients in that bed and will have to purchase more soil and fertilizer. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil healthy, nutrient-dense and dramatically reduce your need for new soil and fertilizer.
A great way to maximize space in your garden is to grow plants vertically. One of the best vertical tools to grow food are bamboo sticks. They are naturally recyclable, will last for a few years and since they are plants, they won’t end up in a landfill, making them a great sustainable choice. You can also grow plants vertically by using rebar and attaching clay pots. There are lots of creative ways to grow your garden and increase your food production.
Preserve Your Harvest
Now that you’ve grown your own food, another aspect of homesteading is to preserve what you are not going to eat immediately. There are many different preserving techniques:
- Cold Storage: this does not need to be a freezer, just a cool dry and dark place like a basement
- Blanching & Freezing: this works great for peas, beans, and berries
- Drying/Dehydrating: this can require a substantial investment in a dehydrator and is a more advanced technique
- Water Bath Canning
- Pressure Canning: seems intimidating but is very good for beginners
Depending on what you’re preserving and your comfort level you can chose the technique that feels right to you. Pressure canning is one of the most popular techniques because its: 1) easy 2) efficient 3) cheap 4) sustainable. Once you buy mason jars for pressure canning you have the jars for life and can reuse them every year.
Raise Your Own Food
This is for the advanced homesteader who has a bit more property. Chickens and goats are very easy livestock to raise. However, in Hamilton, you cannot have backyard chickens within the city.
Raising your own livestock such as goats or chickens are great because you get all the eggs you want, and you can use goats’ milk to make cheese. Raising animals can be time consuming, but it can also be very rewarding.
Make it Yourself
Making your own natural products can range in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Depending on the product you are making, some can be quite easy, such as soft goat cheese, while other products can require more time and ingredients, like soap. It is not just about making home products or food, but you can learn to sew or knit your own clothes as well. Furthermore, in order to reduce your environmental footprint, and resist consumerism, there is a culture among homesteaders to swap and trade goods. All aspects of homesteading support the overall goal to live sustainably and to live as self-sufficiently as possible.
Closing the Loop
Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency and self-reliance while reducing your carbon footprint. By simply adopting a few small changes to your lifestyle, such as an herb garden, you can start on your journey to becoming a homesteader. It is important to remember that small steps can make big changes, and that this journey should be taken slowly and step by step.
To learn more about Urban Homesteading and Sentimental Farms you can watch the entire webinar on the Sustainability YouTube channel.
Check out the Sustainability Office on Instagram and Facebook @sustainablemoco