What does it mean to be an urban homesteader?
The notion of the homestead is far from new. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary (Second Edition) defines “homestead” as: “n. 1 an area of public land…granted to a settler in exchange for a small fee, and on certain conditions, usually that the settler establish a dwelling and cultivate a certain area of land within a specified time.”
This definition strikes me as being awfully close to the understanding I have with my community garden. I’ve signed an agreement saying that I will pay $30 in exchange for access to a garden plot on city-owned land, and will cultivate this plot by mid-April. Granted, I won’t be living on this narrow strip of soil, nor do I live in immediate proximity to the garden, but I’m not convinced that modern usage of the term “homesteader” requires it.
Urban homesteading locates the homestead in the city, away from farmers’ fields. Urban areas have been divided into very small parcels of land, making it difficult for city dwellers to grow food and raise livestock where they live—difficult, but not impossible as many urbanites are demonstrating. Those who are determined to grow salad greens and potatoes are finding ways to do this in patio containers, on rooftops, in the front yard, and in community gardens. Those who want fresh eggs are raising small flocks of chickens in a back yard chicken coop, or quietly keep quail in the condominium.
On the urban homestead, the scale of the operation isn’t the defining factor. I’m convinced that commitment to an idea is far more important than whether one can live exclusively on the fruits and vegetables of one’s labour. Early homesteaders didn’t have the convenience of a modern grocery store if they ran out of salt pork and pickled beans, obviously. For today’s urban homesteader to have this convenience and yet to deliberately move outside the industrial food system, painstakingly weeding, watering, and willing future meals to grow and ripen in a tiny corner of the urban wild, takes deep commitment. A strong desire for self-sufficiency motivates some, while food miles and organic practices motivate others. Whatever the source of motivation, it’s good work.
The full scope of the homesteading way of life includes more than food production. Urban homesteaders have been known to produce their own energy, cycle their water, and make their own clothes. Urban homesteading is a way of life, a philosophy, a movement. Whether overtly political or not, the actions of every urban gardener, beekeeper, egg-wrangler, canner, sun-gatherer, and knitter contribute to the food security of the city, a lower-carbon economy, and a more resilient community.
I am an urban homesteader.
Author’s note: This post is inspired by the many urban homesteaders in the US who are responding with outraged solidarity against the trademarking of terms such as “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.” Privatization of this way of life flies in the face of the very culture of learning, helping and sharing that urban homesteaders embrace. Keep urban homesteading ideas and information open source!
For the latest on this action, visit: http://lb.vg/gn9yA