Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April Homestead Tour: Christy's Urban Homestead

Remember the homestead tours I did back in August and September? I really enjoyed them and I hope you did, too. I dropped this for a while when we were dealing with some health issues my husband was facing, but I really wanted to share with you some wonderful homesteaders and their places. 

When I first "met" Christy, I knew immediately I wanted to share her adventure with you. What makes her unique? Not only where she homesteads (Washington D.C.!), but all she accomplishes in her urban location with sticky HOAs that restrict her even further. I hope her example inspires a lot of urbanites who have a heart for homesteading but feel restricted by their circumstances. Let's here how she does it in her own words...

One of the main homesteading things I do is to garden.  I have a very tiny yard, and we have strict HOA regulations, so I only have one 4x8 ft raised garden bed plus about 10 pots on my patio.  With only that space I was still able to grow over $350 worth of produce last summer. And I am not a natural gardener, either. I have had to read and learn a lot.  I still had some vegetables which were mediocre or totally failed last year, but each year I learn more and have more successes. I also save many of my seeds for the next year so that I don't have to buy them again.  

Since we are unable to garden extensively like a true homesteader, we do the next best thing...my kids and I frequent our local pick-your-own farm that practices ecologically-minded farming practices.  We pick fruits all throughout the summer, which I then freeze for our use throughout the year.  At some point I'd like to get a dehydrator, we just haven't gotten there yet...one thing at a time, right?  

I have food storage in my basement.  I currently have over one year's worth of grains stored in 5 gallon buckets.  We have wheat, rice and oats and black beans, and I am planning on adding spelt soon, as well as more beans. 

I also do things like grind my own flour, make my own chicken stock, keep a sourdough starter for making sourdough bread, and culture my own yogurt.  Those I do mostly for their health benefits, but they do fit well into a self-sufficient/homesteading lifestyle.  It makes me a bit less dependent because, for instance, all I need is milk...and from there I can make yogurt, whey and cream cheese.  I also purchase nearly all my food from local farmers, which is the closest I can get to homesteading while living in the middle of suburbia in a very regulated/restrictive county.  

I would LOVE to line dry my clothes, but our neighborhood HOA has sadly banned line drying. So unfortunate.  However, with my new baby I am planning on using a small drying rack on our patio for drying the cloth diapers.  I also hang dry about half our clothes (in the house).  I use soapnuts and have a whole stash of those...won't run out of laundry soap for a looong time!

We have this great water filter called a Berkey.  It sits on our counter and works simply by gravity.  We put our tap water through it for drinking and cooking, but should it ever be necessary, we could put pond water or rain water in our Berkey, and it would be able to filter and purify the water for drinking.  It's a really good filtration system, and we like knowing we have those options should we ever need to use them.

I also do things like make all my own lotions, even our own sunscreen.  I got into this because of my sensitivities to chemical fragrances, which are in pretty much all toiletries.  The products I choose to make are very simple to make and work far better than storebought products.  And it's been really fun for me to learn how to make items like lotions, salves, bug spray and sunscreen, and to learn about the properties of essential oils. I also use herbs and essential oils for various home remedies to common ailments.

How long have you been homesteading?
I have only been "homesteading" (in my urban way) for about two years.  I am continually setting goals for myself, trying to learn and do whatever it is that I am able to do within my limited means.  

Did you grow up doing this or did you teach yourself?
Most things I have had to research and learn. My parents did garden often when I was growing up, so I was exposed to that but never liked it.  Now I love gardening!  While I have had to learn what I am doing on my own, at the same time my parents are moving more in this direction as is my sister, so we've all been learning together.

What does a typical day look like for you?
I'm afraid it won't look very classic homesteader.  Our day begins with my husband and me reading our bibles, then I start cooking breakfast and our kids get dressed and come downstairs.  We eat breakfast together and do bible memory and/or family devotions.  My husband leaves for work, and the kids and I begin school.  Throughout our school time I am typically also doing something in the kitchen like starting sourdough bread, or currently you might find me planting a few seeds indoors or checking on and watering my growing seedlings that are living by our sunny sliders and in our coldframe outside until it warms up outside.  School ends, I exercise, and then I prepare lunch for the kids and myself.  They have a quiet play time in their rooms while I do chores and take care of daily tasks, we do more chores together in the afternoons (and soon we will also be gardening), the kids play for a bit and I make dinner and prep for the next morning's breakfast.  We eat dinner, spend some time as a family and then the kids get ready for bed. After they are in bed, my husband takes care of business (bills, computer issues, etc) and I do various tasks, or we might just spend some time together before bed. 

What is your favorite part of homesteading (or benefit)?
I love gardening!  I just find it amazing that I plant these tiny seeds and within weeks they are full grown plants, producing food for my family. I also love all the varieties of vegetables out there. For example, you buy lettuce from the grocery store and its limited to the same two or three types, but there are just tons of varieties of lettuce to grow.  I appreciate that I control how my produce is grown, I don't have to worry about pestcides, I don't have to drive anywhere to get the food, certain items really taste 100% tastier (tomatoes, anyone?), and we can eat it freshly picked for our meals when it is most nutritious. 

I also enjoy having my food storage, both the buckets of grains and my freezers.  I know the freezers wouldn't help me if we were without power, but they are really helpful for our current day-to-day living.  With a quarter cow, whole chickens, frozen fruits and vegetables and other items, I just don't have to "run out to the store for a few items."  Making large purchases saves me time and money, and I always have enough to share on a moment's notice.  I am working on building up food storage that is not electricity-based and a means of preparing those items.  Japan has been an example to me of how quickly many people in a thriving, developed nation can be without the basics of food, water and electricity.    

Tell us your thoughts on what it means to be self-sufficient and how you are working towards that goal.
If I was just able to snap my fingers and have what I wanted, I would be living in a house on a lot of acreage with a stream, off-grid, with chickens and a few goats.  My reasoning on those things are: I love the countryside and land, we could garden as extensively as we were physically able and have a root cellar, we would have power without being dependent on infrastructure, and we would have eggs, milk and meat.  The reality is that my husband is a pastor, and right now God has called him to serve in a wonderful church in the heart of suburbia.  Our desire would be to move at some point to a house with more land such that we could garden and have chickens, which is difficult to find in this area but definitely not impossible. In the meantime, I am just seeking to do all that I am able to do in the home that God has graciously provided for us.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in an urban setting? Did you encounter any opposition from things such as neighbors, zoning codes, space restrictions? 
Oh yes.  Our county is very restrictive with zoning, and our neighborhood HOA is even more restrictive.  Animals are totally out of the question. Our county has certain restrictions on composting, and our HOA has restrictions on the size/amount of gardens, no rainbarrels (though I'm still trying to figure out something here) and no line drying clothes. Fortunately our neighbors are kind and love our sometimes wild-looking garden, so we haven't had any issues there at least!  I think the toughest part about urban homesteading are the restrictions.  Some things just can't be changed, but others you can work around a bit with a little creativity.  Since my garden size is limited, I extended my garden space by growing plants in 10 large terracotta pots that I placed on my patio.  And since I can't line dry clothes but I want the sun to help bleach those dirty diapers, I am going to use a small portable drying rack.  

Do you have plans to expand your homestead in any way? 
Our expansion plan is to move when we are able.  :)

What new skills are you hoping to acquire in the future?
I want to continue to grow in my gardening skills.  I feel like I haven't even touched the surface as far as gardening knowledge goes.  The other big one would be raising chickens.  I really hope we are able to move someday to a situation where this would be possible.  But in the meantime, canning is something I would like to try my hand at soon.  My mom's friend has canned for years and has offered to help me.  I hope to take her up on that offer this year.

What resources have you found helpful for learning new homesteading
I scour the internet, and I have some great books that our wonderful resources. One of my favorites is: "Better Basics for the Home" by Annie Berthold-Bond.  You won't find info on building a chicken coop in there, but you will find natural recipes for soap, cleaning products, sunscreen, getting rid of pests, and even how to make milk paint.

How are you hoping to encourage others in urban homesteading? 
I would love to see more people gardening. You can garden almost anywhere, even in large pots on an apartment balcony.  Whenever I show my friends my tiny garden and then tell them how much I grew, they are always shocked.  I didn't realize I could grow as much as I did either until I started reading about it.  My next-door neighbor is now gardening in her small bed this year because she witnessed how much we were harvesting from our garden last year.    

If you could give a new comer to homesteading some advice, what would it
Just start somewhere with something, even if it is a small something.  Don't try to do it all at once, and don't think you can't do anything because you don't live on a farm.  Pick something that is interesting to you, read up about it, and give it a shot, even if you have to improvise a bit due to limitations.  Doing something is always better than doing nothing!  

Well, that certainly looks like a happy camper! Christy and her family look like they're eating well at their urban homestead. She also has a teacher's heart. This month, Christy planned on teaching a class at her church on eating whole foods on a budget and she plans on encouraging others to garden in their backyard as well. Her future dream of starting a blog on this same topic are temporarily on hold as they are about to add another child to their family! But I'm sure you'll agree with me that it would be welcomed in the homesteading blogging community! (She currently has a private family blog).
Update: Christy's new blog is up and running! You'll find her at Whole Foods on a Budget!

Thank you, Christy, for sharing a glimpse into your urban life! We wish you many blessings as you continue to homestead and as you welcome this new precious one to your family!

If you would like to leave a comment for Christy, please feel free to do so below. Because the arrival of her new baby is imminent, she may or may not be able to respond right away, but you can be sure she'll read them as soon as possible!


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