Monday, June 8, 2009

Urban homestead revisited

Last week, Katherine and I revisited the urban homestead in St. Louis. You might remember that last month, Mike and I delivered a couple of goats to Justin and Danielle and were quite impressed with what they had done with their little city lot.

Now that a month has passed, it is even more impressive. All those little sprouts in last month's pictures have turned into real plants. They've sold a variety of lettuces to local restaurants, eaten a couple of chickens, and tasted some honey from their bee hives. They let us try the tiny flower from a toothache plant, which was absolutely heavenly. The best way I can describe it is to say that they're like a natural version of pop rocks. My entire mouth was tingling for five or ten minutes. I wanted to ask for more. If I grow them here, I'll probably be munching on the flowers the whole time I'm working in the garden.

Last month, people had a few questions about the urban homestead, which I can better answer now that I've been there again. I also took a picture that better shows the goat's shelter, which is the small gray building at the back of yard. But what about odor and the neighbors? First, it does not stink. I didn't think it would, because the goats and chickens are able to run around in the fresh air and sunshine. Confined animal feeding operations stink, no doubt about that, and that's why farm animals have a reputation for stinking. When we first moved out here, I heard from at least one person for every species of livestock, "Don't get _____ because they stink!" That's because so many people have seen animals in unnatural surroundings. The only ones I've found that really do stink are male goats and pigs, mostly when they're confined to small spaces, like a barn. Given enough room outside, they aren't usually objectionable.

Second, not only did one of their neighbors give them his blessing, he also gave them most of his backyard, so they'd have more room for squash plants and the chickens and goats. He also told them they could use his old backyard storage shed as their new chicken house.

Finally, someone asked about property values. Society's definition of valuable is changing. While "pretty" might have been valuable five years ago, practical is the new pretty. Having high maintenance landscaping that requires hours of work every weekend -- simply to keep a pretty yard -- is not the slam-dunk investment that it once was. While some people might not like the idea of having a neighbor with chickens, goats, and a big garden, other people would love it. And the number of people who love it is going to grow in the coming months and years. Unlike most businesses, vegetable seed companies are thriving in this economy. They report a 25-30% increase in sales this year. I'll also add that my goats are selling as fast as they're born, and almost all of them are going to people who are just getting started with their own herd of milkers. I've only had the cows for a month, but I've already received two phone calls from people who want to buy cows.

Urban homesteading is not entirely new, but it is becoming more popular. The Quince family in Minneapolis has had an urban homestead with a garden and chickens for a couple of years already, and they're not the only family in the Twin Cities that has chickens. In a recent blog post, they mentioned the upcoming Parade of Coops. Yes, it's like a Parade of Homes, but in this case, people are opening up their backyards so people can see how city chickens live.

Perhaps the most popular urban homesteaders are the Dervaes in Pasadena, California, who have been at it for more than a decade. In their blog, they talk about their chickens, ducks, goats, and garden, which produces 6,000 pounds of produce every year. Not only do they grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed their own family, they also sell to local restaurants. They are located next door to an elementary school, which sometimes brings children over for field trips.

If you want to learn more about this, just google "urban homesteading," and you'll have a lot to read.

1 comment:

Lisa French said...

I'm so drooling... and feeling guilty because we have almost 6 acres and I feel it's hard to just get started! So glad you tweeted about the turkeys and chickens, I was about to get turkeys and read they shouldn't be together so I was holding off.


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