I am fascinated by the Homestead Movement. Young educated people are forsaking their corporate jobs, leaving the cities, buying land and going back to traditional lifestyles. I get envious when I see this and read how these people have learned how to farm the land, take care of animals and then reap the benefits of having their own local food supply. This is a major lifestyle change. What motivates them, I wonder?
I read an interesting article about this very issue. It spoke about young entrepreneurs going into farming for two reasons. One was the impetus to leave the rat race of the corporate world, the other was a realization that the demand for local organic food is growing and may be profitable enough to live on.
Organic farming CAN feed the world
In a previous post called 12 Reasons Why Organic Farming CAN Feed the World, I reviewed the “Farm Systems Analysis Trial.” This is a thirty year study of organic farming conducted by the highly respected Rodale Institute.
Their findings suggest that organic farming is superior to conventional systems in “building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil.” In addition to soil health, the Institute’s trials looked at economic viability, energy usage, and human health and concluded that organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional. Some of the Institute’s findings were:
- Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
- Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
- Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
- Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
- Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.
The big picture is that organic farming appears to be a much better system for growing food in all of the aspects that were studied. A lot of young people are turning to this model of sustainability and creating small farms that can feed local communities and add to the local economy.
Food deserts in the cities
In contrast, many people in the cities have poor access to fresh food. They call it a “food desert,” especially apparent in low income neighborhoods.
In Chicago, one organization called The Urban Canopy plans to install a 3,000 square foot farm on the rooftop of the organization’s base, a previously vacant 93,500 square foot meatpacking facility. This will supply fresh food for the community that surrounds it.
Rooftop farming is a solution
The man behind this plan is Alex Poltorak. At the University of Illinois, he studied computer engineering, worked as a chip designer and then got his MBA. After working in the public schools, he became aware that many of the children in urban schools often got their only meal of the day at school. Any other food options outside of school were fast food. We know how nutritionally lacking school lunches are, pink slime notwithstanding.
In an interview, he spoke of his aspirations for this project:
The Urban Canopy’s vision is to show we can use rooftops throughout the city as small farms to grow these fruits and veggies, organically and sustainably, in many areas of Chicago. Rooftop farming can be a vital part of the local agriculture movement to create the sustainable and equitable food system we desperately need.
In January 2011, Poltorak built a small pilot farm using a vertical hydroponic system. On about a hundred square feet, these “towers” and some containers in between grew about 75 pounds of mustard greens, lettuce, chards, kale, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and corn. This year, they are expanding the pilot into a full-fledged rooftop farm of 3,000 square feet. They expect to grow over 2,500 pounds of food and this will provide a representation of how rooftop farming can continue to grow throughout the city.
The wave of the future
This project amazes me and just shows how technology can be ” harnessed as a servant to the wise and nurturing traditions of our ancestors rather than used as a force destructive to the environment and human health…” (excerpted from WAPF mission statement).
There is more than one way to homestead
Homesteaders may be found as farmers and ranchers in a rural setting, as backyard gardeners in a suburban setting and as rooftop or community gardeners in large cities. Not everyone can leave their city lives behind and purchase land in rural communities. We need to be creative and innovative with what we have at hand if we want to be more self sufficient in our local economies. You can be a homesteader by practicing traditional living and live in a high rise!
Which brings me to my Home on the Range series. Click over to find out how you can enter a post about your homestead that will be featured on my blog!