Urban Homesteading with the DIYdiva
Licensed builder, Kit Stansley has been the DIYdiva since 2004, and back then she was writing about DIY life in the city, where the roads were paved, the internet was high-speed, and the neighbors were so close they could see in the windows. Then in 2011 she accidentally bought a farm and her posts started to include not just home improvement, but a coop for her ducks and tractor references. Obviously, she’s the one to talk to about homesteading.
The notion of “Urban Homesteading” is growing, but it’s not clearly defined – do you see a tipping point between having a garden in the yard and becoming a homesteader?
You know, I think there are a lot people who garden (flowers or vegetables) for the pleasure of gardening itself, which is awesome. The “homesteading” mindset is really just an extension of that: gardening with the larger goal of self-sufficiency.
What was your gateway from DIY renovation to accidental farming?
Well, what happened was… I accidentally bought a farm. I mean I intentionally bought the old farmhouse on my property to renovate (which is an ongoing project) but it came with six acres and three barns which I didn’t put much thought into before I bought the place, but it turns out when I have land and barns I’m compelled to fill them with animals and farm equipment. Over the last few years I’ve found that working the land has given me a lot respect for it. I want to be a good steward of my property and that’s made me more aware of sustainable growing practices and taking a systems-view of my property.
Do you give the same piece of advice over and over to people considering a step into homesteading? What is that advice?
Get chickens. Seriously… I used to think birds were kind of lame (not nearly as fun as, say, a dog) but they have been the most hilarious, entertaining additions to the farm. Plus, fresh eggs!
If you can’t get chickens though, I’d say two things: One, work with where you’re at. People do amazing things on .10 acre, urban lots or rooftop gardens… you don’t need a farm to be a homesteader. And two, use the right tools (This goes for both DIY and farming.) A good tool is worth dozens of frustrating hours trying to make something that is too cheap, too small, or just flat-out wrong do the job for you. It’s never worth it.
A few generations ago, gardens, chickens, goats or even a horse wouldn’t be out of place in an urban backyard. Why do you think more younger people are considering a return to that kind of living?
Honestly, I think there’s some novelty in it at first. It’s such a strange (and cool) thing to be able to grow food in your yard, or to have animals that produce something for you. And I think it becomes more compelling the more you do it. There’s a satisfaction that comes from turning hard work into a delicious meal with things you’ve grown or raised yourself, or from using products you’ve created.
What about bees? Would you keep honeybees?
I just built two hives this weekend for my first two packages of bees, due to arrive any day! Bees are awesome little creatures, and we depend on them for a lot. I’m happy to have them on my property to pollinate the fruit trees (and gardens) and provide honey.
Not a homesteading question, but I always ask people who’ve actually done the work - what’s the coolest or most interesting thing you’ve found when you knocked down a wall?
In the last house I had, I lived in an old garage while building an addition on the house. Well the garage used to be an old gas station, and we actually found a 6-pack of vintage Coors Light cans (still full) out there. Never got the nerve to open one up and try them out though!