This past summer I visited my college friend Enicia who is a “homesteader” in Wildomar, Calif. What makes my soft-spoken, gentle friend a homesteader? Maybe it is the 14 variety of heirloom tomatoes she grows, the flock of heritage breed chickens that scratch around her porch, and the .22 handgun that she used to blow away a squirrel who was ” thinking that we have been growing everything for him!”
Urban homesteading, or urban farming, isn’t exactly new, but it seems more people are growing things in the backyard or on the back deck as a way to cut food costs, revive lost “heirloom” skills like canning and pickling, or just get their hands dirty in a hyper-techno world. Others see it as a way to be an environmental activist, as a way to lessen their carbon footprint and have more control over knowing where their food comes from.
It’s a combination for Enicia, who first raised chickens beneath her children’s swing set in a suburban tract home not far from where she lives now. She grew wildflowers in her front yard to attract birds and butterflies. But she envisioned something bigger and so the family moved to a property with more land in a canyon that’s full of rabbits and coyotes. And now she’s trying to run out the mice who “take one bite out of every tomato.”
But she’s happy, I can tell. And she uses science and art inspired by the garden and kitchen to teach homeschooling lessons for her kids.
“It’s so empowering for myself and the kids so we can learn and research and find out how to do it ourselves. It’s just really freeing to realize that you aren’t dependent on corporate American for your everyday needs,” says Enicia. “But it’s not really a political agenda, it’s more just a fun hobby, really. If wasn’t a fun hobby I wouldn’t be doing it because it is a lot of work and most of the time there is a challenge – something that happens that you don’t plan for and it causes major upheaval.”
Like the day the dog nearly tore up the vegetable garden trying to corner the squirrel who had sauntered in for a snack one too many times. Poor planning on the squirrel’s part.
Enicia started her quest to become an urban homesteader in 2007 when she read a challenge on Path to Freedom to eat once a week out of your own garden. She started with one salad a week and then progressed to creating an entire meal from food that she grew. “Then I just started upping the challenge to try to have one thing a day from my garden,” she says.
It isn’t always easy. Hours in the garden don’t always yield a bounty of beautiful and flawless food for the table. And it can get lonely.
“Those moments when I feel insolated in my world I think of Ma Ingalls and think if she could do it, I could do it,” says Enicia.
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s watched “Little House On the Prairie” or read the series knows who she is talking about. Now it’s our turn to prove we can make our own butter, sew our own clothes, and make apple pie from pumpkins. Maybe we’ll save the planet, or maybe we won’t. But at least we’ll have fun doing it.
I wrote more on urban homesteading for the cover of The Culture section for CSMonitor.com, “The rise of urban farming.”