Homesteading in Baby Steps

A 20-Something Newbie’s Step-by-Step Plan to Urban Homesteading: Millennials Be Advised

As millennials, we have a tendency to throw ourselves—heart, soul, time, and wallet—into every new lifestyle that calls to us:

  • When social media emerged, we signed up for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+.
  • When gluten was deemed dangerous, we became strictly paleo and felt ashamed when we gave into a midnight pizza binge.
  • When we found a need for social justice warriors to assemble, we grabbed our poster board and permanent markers and marched our way through cities and in and out of jail cells.
  • When we recognized the value in a liberal arts education, we racked up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt in the name of following our hearts instead of the job market.
  • When the tiny house movement gained speed, we began planning our “rent free,” sustainable lifestyle with building blueprints and books-on-books of research, while watching HGTV and DIY Network religiously.
  • When we realized we could live sustainably by growing our own food and medicine—even though most of us live in crappy apartments with no land to our names and student loan and credit card debt up to our elbows—we devoured every urban homesteading book, soaked up every video tutorial, and immersed ourselves in every farmer’s market and organic growing class we could find.

Millennials don’t do things half-way.

Some people call us impulsive, impetuous, ignorant, or naive. Some say we are just an all or nothing generation, and that is a dangerous way to live.

I think the tendency to throw ourselves into the world says a lot about our character as generation: When we find something good, we latch onto it and devote all that we are to it until it breaks us or we break it.

We aren’t an all or nothing generation. We are a “give it our all until we have nothing left to give” generation.

But while that tendency can serve us in our commitment to the homesteading lifestyle in the long run, we need an added “one-step-at-a-time” mentality when we first start out in this quest to grow our own food and medicine. We must slow down and take time to conceptualize our purpose and motivations. Then, we need to make our plan so that giving our all is all that is necessary to succeed as homesteaders.

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I’m a 25-year-old wannabe urban homesteader with the same “give it all I’ve got” mentality as many other 20-somethings in my generation, but I’ve forced myself to slow down and plan out my baby steps toward a sustainable homesteading lifestyle.

Here is what that looks like:

My 2017 Urban Homesteading Goals

Build and plant a vertical garden. First, I created a sketch for a vertical garden table. I live in an apartment, so I want to be able to set the garden out on my patio and have it be stable enough to stand on its own. I only have 650 square feet of living space, and the 12x5 patio is the only outdoor area I have to work with.

My Homesteading Journal

I made a list of the herbs and vegetables I plan to grow and indicated which plants are supposed to do best in more sunlight, less sunlight, and little sunlight. I also designed the table with the contingency of needing to bring it inside in late fall through early spring; the Iowa winters can be harsh, but I’m looking into purchasing UV lights for growing winter-seasonal plants indoors. My design includes a removable drip tray and a compact growing structure so as to avoid major messes inside in the winter months.

Vertical Garden Table Goal Timeline:

  • This month: finalize design and purchase the pot inserts
  • This season: build the structure, purchase UV lights, and start some of my seeds
  • This year: figure out which plants grow well in the vertical garden and plan for next year

Find local meat vendors & get my hunting and fishing licenses. This summer, the local Iowa farmer’s markets, co-ops and crop shares will start up again, and I plan to look into local, sustainable livestock farmers for my meat sources. Iowa is a hotbed for big-agricultural practices, but it is also haven for free-range livestock farmers. I’m going to look for vendors of free-range eggs, pork, and beef.

In addition to local meat vendors, I will be getting my hunting license and meat processing equipment for venison, wild turkey, pheasant, squirrel, and rabbit. I will also acquire my fishing license and learn to clean and cook fish.

Local Meat Goal Timeline:

  • This month: begin researching local farms
  • This season: take my hunter safety courses and purchase my hunting and fishing licenses
  • This year: purchase meat from reputable, free-range farmers

Learn to can small-batch, garden-fresh recipes. My boyfriend’s mother has been canning her vegetables and sauce recipes for years, and I’m going to learn from her how to make and can jelly, salsa, sweet chili sauce, and pickles. My “how it goes” blog will follow.

Canning My Own Food Goal Timeline:

  • This month: find a few recipes I want to try
  • This season: research and purchase a compact canning equipment system—try to find used equipment!
  • This year: grow, harvest, and can the recipes I make from my garden plants

Make my own cleaning and beauty products using herbs, essential oils, and sustainable carrier oils and other non-chemicals. Homemade cleaning and beauty products are important to me as someone with outrageously sensitive skin and sense of smell. I already use as many dye and fragrance free cleaners as I can, but I plan to try out a bunch of the homemade cleaners I find on Pinterest. Cleaning up after and deodorizing an apartment with a 95-pound black lab requires more than water and a furnace filter, but I’m unwilling to give myself a rash by using heavy cleaners.

Homemade Cleaning and Beauty Product Goal Timeline:

  • This month: find tutorials and gather supplies
  • This season: make and use at least four products
  • This year: switch everything over to strictly homemade cleaning and beauty products

Many of these steps are small. They are what I have deemed doable for my current living and working situation. Though I plan to expand down many other paths toward a fully-sustainable urban homestead, these four first steps and the baby steps within allow me to make measurable changes to my current lifestyle without risking a personal crash. I will give everything I have to the task of learning to live sustainably with home grown food and medicine—just as many good millennials do and plan to—but with this plan, I won’t have to do it at the expense of all of my time, my money, and my sanity.

Writing Prompts:

1.     What inspires you to create your own homestead and live sustainably?

2.     What steps could you take now to begin your homesteading lifestyle that wouldn’t cause a major disruption in your life?

3.     What steps would require a massive life change?

4.     List your baby steps:

What can you do this month?

This season?

This year?

5.     What resources do you need in order to accomplish your goals and follow your homesteading plan?