The rise of urban farming
Urban farming's trendy frugality is drawing converts in an age of economic uncertainty.
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"I love the idea of the tiny urban lot bursting with life," says Ms. Zaleska, who spends about 20 hours a week in the garden in the spring, and 10 hours a week in the summer.Skip to next paragraph
Zaleska, who cofounded her homestead with Ken Ward, runs her home as a nonprofit called the JP Green House. Designed to be a model of sustainable urban living, Zaleska gives educational tours and asks for donations on a website to support the venture. Figuring out how to make the JP Green House financially self-sustaining is an ongoing challenge, she admits.
"It doesn't make sense to spend 20 hours a week at a task that doesn't earn any money," she says, adding that she makes more money in her role as a community organizer and climate activist. But the rewards of homesteading – teaching her children practical skills, supplying their dinner from the garden, and the tangible joy the work provides – make it worth the effort.
"This is the fun part. I couldn't do the climate activism without [homesteading] because I'd be too depressed," she says.
But being an urban homesteader and mastering long-forgotten domestic skills doesn't require an overflowing garden. When Kate Payne moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and was trying to make it as a freelance writer she had "zero reliable income." She started making bread and jam to save money, but found there weren't "a ton of resources" for domestic beginners so she started a blog called "The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking" as a way to chronicle her adventures and find a like-minded community.
"In my family, I didn't grow up doing this stuff," says Ms. Payne, who has since published a book with the same name as her blog and moved back to her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she teaches preserving and baking classes. "When I started canning for the first time I wanted to learn what other people were doing so I put out e-mails, tweets, and Facebook posts" trying to find people who were making their own pickles, yogurts, and cheeses.
It turns out there is a large community online of urban hipsters sharing their trials and triumphs. And people are wanting to share not only their tricks for keeping their container gardens watered while on vacation, but also their extra jars of strawberry jalapeño jam or tubs of rosemary-flavored yogurt.
Before Payne moved back to Texas, she and a friend set up a food swap in Brooklyn – essentially a silent auction where people bring their homemade goods and bid on others. The swap inspired one to get started in Portland, Ore., which in turn inspired one in Los Angeles. Her website lists cities across 20 states that now run food swaps.
This kind of sharing is exactly what Peterson advocates in his classes: It's a way for people to strengthen community connections and experience pride of accomplishment. "My goal is to tell as many people as possible how to grow food in the backyard and share it with your neighbors," he says. "Once you share food [you have produced], you are an urban farmer!"
[Editor's note: If you scroll down the page, you can find a urban farming online resource list.]
Urban farming resources
Path to Freedom
The Urban Farm
The Urban Farming Guys
The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking
"A Chicken in Every Yard" (Ten Speed Press), by Robert and Hannah Litt
"The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for A Year" (Seal Press), by Spring Warren
"Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living" (Skyhorse Publishing) by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume
"The City Homesteader: Self-sufficiency on any square footage" (Running Press) by Scott Meyer