Back To Our Roots: Homesteading

Back To Our Roots: Homesteading post image

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!

This post is shared at: Real Food Wednesday, Whole Food Wednesday, Sustainable Ways, Allergy Free Wednesday, These Chicks Cooked, Creative Juice Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Freaky Friday, Fight Back Friday, Seasonal Celebration, Sunday School, Farm Girl hop, Monday mania, Barnyard Hop, Real Food 101, Traditional Tuesday, Hearth & Soul Hop

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Leave a Comment

  • jean April 18, 2012, 8:04 am

    The two reasons you mentioned are the very reasons we took up homesteading. Tired of the corporate world, and seeing how organic produce can and does support us, we wanted to grow our own food and eat fresh every day. This is how it was for thousands of years before industrialization and profit making corps. It is hard work at times, but ever so rewarding and yes, even more stressless than the rat race. I am excited to see many others do the same. It would certainly be part of the solution to feed people so much better.

    • Jill April 18, 2012, 10:38 am

      Hi Jean,
      I hope you will share your gorgeous homestead with us!

  • The Soulicious Life April 18, 2012, 9:38 am

    Great post; I look forward to the series as I too am fascinated by this homesteading trend, something – to be honest – I was completely unaware of until I began blogging. I love my gardens and as well as my local farmers and CSAs, but giving up our corporate lives and paychecks, that’s scary to think about.

  • Heather H. April 18, 2012, 10:31 am

    I am in the process of shopping for my homestead right now. My goal is to be self-sufficient. I also think that if you can’t find anyone who is doing it right, than you should do it yourself 🙂

  • Grace April 18, 2012, 2:13 pm

    We’re no longer young, but educated, yes. We will be moving to our homestead in 15 months (my 50th birthday!).

    Are we crazy? Most folks seem to think so. I know that you and your readers know better.

    We see the move as a kind of salvation. I believe that grubbing in the ground for our food and cleaning chicken manure off our boots will make for a much cleaner life than being knee-deep in toxic corporate crap like we are now.

    We know it will be hard, and sometimes I fear we may not be up to some of it physically. Finding out what we actually can do, how much we can do for ourselves, will mean everything to us, just everything.

    Wish us luck!

    • Jill April 18, 2012, 3:47 pm

      Hi Grace,
      Wow! I wish you lots of luck and joy! You have a lot of moxie. Go for it!

  • Bebe April 18, 2012, 9:32 pm

    I love the concept of rooftop gardening like the Urban Canopy is doing in Chicago. When we were in Hawai’i this past year we rented a house in Waimanalo, a small town on the windward side of Oahu. Our favorite local eatery was a tiny walk-up with covered picnic tables outdoors that serves real food and whose goal is to source 100% of their food locally. To that end they worked with FarmRoof, “a local company focused on designing and installing farms in an urban environment.”
    Now they are raising some of their salad greens on their own roof and plan to install more garden spaces and even chickens on the blacktopped space behind their little building.
    I loved everything about this place, from the quality of their food and their fabulous Arnold Palmers (1/2 brewed iced tea, 1/2 house ginger lemonade, garnished with fresh mint and a pineapple wedge… oh yeah, I dream of them!) to the little gift shop space where they sell only things made in Hawai’i.
    Jo has a true love of her land and its people and I was so pleased when she took me up to show me the roof garden on our last trip. It gave me hope for cities and townships where land is at a premium and garden space is an unknown commodity.

    • Jill April 19, 2012, 7:07 am

      Hi Bebe,
      What a beautiful place! If I ever get to Oahu I will make it a point to visit. Do you think you get her to share a post about her homestead? 🙂

  • Melanie April 19, 2012, 9:03 am

    I remember hearing Sally Fallon say in a speech that in this century a food revolution will be taking place and I truly believe that. Our food supply has been so polluted with corruption and pesticides that we need a new start. I’m so proud of those leaving the work force and jumping in head first to homesteading/farming. Excited to read your homesteading spotlight!

    • Jill April 19, 2012, 9:14 am

      Hi Melanie,
      I hope you will contribute!

  • Jen April 20, 2012, 9:11 am

    Oh Jill, this is my desire! To homestead! It may be possible soon, but money to get started is always the issue! Fortunately, for now we have a decent sized 1/2 acre (albeit in an HOA community). I have been able to do a lot of things with it and plan to expand some more, but just have to sneak by the HOA to do it. 🙁 If we can afford to sell and move we will do it in a heartbeat! Thanks for the informative post as usual!

  • Miz Helen April 20, 2012, 12:29 pm

    Oh my, just look at that Sod House. I did an extensive study on Sod Houses with a friend a number of years ago, it is so interesting. The Homesteading time in our country gives many lessons that we can apply to our life today. Great Post! Hope you have a fabulous week end and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  • Michelle @ The Willing Cook April 21, 2012, 12:54 pm

    True to form, you’ve posted a very interesting article. Like you, I’m a bit envious of the new trend from Wall Street to Farmland. We’re so glad you linked up this week at Allergy-Free Wednesdays! As always, we hope to see you back again next week.

    ~Michelle, AFW Hostess

  • Justine @ The Lone Home Ranger April 22, 2012, 1:12 pm

    Thanks for a fantastic post. I started my blog without an idea that there was such a thing as an urban homesteader (like The Soulicious Life mentions), and I have been happy to discover a community of like-minded, moxie-filled folks. I look forward to reading your series. Great idea!

    • Jill April 22, 2012, 4:10 pm

      Hi Justine,
      I hope you can share something about your homestead however humble!

  • April @ The 21st Century Housewife April 27, 2012, 8:21 am

    Very interesting post – and it will be lovely to see everyone’s homesteads. I live in an urban setting, but I do try to grow some of our own food. It’s frugal and very satisfying.