In my self-education quest of learning how to preserve our massive garden harvest, I latched on to the homesteading subculture. If you take a cruise through homesteading sites, most of them are folks who are living rurally and/or on farms and are looking to be self-sufficient. For some this could be because they’re in a spot where a good snowstorm could knock out power and close roads, and for others they might have religious or political reasons. (I won’t get into it, but some of those sites make this gay, urban, science-trusting, millennial guy a little uncomfortable.)
Homesteading looks a lot different for me in an urban setting. Do I really need to be entirely self-sufficient?
I don’t, and I don’t think it’s possible. Our little slice of urban property isn’t big enough to provide all of the food that we consume in a year and we have no room for any sort of power generation like solar panels.
What it look like, though, is making the best use of the little piece of land that we have.
It saves money
My husband loves to garden and he always wants to do better than the year before, so that means we have a surprisingly massive fall harvest for such a tiny garden. That’s where I come in—I have to preserve it all.
Rising grocery costs are our primary driver for growing, harvesting, and preserving our own food. This was our motivation before the recent spike in prices, and the recent surges in prices make me thankful that we’ve put in all this work over the years. Our weekly grocery bill hasn’t risen by much since a lot of the staples we buy seem to be the things that have had reasonably-steady prices.
It’s impressive (while saving money)
We’re known for the fancy barbecues we put on. It’s almost lavish with the sheer amount of seemingly-gourmet foods we bring out and the near-endless supply of fancy drinks.
The secret—and this isn’t really a secret since we’re quite open about it—is that a big proportion of that lavishness is home-grown and home-preserved food and all I have to do is open a jar. I might do a simple salad, but if I then lay out the options of toppings, like dandelion capers, sundried cherry tomatoes (dehydrated tomatoes stored in olive oil), and pickled beets, with an infused vinegar and oil dressing… it feels expensive and gourmet. But it’s dirt cheap and took no prep time on barbecue day.
We also get to experience some of the gourmet-ness with our daily dinners—such as chicken pesto with homemade pesto sauce just the way we like it (made months ago and frozen in a serving-size jar) with homegrown frozen veggies thrown in and served with a side of crusty bread home-baked the day before.
Sure, it takes prep work, but that work is done in advance on a day when I’ve set aside some time to do it. When I come home from work exhausted and need to cook up dinner before we head out to a movie, it takes next to no effort to put together something that’s delicious, healthy, and feels fancy.
It’s healthy (while still saving money)
I’m not one of those folks that gets too concerned about what’s in store-bought food. I trust that the food industry is regulated well-enough that if what’s in my food isn’t healthy, it’s at least not harmful.
However, it does allow me to make tweaks to make things healthier. My husband’s favourite food is pesto and the jars of pesto from the grocery store or either very salty or very oily (which makes sense since oil is a main ingredient). When I make pesto at home, I replace some of the oil with lemon juice—not only does it mean there’s a little less oil in there (and thus I don’t feel guilty about having it frequently), but the lemon juice adds a brightness to the flavour.
If you’re someone that gets concerned about additives and preservatives in store-bought food, home food preservation helps you avoid some of those things.
It changes the local ecosystem
This I did not expect.
When we first moved in, the only birds in the area were grackles (which are sort of like smaller crows) and a pair of mourning doves. But as we basically converted our property from boring grass to a little piece of farmland with a front yard full of fruit bushes, the ecosystem of our property evolved.
I don’t know my birds very well, but while there are a few grackles still around, they’ve mostly moved away. Now we have dozens of different bird varieties that visit our property regularly, like blue jays, sparrows, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and many more that I don’t know the names of. We even once had a peregrine falcon sit on our fence for a bit (after it unfortunately crashed into our window).
The cats certainly enjoyed this change. It gives them something to watch from the windows.
While I do a huge laundry list of homesteader-type things, homesteading activities are adaptable to wherever you might be located. I know folks who live in apartments and can’t have a garden, but they have a few potted vegetable plants on their balcony and break out the canner to do some pickling at the end of the season.
These activities also don’t require homegrown food at all. I do a lot of pressure canning so we have heat-and-eat meals when we’re tight on time but don’t want take-out. When I do my weekly grocery shopping I keep an eye out for discounted chicken thighs and discounted stewing beef—not only am I looking for cheaper cuts, but I’m looking for the “here’s 50% off but you have to use it today because it expires today” meat. I just throw it in the freezer when I get home and when I have enough stored I thaw and can them.
It can also be a way to preserve food you get a good deal. I once scooped up several bags of parsnips that were on sale for less than half price and used them for some of the food preservation recipes I have on hand.
Whether you have an acreage, a small urban garden, a few potted plants on the balcony, or none of these but you like taking on the challenge of these projects, urban homesteading is a practice that can be adapted to circumstances, time, and interest.