You don’t have to retreat to a cabin in the forest to grow your own tomatoes and raise chickens, you can do it anywhere. People are growing cucumbers on windowsills in a Los Angeles and harvesting honey on the rooftops of New York City. A new way of participating in the food/life cycle is blushing on the horizon. We are living in the dawn of the ecotarian. People want to get back (don’t make me say it) to their roots (gotcha!).
A relatively new movement, urban homesteading takes “simple living” to the next level (sorry Martha) through incorporating small-scale agriculture, sustainable and permaculture gardening, and home food production and storage into every day life. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, city dwellers are reconnecting with their land while planting seeds for the future for our cities.
Over the past 4 years Michelle has transformed her tiny “cement jungle” of a patio into an urban homestead complete with compost piles, laundry lines, and edible produce. Pretty impressive for a girl who couldn’t keep a spider plant alive a mere four years ago.
“My grandfather lived during the depression, and that was reflected in the way we were brought up,” said Michelle. “He taught me about our relationship with the land. Waste not, want not. You didn’t move until the food was gone.”
Lover of a good challenge, Michelle couldn’t resist the chance to translate her grandfather’s wisdom into a townhouse in the middle of Florida. It all started with a little dollar bamboo plant she bought in college. After a series of botanical tragedies that tiny ikea wonder broke the one-year survival threshold–the not-so-green thumb would hold her back no longer! Michelle and her daughters carefully composed a 22’x16′ ecosystem one (recycled) container at a time.
“In our world, we are so distant from what is around us. Trees and life and love have been replaced with things: Wii and iPhones and name brand products of every sort. Our food comes to us via truck with no farther thought about where it has been and what it has seen prior to our grocery store shelves,” said Michelle. Shifting our lifestyles to reflect the cyclical processes of nature–thereby appreciating the things that sustain us–is just one more step in the right direction.
Izzy and Sol, Michelle’s girls, are not growing up in an off grid house with living walls and raise chickens, bunnies, goats and open a nursery (at least, not yet). They are growing up in a townhouse in the middle of town, within walking distance to the library, across the street from their preschool and with a cement backyard no bigger than your living room.
But, thanks to motherly wisdom (and a healthy dose of imagination), that backyard has taught them lessons that most people will never know in their lives… and it all starts with a seed.
“Seeds bloom, the animals come, caterpillars munch and butterflies emerge from cocoons, we have tea parties made from herbs we pick from pots on the wall and they help me gather things for dinner,” said Michelle. “The relationship they are building, the understanding of their place in this world beyond what is fed to them from the TV and magazines: this is almost as important of a lesson as the ability to be self sufficient, but even that pails in consideration of the over all lesson they learn: treat everything with respect, hurt none, and watch out for the little guy. You are the keepers of the world.”
Ready to get your kids in the garden? Here’s a few ideas to get your imagination juices flowing:
1. Plant edible flowers and herbs for curious mouths. Try mint, sunflowers, or pansies or visit kiddie garden for a more complete list of toddler friendly plants.
2. Encourage birds to come visit your garden and make a bird feeder (or birdie snack shack). You may even want to head to the library to reserach the specific details on your local birds, their favorite foods, and favorite styles of dining table.
3. Gather caterpillars and build a butterfly garden. Check out these twenty butterfly gardening tips to get you started.
4. Reserve rainwater in large containers to demonstrate between rain and plant growth. You may even want to make an extra rain water bucket for playing in.
5. Grow cuttings and seedlings indoors and transplant them into the garden. Watch Michelle’s instructables video for a quick and easy cutting propagator.
For updates from Michelle’s urban homestead visit her blog at we’re all mad here.com.
MORE TIPS & TOOLS
Step-by-step directions for creating an easy to maintain small space garden
75 tricks to get your kids outdoors
Kelly and Erik are the authors of The Urban Homestead coming out in June of 2008 from Process Media. They have researched and experimented with small scale urban agriculture since moving to their tiny bungalow in Los Angeles ten years ago.
Pick up some homesteading skills
Like how to make a self watering container
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