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Urban Homesteading: 15 Ways to Go Green in the City

The word “homesteading” brings to mind adventurous settlers rushing to stake their claim on lands out west in the 1800s. You might think of homesteaders as Little House on the Prairie-types who reject modern technology and conveniences in favor of cows, sows, and plows. 

But modern homesteading simply means embracing a lifestyle that values sustainability over convenience.

The homesteading life doesn’t have to be limited to people who live on pastoral acreages and prairie farms. You don’t have to have a barn full of cows or acres of land to achieve the goals of homesteading. Homesteading is an attitude, a hobby, and a set of beliefs, and this makes it adaptable to any location.

It’s the desire to make a loaf of bread from scratch or turn a bushel of apples into sauce. It’s a willingness to step out of the rat race and return to one’s roots. Homesteaders choose to devote their time and energy to endeavors that benefit their soul, the earth, and their family. They are people who desire to be producers, not just consumers. Homesteading takes effort, but it’s the kind of challenge that brings immeasurable rewards. 

City dwellers, take note. If you have an independent spirit, an interest in being more self-reliant, and a desire to care for the environment, then you have the heart of a homesteader. Here are 15 simple ways to embrace a green lifestyle in the city.

15 Ways to Be an Urban Homesteader

Preserve In-Season Food 

Sure, grocery stores are stocked with virtually every fruit or vegetable imaginable year-round. But to achieve that feat, the produce must either be imported from somewhere in the world where it is in season, or grown and harvested under artificial conditions. This process costs money, fuel, flavor, and nutrition. Don’t pay the extra costs of out-of-season produce. Instead, buy extra of each food while it is at its peak flavor, abundance, and price, and find ways to preserve it to use throughout the year. Freezing is the easiest; dehydrating is a great space-saver; and canning is so grandma-chic. Eating seasonally seems restrictive when you’re not used to it, but over time you come to love the yearly cycle and the excitement each new season brings.

Simplify Your Cleaning Supplies

Every time you purchase a ready-made household cleaner, consider if there is a simpler way to clean. Basic ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and plain ol’ soapy water can go a long way to making your home spotless and fresh. Ditch that cupboard full of plastic spray bottles of chemicals, and scrub the tub the old-fashioned way. Try making your own homemade cleaners, use refillable spray bottles, and choose washable towels instead of disposables that will end up in the landfill. 

Cook From Scratch

Box mixes and frozen dinners make life easier, for sure. But you wouldn’t believe how short your shopping list becomes when you cut out all the prepackaged foods in favor of whole foods and single ingredients. Start small. Make one loaf of bread each week, or trade your Bisquick for a DIY pancake mix. Empower yourself to make meals from your well-stocked pantry, and reap the benefits of a simpler, more sustainable way of eating. 

Grow Food

If you have some lawn space, use that precious soil to produce some food for your family. Here in Iowa, tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, lettuce, and carrots are all easy to grow. If you don’t have a lawn, put a big pot in a sunny place on your porch or patio. Herbs can successfully grow next to a sunny window inside, too. Anybody can be a gardener–all you need are a few seeds, a local planting calendar, and the willingness to try. 

Reject Throw-Away Culture

Ours has become a throw-away society, in which objects are devalued and everything is disposable. This is a natural result of wealth, consumerism, and “planned obsolescence,” the manufacturing policy of purposefully producing lower-quality items that aren’t meant to last. But it wasn’t so long ago when a different paradigm was rule.

“Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without” is the antithesis of throw-away culture. Choose to fix items when they break rather than replacing them, and wear clothes until they are fully worn out. Make do with what you have rather than making new purchases, and learn to go without all the latest and greatest things marketed to you. 

Raise Chickens

Raising chickens might sound a little “out there,” like something only rural folks do, but the backyard chicken movement is catching on in urban and metropolitan areas all over the US and world. Not only does raising chickens bring a steady supply of eggs, but it also offers amazing fertilizer for your garden and a place for all your food scraps to go instead of the trashcan. Chickens are funny, low-maintenance animals. Check your city guidelines to find out what is allowed where you live. Fees, licenses, number of hens, neighbor permission, coop size, and other regulations may apply. 

(Iowa City regulations allow up to 4 hens, and North Liberty regulations allow up to 6 hens. Coralville does not allow chickens at this time.)

Reduce Your Lawn and Add Variety

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that broad expanses of 2-inch weed-free turf grass was  key to a home’s curb appeal. Despite the common belief that well-manicured green lawns are lush and healthy, they are actually a wholly unnatural monoculture, devoid of nourishment for important pollinators like bees and butterflies. Furthermore, lawn care often requires extra watering, gasoline for lawn mowers, chemicals to fight weeds, and fertilizer to replace depleted nutrients. Challenge your beliefs about the traditional grass lawn, and experiment with ways to add variety, usefulness, and beauty to your surroundings. Convert portions of your lawn to flower beds, grow some veggies or fruit trees, and add diverse plantings to invite pollinators. 

Install a Rain Barrel

Instead of using (and paying for) city water when your garden needs watered or your car needs washed, capture that beautiful, free liquid falling from the sky. An average rainstorm can fill a 50 gallon tank within an hour. Make your own DIY rain barrel, or buy one ready-to-go from your local home improvement store. 

Compost

Compost is like magic–you throw all your garbage into a pile and end up with rich fertilizer. Furthermore, keeping extra food scraps and paper products out of your trashcan means fewer trash bags used and less trash in the landfill. You don’t have to make it complicated. You can just start throwing compostables into a designated pile, and give it a stir every once in awhile. While technically pretty much everything can be composted, some materials are best left out of the compost pile, such as meat, dairy products, pressure-treated wood, glossy/coated paper, diseased plants, and animal fat. Here is a great list of 100 things you can compost to get you started!

Iowa City: Curbside Composting is available to residents who currently receive City of Iowa City garbage, recycling and yard waste services. Residents must have an annual yard waste sticker and supply their own container (20 to 35 gallons) with a tight-fitting lid. Each container must weigh less than 50 lbs. 

North Liberty Curbside Composting: Residents will need a compost bin lined with a yard waste bag, available for $1.65 at a variety of stores in North Liberty. Place the bin at your curb on collection day. To sign up, contact City Hall at (319) 626-5700 or [email protected].

Coralville does not offer curbside composting at this time.

Reduce Packaging

Sure, recycling is good, but buying less stuff that will need to be recycled is even better. When buying food or supplies, be mindful of their packaging. When buying mandarin oranges, one large jar is a better choice than a cardboard box of 24 individual plastic cups. Buy in bulk when you can, and separate the product into reusable containers once you get home. When packing lunch boxes, choose reusable containers rather than plastic baggies, and fill up washable beverage bottles rather than buying individual disposable drinks. 

Use a Clothesline or Drying Rack

A clothesline full of sun-kissed sheets and towels is medicine for the soul. Opt out of all the wasted heat and energy from the dryer, and hang your laundry to dry. Unless you need to use the wet clothes within an hour, just let nature do what nature does and dry them . . . naturally. If you don’t have space for a clothesline outside, a drying rack inside works great, too.

Repurpose: Used Becomes Useful

While minimalism is on trend, and it can certainly offer wonderful benefits such as a less stressful home and mind, be careful not to adopt a “throw everything away” attitude. Instead of disposing of items that are no longer of use to you, find a way to alter them to better suit your (or someone else’s) needs. Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas for repurposing old stuff into new, useful items. Garage sales or freecycle sites are also great places to find used items that could be repurposed into something new. Share your used or excess items on a local Buy Nothing Facebook group. 

Buy Nothing Iowa City 
Buy Nothing Coralville/North Liberty/Tiffin/Solon/Oxford, IA

Adjust the Thermostat to Reduce Energy Usage

Instead of cranking up the heat or air conditioning, rely on more earth-friendly methods for temperature control. Wear extra layers in the winter, and turn down the heat at night when everyone is under covers. In the summer, turn off lights and close shades to keep the sun out when it’s hot outside, and open windows to harness the breeze when you can. 

Reduce Meat Consumption

Reducing the amount of meat you eat and how frequently you eat it can not only save you money, but it also has huge benefits for the environment. Reducing red meat consumption may even have a higher impact on the reduction of your carbon footprint than cutting back on the use of your car. Set goals for you and your family, such as “Meatless Mondays,” only eating meat once a day, or choosing three vegetarian dinners each week. Try your favorite recipes with vegetarian substitutes, such as black bean tacos, veggie lasagna, or a loaded baked potato bar. 

Shop Farmers’ Markets or Join a CSA

There are countless benefits to shopping at farmers’ markets. Buying from a local farmer means cutting out the middle man. Your purchases will support families (and the economy!) in your own community, eliminate the need for transportation over long distances, and allow you to enjoy foods at their peak freshness and nutrition. Bring reusable shopping bags and you’ll avoid using packaging, as well. Join a CSA and get a steady supply of fresh, local food all season! 

Guide to Iowa City Area Farms and CSAs


We all have the responsibility to choose what we will do with our little corner of earth. Our power lies in the little choices we make, from how we spend our time and what we choose to buy at the store. 

No matter how small your lawn or how busy your street, a true homesteader does their best with the plot of land they’ve been given. 

Happy Homesteading!


 

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