ANZ's Farms

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What is an Urban Homesteader?

Silly that I am just now answering that question for myself ... after more than two years of keeping goats, chickens and bees and growing my own tomatoes and veges each summer. I am the type of person that looks at something someone else is doing and says, "I can do that!" (Hence my real estate license after we bought our first foreclosure property 7 years ago). But I don't have a role model or mentor for urban homesteading and have had to kinda figure it out on my own with each passing day.

This week I attended a gathering at Quail Ridge Bookstore for a book signing and panel discussion about farm-to-table. I went for several reasons: 1) a dear friend called and said she would take me if I wanted to go. Thanks, Anne. 2) a friend was on the panel -- Deborah Underwood Brown of High Ground Farm, about whom I blogged on 12/31/2010. 3) I am toying with the notion of expanding my sales from just eggs, honey and goats' milk products to plants and veges. I have seedlings in the greenhouse and need some good ideas on marketing. 4) I am interested in learning how others are doing farm-to-table.

I came away from the evening with the same thought ... "I can do that!"  But "that" is having 150 hens to lay enough eggs to supply Heron's Restaurant, the only 5-star restaurant in the Triangle. "That" is having 6 acres of farm land in order to produce sufficient quantities of produce to satisfy a restaurant's needs. In reality, I can't do that ... not here on my one acre in the city. And it hit me. An urban homesteader is not a farmer, supplying produce for executive chefs and CSA boxes for households. An urban homesteader is not a kinder, gentler poultry operation than the big guys. An urban homesteader is a jack of all trades and master of none.  Self-sufficiency dictates that we do a little of everything and limited space permits nothing on a big scale.

Why has this realization caught me so off guard? It's a simple notion, but such a huge leap forward in my concept of who I am and what I do as an urban homesteader.  Finally, I don't feel like I am underachieving if I only have a few dozen eggs a week to sell or if we sell out of honey by Christmas or if I go a couple of weeks without selling any soap.  The egg sales pay for the chicken feed so that we eat our organic, farm fresh eggs for "free". The honey sales more than pay for the beekeeping equipment, which is not inexpensive.  The goats have not proven to be break-even yet, but they are so sweet they don't have to be.

I feel the need to be at least cost-neutral with homesteading since I don't work outside the home.  But homesteading is not all about money either; it is so much more. Urban homesteading is a peaceful, rewarding way of life that is in harmony with creation. It is sun on my face and wind in my hair. It is a barrier-breaker and path for new friendships as city folk who want to eat fresh and hold baby goats venture onto the property. It is an open book that stimulates the senses and challenges the mind. It is laughter and tears, accomplishment and frustration, and lots of love. It is living life to its fullest.

I would like to be a role model for someone interested in homesteading, but I realize that not having a role model has been a good thing for me. It has forced me to draw from a lot of different places and create my own style that works for us. My guess is that what I am doing in five years will look different from how I do things today. But I'm OK with that.


  1. That's an awesome post, Amelia. When we started out I wanted to find a way to provide almost everything for my family and sell too. After learning that over-loading our small space was a bad idea, I too realized that we are urban homesteaders, and that doesn't mean farming. We can do a lot with small spaces, and even sell our excess to balance costs, but in the end we do it for ourselves.

  2. Great post, Amelia! If anyone can do it, YOU can!

    Yesterday, Kathryn was asking if the goats had all been sold. I told her that I imagined all the young ones are gone...she sighed and said "Oh, no..."


  3. Thanks, guys!

    Jordana, you have broken the glass ceiling when it comes to the breeding you do! And you have kids at home and homeschool and ...

    Miss Bee, tell Kathryn we still have 4 babies at home. One family is awaiting final permission from their town before they can take them homw. So hurry over.