At What Point Am I “Real”?

by Lisa Linderman on March 17, 2011

in opinion and navelgazing

Half Acre Homestead 2009You all know the drill.  You hear about some überfantabulous person or family who is taking the whole urban homesteading thing to heart, body, mind, and soul, and you are amazed.  They raise chickens and ducks for eggs and meat, they have goats that provide milk for drinking and making artisan cheeses, butter, and yogurt.  Oh wait, one of their goats also provides fiber for spinning.  They have rabbits for meat and fiber, and now they have a hive or two of bees to provide honey and free pollination services to ensure a bountiful harvest on their espaliered, columnar, and dwarf fruit trees, from which they make homemade jams, jellies, juice, wine, pies, and dried fruit.  They plant a dozen varieties of tomatoes and have mastered the concept of vertical gardening to ensure maximum return from minimum space, leaving them with vertical areas full of peppers, beans, herbs, strawberries, and more.  They have a full medicinal herb garden from which they make exotic tinctures and salves, combining the herbs with wax from their hives and cold pressed oil from their own olive trees.  Next to that they have a full culinary herb garden that includes everything from chives to horseradish.   Their animals provide substance for a compost pile which churns out black gold that they use to top dress the gardens, and the chickens and ducks provide organic pest control to eliminate the need for chemical pesticides.  They grind their own Half Acre Homestead Coopwheat and have a corn shucker, know how to make hominy and brew their own beer using hops grown as a living sunshade, dandelion wine from the weeds in their very tiny organic lawn, and mead from the honey their bees provide.  They make salsa and can vegetables year round, ferment their own sauerkraut and kimchi, have kefir, sourdough and friendship bread starters living in the kitchen.  They capture rainwater in barrels and have a soaker system set up to take maximum advantage of it.  They make their own laundry soap and dry their clothes on a line and have a solar panel array to heat their water or perhaps even power their house.  They heat with wood, which they chop down or collect themselves, and they barter for things they need.  Their chicken coop and goat pen are built from reclaimed materials, and they make quilts from discarded clothing…

Seriously, are these people from Mars?   Who does this stuff?

I mean, yeah, it might sound kinda cool, and maybe the idea of sustainable practices and self sufficiency really pulls at you, and maybe you’re concerned about your foods from a nutritional standpoint or a humane standpoint, or you just want to save some money and energy.  But what if  the most complicated thing you’ve ever grown is a weed-filled lawn, and the only food you know how to make is microwave pizza?   This year maybe you thought about planting a pot of tomatoes or two, or maybe you wanted to learn to bake bread, and these Martian People just make you feel inadequate, like it’ll never been enough, like there’s no point in even trying when you can’t accomplish all that in a billion years…

Or maybe you’re lucky and full of confidence, and you don’t care what other people do, and that’s awesome. You just set out to do what you wanna do on your fledgling urban homestead, and there you go!  Whatever you do is your thing, and that’s cool.  But what if you’re not so confident?  What if you feel like…a faker?  A fraud?  An urban-homesteader-wannabe?


Here’s the great thing about urban homesteading:  it scales well…it has to, in order to fit into urban yards and even apartment terraces.   And everyone has to start somewhere.  Some of us started with a few pots of herbs grown inside on a sunny window, or with learning to make plum jam out of that tree full of sweet but really really small plums growing in the backyard.   As a hobby, it tends to snowball, as it’s all really fulfilling and The Backyard Homesteadinteresting, and no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn.  (By that token, I would beware of anyone who claims to have all the answers, who has the only way to do things, who insists that you’re doing it wrong, even when what you’re doing is working just fine for you.)  Part of what makes the whole thing so much fun is that there’s always room to grow…and except for a few lifelong farmers who may have downsized and urbanized, we all started somewhere on a smaller scale than where we’re at now!

The Urban Homestead

Maybe to get started you’d feel most comfortable if you read a book on urban homesteading techniques, like The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, or Urban Homesteading:  Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume.    If the idea of chickens is what turns your crank, get hooked up with a site like Backyard Chickens, or a local chicken mailing list  — we are legion.  Check in at a feed store, ask about classes for new chicken owners.  If you like the idea of producing all your food someday, go for something like The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan.   Maybe grab a copy of Mother Earth News or Hobby Farm Magazine.  If what really excites you is the idea of homemade jam, call up your local Extension Office (usually through a state university) and take a canning class, or pick up the Ball Blue Book of Canning and go for it…it’s not as hard as it sounds.    See if there’s a local Urban Farm School equivalent in your area.     Or build a raised garden bed or till a patch of ground, plant some seeds that look interesting, and see what happens!

Whether you have a flock of chickens or you have started sourcing local eggs, whether you’re planting your very first lettuce crop or you’re on to exotic things like kiwi and sunchokes, whether you grow a whole patch of herbs or just have some oregano in a pot and big dreams, you’re there.  You’re “real”.  There’s no magic tipping point at which you go from being a “wannabe” to being “real”, you just have the dream and the desire and start learning and doing more and more.

Another great thing about urban homesteading is the people… I think most of them, if you asked them, would say the same thing: “If you’re interested and dreaming, and learning and starting some project or plan, you’re real.”    And when you make your dreams known, those same urban homesteaders begin handing you plant starts and swapping heirloom seeds with you,  and telling you about how to make the best compost tea, and trading recipes for jams and jellies, and offering up advice and assistance.  So if you find an ÜberUrbanHomesteader that isn’t so friendly or giving or makes you feel inadequate, no matter how much knowledge they seem to have, move on to the next one, because there are lots and lots of them out there who are wonderful people.  As a whole, urban homesteaders are a generous and  gregarious bunch.  Maybe that’s because they’re all so adept at and interested in making things grow…including relationships and people!

{ 3 trackbacks }

Linky Link: Uber Homesteader? Or Wannabe « Wolf and Finch Urban Homestead
March 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm
Take your time, make a list. | Small Space Survival
March 31, 2011 at 7:39 am
{weekend reading} NATIONAL EDITION « FROM SCRATCH club
April 3, 2011 at 1:02 am

{ 42 comments }

Kevin March 18, 2011 at 3:35 am

Great blog. One hundred percent on the money. I know sometimes I have felt inadequate compared to some of the others. Its not a contest and its not a comparison of who does it better in a smaller space. Its about doing something and enjoying the results. Learning and sharing with like minded people. Connecting to something deep inside that’s been buried and is itching to grow. Our first things for Urban Homesteading were a medium sized garden and Canning. Take it slow and small, don’t expect to be an expert over night. Remember also we ALL make mistakes, learn from ours and your own.
Lastly… HAVE FUN AND ENJOY

linda March 19, 2011 at 6:04 am

excellent post…. what Kevin said!!! i love your chicken coop btw… :D

admin March 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Thanks! I tease my husband that the reason I married him was his ability to construct and wire and plumb things. ;-)

Rachel @ Dog Island Farm March 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Bravo! I also find that most urban homesteaders, minus a rare few, are friendly and more than willing to share. That’s what makes it such a wonderful community. And remember, it’s not a competition! ;)

jj March 30, 2011 at 9:11 pm

What a lovely post! I think all of us, at some point, are intimidated by people who take things to another level. It’s nice to be reminded that we’re all part of the same movement.

Green Bean March 30, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Hear, hear, hear!! We all have to start somewhere and sometimes, life is busy and we only get so far. For this movement to work it has to be as scalable and as non-judgmental as possible. Great post.

Elizabeth March 30, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Good article. I always wanted to be self-sufficient. That term was big when I was young adult. Did not come to fruition, due to an ongoing and increasing disability but my husband manages a decent size garden with instruction. Even if I cannot work outside have found I am good at canning…also good at gleaning…I take everyone’s excesses and can, freeze, pickle, and dry to my hearts content. As I have lot of equipment I have found able to help others who want to try canning without the investment. They bring their produce and we get busy. I might not meet the criteria for UH but I am content in what I can accomplish.

Erica/Northwest Edible Life March 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I love the laundry list of the things the “Real” Urban Homesteader does. I think this hobby/lifestyle is so appealing because it has such scope. You can make it your own. My friend gleans hundreds of pounds of fruit every summer and makes willow bark tea and medicinal essential oils but has no idea how to grow green beans. I’ve pretty much got beans figured out but all that stuff she does with medicinal herbs totally floors me. It’s good to find your niche and get comfortable, then branch out if you want. Or don’t. That’s okay too. Great post.

admin March 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm

That’s one of the cool things about embracing the hobby/lifestyle/attitude…you grow beans, your friend makes oils and teas, and y’all can either learn from each other, or trade information, or even trade goods. Everyone has a little bit different “take” on it, and a little bit different skillset. I can’t grow tomatoes, but I can grow giant and tasty onions. I don’t have any milk animals, but I have honey and eggs to trade. I finally figured out how to bake a fabulous loaf of bread this year, too! But yes, agreed…you can branch out, explore new things, and then figure out what really rocks your world. No shame in saying “that’s not for me.” Not everyone is cut out to muck out a chicken coop, for sure!

Berti March 30, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Thanks for sharing this great blog! Netherlands here :) and I AGREE!.
Urban homesteader and proud of it, and growing………keep it up, will favorite your blog!

Jackie Weltman March 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm

This is very lovely. Thanks for posting it.

Vivienne March 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

thanks thanks thanks!!! I’ve been feeling dejected a bit lately. I’m growing the most awesome crop of onion weed, all my seeds failed and the like. My dog is a hunter so chickens are out … etc.

All I can really do, besides keep the house and garden ticking over is to make sure I support the local markets/producers as I find them. Maybe I’ll learn a few things along the way.

Fantastic post.

I’m off to make a 5 ingredient soup soup now, any more ingredients and I’d rather get takeaway. (But in getting take-away, I’m supporting a local business so feel great!!!)

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I understand the dejected! I’ve spectacularly failed at growing tomatoes 2 years in a row (I’d blame the weather, but it’s also at least partly me.) I have a bee hive that seems to be failing rapidly. My greenhouse is still just an idea. My raised beds are growing a fabulously green crop of weeds. But we’re still plugging away, and I have to remember how fantastic the garden will look in July, and how no one really knows or cares if I botch a particular project. Well, unless I tell them. :)

Keep on keeping on!

Heidi March 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm

This is such an excellent blog! Thank you.

Green Griffin March 31, 2011 at 1:19 am

What? I don’t need a certificate or degree from some UH school? or be the best on garden on the street? or credit some UH family with the inspiration of living the lifestyle? How marvelous. We have all been urban homesteaders all along. Thanks for the words my friend.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm

*haha* You’re welcome! My biggest inspiration was an overload of Little House on the Prairie…but I don’t think they’re too concerned with getting credit! ;-)

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife March 31, 2011 at 2:59 am

Ummm…I do a lot of the things you mention in the first paragraph. And of those things I’m not already doing I want to do most of the rest. But I can relate. I asked myself for a few years, am I just a gardener, or am I really homesteading? I couldn’t pinpoint when it felt like “homestead” fit what we are doing, but it was more than a year ago. I have really found that the WWOOF program not only helps us with volunteer labor, but it also helps satisfy my urge to share what we’ve learned. We’re still figuring a lot of things out, but even a few years of experimentation teaches you lots of things things that can be useful to others who are interested.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm

That list came about mostly because it’s either things I already do, or things I have on my To Do In The Near Future list, so yes, I relate. I never really had a conscious switchover from “gardener” to “homesteader”. The transition from “urbanite with no yard” to “suburbanite who grows things” was much clearer.

I know people who have used WWOOF, which is really interesting. Hey, in fact, poking around on the WWOOF page, I see one of their pictures under “Advice to farmers about accepting interns/wwoofers”! Awesome.

I think in a year or two, we might be ready to do something like that. We don’t have a huge farm (half an acre is literally too small to even be considered “small acreage” by most standards) but I think we have more than enough work to keep a volunteer busy!

Christine March 31, 2011 at 3:40 am

Wonderful article! We are all at different stages along the path and what works for one does not work for others. I recently visited with a family who plans on scraping up road kill, suspending it in a bucket covered with leaves above his chicken coop so that his chickens can have protein in the form of maggots that fall to the ground. I remember thinking, “Bravo, that’s ingenuity.” Later my husband and I discussed it and we both agreed, “No WAY are we doing that, but isn’t that a cool idea!”

Not everything will work for everyone. We do what we do, we accomplish what we can and that makes us mighty.

I love sharing my knowledge and exciting others to start gardens and grow their own food. For me, inspiring and exciting others to try new things is the best reward.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Okay, that goes beyond my level of DIY. I can’t imagine having to deal with the smell of rotting carcass, or take care of it after it’s de-maggoted. There are really cool black soldier fly larvae generators you can get that do the same thing without the roadkill, btw… http://www.thebiopod.com/pages/resources.html Or Google “black soldier fly harvester” for DIY instructions and explanations. We don’t have one, but I’ve contemplated it. It’s on the never-ending “to-do” list!

Jessica March 31, 2011 at 4:31 am

Wonderful post. I often feel like a wannabe, but am perfectly content with my veggie garden and coop at this point in my homestead life.

Rois March 31, 2011 at 5:42 am

I just found your site linked from else where, we are kind of neighbors so Howdy!
I absolutely love, love ,love this posting.What you said is so very true, do it on your own terms,period end of story.

I am sure I will be back to visit your site.

Best wishes
Rois

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Aw, thank you! Love finding “sort of neighbors” and actual neighbors. I keep turning them up, here and on Facebook. Community spirit isn’t dead, it’s just morphed into a philosophical and relatively-local link instead of a purely neighborhood-oriented one, I think!

Ruth Ann March 31, 2011 at 5:58 am

Thanks so much for expressing what I think a lot of people today feel. Eating healthy, whether you grow your own garden, or just started drinking green tea, is a personal journey. For those who want to continue pushing forward as they learn more and more about our American food system has to be at their own pace. Moving too fast and getting overwhelmed usually ends up in defeat and a retreat back to old habits. So, encourage beginners and learn from those who are more advanced as we all travel together on this eating journey! :)

Ruth Ann Bowen
Co-founder, Nurturing Naturally
http://www.nurturing-naturally.com

Amber March 31, 2011 at 5:58 am

Great post! I think for us, part of the struggle is not to take on too much too quickly. With five young children it can be a task just to get the chickens and goats cared for. The garden is still sprouting in the garage due to bad weather. We do what we do because we enjoy it, and for the kids, and us, have useful skills and knowledge. At this point, it’s fun! If it stops being fun, we’ll try to figure out why and make changes in that area.
So far everyone we’ve met involved in farming and homesteading, large or small, has been incredibly friendly and offered only help. Having lived in several states, I must say, West Virginians are incredibly friendly folks!

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Wow. I only have one young kid and I have a hard time getting everything done! Kudos to you!

I agree…most people I’ve met who are farmers and homesteaders are generous and friendly and kind. Except in the late summer, when they are apt to throw zucchini at you and run away before you can throw them back. ;-)

Kate Bodmann March 31, 2011 at 6:00 am

That article is like my dream list. My friends and I are on our way to our uberfantabulous status. ;) It is amazing what everyone brings to the table so to speak. I don’t think anyone in the homestead movement should feel any less because they aren’t where they’d like to be or because they just got started. We all have to start someplace! Rather than be jealous, befriend these people! They want to share their knowledge and their enthusiasm. I would really like to start a local knowledge swap just for this reason. Everyone in this world has unique skills and talents to share that could benefit others. If everyone had one thing they did and did well and shared it the potential for change is astounding.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

The list of “Martian” pursuits is kind of my dream list too. ;-) I’m just not there yet! I’ll get there, someday. Or I won’t. I’m happy with what we’re doing and good with the fact that things change and priorities shift and maybe we’ll be self-sustaining eventually, or maybe we won’t. I’m really amazed at the number of generous, kind, and knowledgeable people I’ve met since I started gardening and raising animals and investigating the locavore/urban homesteading movement. They seem like they’re everywhere now, and I love seeing more and more people getting into it. Be the change you wish to see in the world, indeed.

LF March 31, 2011 at 6:41 am

Fantastic article, well put :)

Kitty March 31, 2011 at 6:49 am

As someone you might label as a Martian from you description, let me say that I think this is an absolutely WONDERFUL post. Sometimes you set out to go to Mars, other times you just wind up there. But either way, the trip has to start somewhere – Dreams, Airplanes, Orbit, The Moon…

I started with a 72 sq ft raised garden bed. Then after about 6 months of research I got a few chickens. Warning – Chickens are the gateway drug to your new addiction! My confidence grew. I had always dreamed of owning goats. A good year of reasearch and I took that plunge. Then came the bees, quail, rabbits, ducks, a small orchard… You get the idea. And it’s all in the backyard of a standard city lot.

Along the way, I met a large number of wonderful people who have offered advice and help. And I’ve attracted a large number of curious people who are just starting their journey. I too pass on the gift, be it advice, knowledge, help, loaned books, plant seeds and starts, etc. I’ve found myself in a wonderful community, and I love to see it grow one small herb garden, tomato pot, or laying hen at a time.

Am I a Martian? I suppose. A friendly, helpful, generous, kind, loving Martian. Did I set out to be a Martian? No. But I damn sure have enjoyed the journey! Here’s looking to Venus! (I hear the closer to the sun you are, the more solar power you can generate. Yes, I’m also a dork!)

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm

So awesome. :) And completely agreed: chickens were my gateway drug as well. We’ve got the bees now, and then we got rabbits, and next year we plan to get ducks… We’re fortunate enough to have a larger-than-standard lot, but we’d probably still be doing this even if we were back in the suburbs where we started. Well, I’d probably only have one hive instead of four, but same idea!

One thing I found is that the older, “old time” farmers and gardeners have a lot of good local-oriented advice. I’m not always the best at talking to my neighbors, but they’ve shared things that are certainly both useful and interesting. I try and pass it on when and where I can, even though I’m still basically a newbie myself.

(Venus is a good choice…it’d be hard to farm on Jupiter with the gaseous surface and all…)

smallspacesurvival March 31, 2011 at 7:42 am

Thank you for posting this.

There have been a couple of times that I have found myself wanting to give up on my dream of having my own small homestead, after reading blogs and seeing pictures from people who do it all. It’s nice to see other people feel the same way.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Never give up! I mean, if someone had the dream of being an artist, they shouldn’t give up just because they don’t start out at the same level as Van Gogh. And even if they never ever achieve that “Master” level…doesn’t make it any less valuable, less rewarding, or less valid!

Amanda March 31, 2011 at 8:28 am

No, we’re not from Mars, but I do 99% of the stuff on your list. We started very small and with trial and (many, many) errors, we’ve found what works for us.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Awesome! I am not quite to 99% of the stuff on my list, but I only listed stuff that I intend to eventually do. ;-)

Sarah March 31, 2011 at 11:59 am

Lovely. There is definitely a lot of eco-machismo out there. Everyone is different and the beauty of homesteading is that it’s about doing what works for the individual. Every little bit matters!

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I love the term “Eco Machismo”. Maybe I’ll trademark it. ;-)

lazy Gardens March 31, 2011 at 1:44 pm

ROFLMAO … I love the first part.

It’s like that insane perfect mommy competition: Mompetition
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSEPA6TIgzc

dixiebelle March 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Great post! I don’t know anyone who would even come close to being an Uber Urban homesteader as described (oh, except on blogs, I guess), I know I am certainly not! I am merely a ‘wannabe’ and am proud even of that!

Here are some recent posts of mine about not meeting the ideals & avoiding urban homesteader burn out, for anyone interested:
http://eatatdixiebelles.blogspot.com/2011/03/acceptance.html
http://eatatdixiebelles.blogspot.com/2011/03/basket-case.html
http://eatatdixiebelles.blogspot.com/2011/03/slow-mind-is-calm-mind-or-how-to-avoid.html

Farrah April 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

You said exactly what I was thinking! My husband has been talking doing about all of the things on your list for YEARS! I thought he was crazy until just recently, but I’m a convert now. We just bought our first house (inside the city limits, mind you) 6 months ago and have been working on our half-acre homestead every day since then, even though it feels like this place is just barely holding itself together sometimes. But, chickens were our first addiction too, and now that I’ve come around to the homesteading idea, we’re making plans for more chickens, a goat, and trying to earn as much money as possible from handmade items. I love the idea of doing as much of this as possible, and I’m actually enjoying being a homemaker/homesteader and full-time mom to three young children, which is incredible, considering I used to be a traveling career woman.

I found your site tonight, by the way, because we started a blog called The Half-Acre Homestead at http://www.thehalfacrehomestead.blogspot.com, and I wanted to see who had this url. So glad I did! I’ll continue to follow you, and I hope you’ll check us out and let us know what you think! :)

Lisa Linderman April 4, 2011 at 12:00 am

Doing all those things at ONCE might make you crazy, but doing them all eventually is just fun! Well, maybe crazy AND fun…

Chickens are totally addictive, only cheaper and more productive than most addictions. :) I also like being a homemaker/homesteader, though monetary reality might force me back out into the working world sooner rather than later, but it’s been fun while I’ve had the luxury. I was never a traveling career woman, but I was in big business and used to working in the “real world”. I like this world better, though. I do already sell products from our homestead under the Half Acre Homestead label, but I’ll be expanding that in the next couple of months as well, which will help keep me in the “good” world!

Just a word on goats…if you get one, I’d recommend getring two. They’re herd animals and need the company. Even if you get a pygmy to keep a full-sized one company, they’ll be much happier. (My best friend used to raise the clever little beasties…I would like to get a couple of nigerian dwarf goats, but I don’t know if I can muster up the routine to milk them twice a day! *hah* )

If you use Facebook, there’s a group you might like: Take Back Urban Home-steading(s). It’s ostensibly to fight back against an unfair trademarking of the words “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading”, but it’s also a great community.

admin March 31, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Absolutely time-consuming. Life-consuming, if you want, actually. I’d add: learn to embrace mistakes, and let go of things that don’t work out right for you. Not everyone’s cracked up to milk goats twice a day, or to wrangle bees, or even to fuss with tomatoes (especially in the wet northern climates where I live!) And that’s perfectly okay. Even a little experience with the “lifestyle” gives people an appreciation for those who do embrace it. If you can’t do it all yourself, support those who do and buy from local small producers!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: