Sunday, April 5, 2015

Suburban Homesteading

In 2013, I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania (for the second year).

For years, I've referred to myself as a suburban homesteader, and I knew that there were a lot of people around the country who were doing just what my family was doing. The key difference seemed to be that the people who were making the biggest splash in the area of having a tiny farm on a miniscule piece of land were childless couples or families with adult children. So, I began to wonder about the "average" suburban family, and whether or not I could find people, like me, with kids who were also trying to farm their suburban lots.

There are, actually, several families, like mine, close enough to me that I could drive to their homes, and I called them, asking for an interview. At my presentation in 2013, I featured three families: mine, a family who lives on a small "town" lot on the Cape Elizabeth/South Portland line in Cumberland County, Maine (very urban), and this family, who live in a rural suburb.

The 17 year old featured in this piece raises our pig for us each year. They have a pretty remarkable farm, and when I asked the Mom, if she thought they could turn their hobby into something that could make them more resilient in hard times, she thought for a second. She said yes, with hesitation, but only because she admitted that farming as a way of life was not their goal. But she also admitted, in our interview, that if they had to transition to supporting themselves with their farm, small as it is, they probably could. They would just have to do a lot more with gardening than they do (she said it was, usually, a haphazard endeavor that yielded more weeds than produce, and I, promptly, encouraged her to eat the weeds ;)).

She also said something else that was pretty profound, and I thought made a lot of sense. For them, it wasn't so much a pursuit of self-sufficiency for her and her husband, because she never wanted a farm, but rather that she has given her daughters some incredible skills.

In addition to the animal husbandry lessons (and there are many given that they raise so many different kinds of animals), they've also learned how to make soap and cheese (from goat's milk), they've learned the value in a day's work, and they've learned to keep very good records (Lucia has to know how much it costs to raise our pig so that she knows how much to charge us). They've learned some business skills (they sell their soap, for instance, at craft fairs) that will carry over into other endeavors.

And all of this, because they had a little hobby farm on their rural suburban homestead.

I often tout starting a homestead so that we, the PARENTS, can be self-sufficient, and I don't, often, talk about the great lessons that kids can get from growing up on a small farm. One of the best lessons is self-confidence on one's ability to fend for oneself.

Here on Chez Brown, we're in the midst of the maple sugaring season, and my family is boiling sap today to make syrup. It's a lot of work, and they're all working pretty hard at it. If all goes well, by the time we're headed to our relatives' house for dinner this evening, we'll have a half gallon of syrup cooling on the counter.

My daughters may not be homesteaders in their future, and the Almeida girls may decide that they don't wish to raise sheep when they get older, but the bigger lessons, the important lessons, they won't forget, and those will be the things that propel them into a life of self-sufficiency and independence.

If you asked me if our nanofarm was worth all the bother, I'd say yes, every time. I'm pretty sure Wendy Almeida would, too.


  1. I love this story, and I love that your way of life has such good side effects! While I think that encouragement and kindness is good for our children's self-esteem, I think what is even better is when they know that they are good at skills that they value, and that are useful in their lives.
    And that's what suburban homesteading gives kids in spades:)

    1. It was really amazing to interview the other families. The Almeidas are pretty remarkable people. We've known them for a long time (we all homeschooled together when our girls were much younger) and have watched while we each turned our yards into "farms" :).

      The other family I interviewed is even better than we are. In fact, they are really close to being off-grid. They're pretty inspirational.

      It's just even more of an impetus to keep plugging away at what we're doing, because the possibilities really are only limited by my imagination.