I want to explain and expand on what “homesteading” means to me. We live in the city, so we are urban homesteaders, which is a bit different from having a lot of land to work with for our food needs. Homesteading in an urban environment can include a lot of lifestyle choices, from city gardens, urban chickens, beekeeping, bicycling, potlucking, and more. Beyond a list of tasks and livestock, homesteading for me is a type of life that can be built one small piece, basil plant, or bike commute at a time.
I want to live an exciting, independent, productive, positive, and sustainable life, which underpins everything I do. If the task or possibility at hand doesn’t fulfill this goal, I try to improve my prospects. Still, my life is a journey. Our lifestyle now is built on skills and knowledge we’ve worked towards for years, and there is still so much to learn and do!
Below are my goals along with some steps I’m taking to realize them in full.
Reduce personal consumption.
I grew up with passionately DIY parents, and I’ve learned to consider purchases carefully. I try to discern each item’s usefulness, longevity, or durability value. I also consider what’s possible to build myself, from spice shelves to composters, and where bartering (usually involving food goods) is a possible exchange method.
Jake and I attempt to buy quality items that will last for a long time, can be used frequently, and are reusable or educational. We have many books that were worth every penny, but we consider the quality of each book we buy, as well as the relative price and quality of kitchen tools like cast iron, stainless steel, and appliances. We’ve purchased appliances from craigslist at fractions of their new cost, including our burr coffee grinder, Kitchenaid, homebrewing equipment, and a bookshelf (any day now, Vitamix price alert, I’m waiting for you, too). We also often reuse and repurpose items that seem disposable, including saving beer and wine bottles for homebrew, saving Jake’s parents deli containers for Tupperware, and cutting our milk gallons into hot caps for the garden.
Live in harmony with the earth.
This one earth is all we have, and I want to do what I can to take care of it and help it thrive. Long term, I’d like to reduce further my use of fossil fuels (Jake already bike commutes) and build a home using solar power, greywater systems, and geothermal heating. Right now we don’t have the means to buy or build a home while Jake is in school, but after he graduates we’ll see what happens! It’s hard to imagine achieving these goals within Baltimore city proper, but who knows? For now, we limit our electricity by using fans vs. air conditioning, setting our winter thermostat at about 62°F, and winterizing our house.
I also work to utilize various foods throughout the year, preserving food in bulk while it’s in season locally. Not only does food taste better when preserved fresh, but we also reduce our carbon footprint as we contribute less to storage and shipping costs for produce. Jake and I eat limited meat, a big contributor to our national energy use, and only purchase meat that comes from a reputable farm. We also compost our food waste and use it as fertilizer for our garden (food making food is magic!).
By this I don’t mean that intend to do everything myself. Rather, I want to find active solutions to my challenges, work collaboratively, and invest energy into strong relationships. I want to rely on myself and my neighbors, not corporations and quick fixes.
Part of this is working towards a system of home food production. Our city garden provides us with some food, although I primarily utilize it to grow rare herbs and vegetables in order to save money on boutique market items. For other foods, I support local farmers with my dollars, developing relationships with them to buy bulk seconds that I use for preserving, including tomatoes, corn, okra, peaches, cabbage, peppers, strawberries, and apples. In the future I’d like to produce most of our food, but for now, I’m focused on utilizing our rowhouse’s outdoor space to the fullest.
We make many commodities that add pleasure to our lives but would be a financial burden if we bought frequently. For example, we homebrew a lot of beer, cider, kombucha, and milk kefir; grow and dry unique and medicinal herbal teas, and decorate and furnish our home with my artwork, friends’ artwork, and shelving I’ve built. I am also planning to learn to sew, construct furniture, make soap and candles, and I’m considering keeping bees on the roof.
Jake and I work as partners to care for our home, our dog, and each other. For meals, we communicate about our schedules so that someone always cooks. We divide our food preparation, and I make kombucha, vinegars, and vegetable and fruit preserves while Jake tends dairy ferments and bakes wonderful breads. We have a wonderful network of friends and family that are great companions, and we know we’re lucky they’re willing to lend a hand moving furniture, watching the dog, preserving veggies, watering plants, and having potlucks!
Live healthfully with a good attitude.
Physical and mental fitness require routine work, but by being fit I feel energetic enough to tackle anything! I struggle motivating to exercise, but creating a workout routine has helped a lot. I have a discounted gym membership at the University of MD, as Jake pays for his membership through tuition and can extend a discount to me. I’ve found over time that I really enjoy swimming, so a gym membership is worth it for the pool. Jake similarly enjoys weight lifting. Other activities like biking, hiking, running, and yoga we do for free at home or at a minimal cost.
I have also struggled for a while with anxiety, and have to work to think positively. Exercise, sleeping well, eating well, and petting the dog help a lot. I try to reflect on my challenges, work towards a solution, and take action. Achieving goals and solving problems can be difficult, but it helps me feel I’m moving forward when I’m stressed, even if the accomplishments are small. Besides, when I feel better, I get even more done. Generally, I hope fitness will help me to live a long and productive life. Plus, being healthy may be cheaper in the long run!
Enjoy Life and make a positive impact.
While dealing with anxiety over the past few years, I was stressed, unhappy, and sick. If my time, work, and energy resulted in so much misery, what was the point of my actions? To make money? To appear respectable? To climb a career ladder? While sustaining financial and physical needs is important, I realized if I only get one life, it might as well be worthwhile.
For me, life is worth living well with other good people. I am grateful for every friend, mentor, and teacher I’ve had, and I try to share my abilities and energy as they do with me. Beyond good karma, I also believe many actions I take are important for combating climate change, living a fulfilling life, and being a good neighbor. To share my knowledge I teach workshops, share my skills, and write about what I learn on this blog! Long term I hope to continue teaching and creating to empower others to take control of their lives and communities.
Rather than worrying about work (as much) and commutes, I now focus on learning, creating, questioning, and achieving my goals. I am trying to leave behind bureaucratic, office work in favor of creating good relationships and spaces in the world. While I often have to choose between reading a book about gardening or watching TV, I’ve found that creating can be entertainment enough. I feel purposeful, and I take pleasure in each small step and gratification, especially at dinner time! I am still on this journey, but I’m happy to be on my way.
Managing our urban homestead is fun and work, a balance of living in a lot of ways. I am always learning more about the seasons, our cycle of seasonal foods, cellaring, and new ways to care for the spaces of our home. Below you’ll find posts on how I live through the seasons, manage the house, and gather equipment for our homesteading life.