Hi! I’m Kara and I live in San Francisco with my husband, Robin and we’re proud urban homesteaders. We’ve always talked about how “one day” we’ll buy a house with some land so we can have space for a garden, chickens maybe even a donkey (scratch that – definitely a donkey. I’m obsessed).
But we love our life in the city right now so the “I want to homestead!” goal was a dream for a long time. Until we realized that it’s starting a homestead lifestyle was totally possible, even if we didn’t have land or even a backyard.
(Don’t take me wrong – doing urban homesteading like the house above is easier. But you can work in a small apartment as we have.)
Anyways Fast forward a few years and we’ve been growing our own food successfully for a while now and have gathered so many homesteading tips, we were inspired to start this blog your reading. But in order to get started homesteading, you have to understand what it is, and ways you can implement homesteading into YOUR life and YOUR current home (backyard or not!)
Urban Homesteading for Beginners: What the Heck Is Homesteading Anyway?
To be honest, before I learned about the term Urban Homesteading, I never thought of what we did as homesteading. I always labeled us as “foodies” and folks with “green thumbs”. You know, a DIY-obsessed plant lady and a home chef. Plus their cat.
I totally thought homesteading was reserved for folks with land, or at least a HUGE backyard, and probably a cute farmhouse like the one pictured about. We don’t have any of those. It turns out we do actually micro-urban homesteading. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
What Is Homesteading?
Homesteading is all about being a household that produces a significant amount of its own food and tries to live in an environmentally conscious manner. It’s different than commercial farming, where mass amounts of food or animal products are produced and sold for profit.
Homesteading is essentially farming but on a much smaller scale, usually to feed just the homestead family and possibly some others in the community. The most common model we’ve seen recently is a family buying a house with an acre or two of land, and then building a vegetable garden, raising chickens, goats, etc, finding other creative ways to be as self-sufficient as possible.
What Is Urban Homesteading? How Is It Different?
Being an urban homesteader looks different. It just has to. Traditional homesteading takes place on farms, or when folks have access to large plots of land. But owning that’s not feasible for everyone. Urban homesteading isn’t as grand and usually means the homesteaders have to still rely on store-bought food and goods, but they are able to produce a bit of their own food.
Robin and I for instance live in the middle of San Francisco. Even if we could somehow afford a house here (we sadly don’t have the 2 million required) a backyard would be small, and the city absolutely would not allow us to have goats or donkeys.
But there are still so many valid ways to take part in urban or suburban homesteading and that’s why we started this blog. We’ve been pioneering homesteading in the city without any outdoor space for a few years now and know it is possible to re-wild your life this way.
3 Homesteading Principles
Self-sufficiency: this is about taking steps to be self-sufficient ie not reliant on the outside, specifically stores, big brands and capitalism to survive. You absolutely don’t have to be 100% self-sufficient to be a homesteader. It’s near impossible these days and definitely not a practical way to live for many of us. But even transitioning your life to be just 10% self-sufficient is a great start!
This can look like growing your own food to cut down on what you are buying, preserving food, making compost for your garden vs buying it, and doing DIY to build things yourself.
Sustainability: a big part of homesteading is the focus on sustainability. This can look like putting solar panels on your rooftop, composting and recycling, upcycling and using planet-friendly cleaning supplies vs chemicals are important.
Again, you don’t have to be perfect to take sustainable actions in your life. You don’t need to be that guy who showers in the rain, only eats food they find out of the trash and never touches plastic in order to make sustainable homesteading transitions.
Reconnect with nature: this goes hand and hand with being self-sufficient and valuing sustainability but dives deeper into your connection with nature and animals. It’s about understanding humans are part of the world, not the center of the world. It’s raising animals, caring and respecting them, along with respecting and caring for wild animals. It’s about defending the environment and leaving wild places better than you found it.
For me – homesteading living is very much tied to the same principles of witches and spiritual community members follow. In fact, many practicing witches partake in homesteading, whether they realize it or not. At the end of the day, it’s all about reconnecting with mother earth and living in a way that has minimal impact on others, which is hard for modern-day humans to do.
Can I Save Money Urban Homesteading?
In the long run – yes! But for full transparency, getting started isn’t always cheap. You’ll need supplies for a small garden, especially if you are growing indoors and need grow lights. You’ll need jars and canning equipment, cooking materials, soil, seeds, and so on and so on. If you have outdoor space and raise chickens, you’ll have monthly expenses of feed, too for example.
But once you have your systems set up the ongoing costs tend to be small. It’s an investment and a lifestyle.
21 Urban Homesteading Ideas
This is how to start homesteading in your backyard or apartment! Robin and I have figured out ways to implement many of these practices into our lives, though we are limited to a small studio apartment without any outdoor space. If you have a backyard, even if it’s small, you’ll be able to do a lot more. Yes, even if you live in the suburbs!
1. Go Homemade
A great first step you should take when getting started homesteading is simply learning how to cook homemade versions of your favorite take-out or frozen meals. I truly think not just learning how to cook, but having a love for it is the first major gateway drug for homesteading life.
Robin will hate me for telling this story YET AGAIN, but I always love to tell it so here we go: when I met Robin over 12 years ago he could boil hot dogs and make Kraft Mac & Cheese. Now he’s known to casually make homemade wonton soup (with homemade wonton wrappers) or pickle a bunch of cucumbers for a fun afternoon activity.
You don’t have to go that hard, but finding joy and knowledge in food is so empowering. Even if you just master a homemade tomato sauce recipe for pizza and pasta, going homemade is the first step.
2. Grow Herbs
Growing food is such a core part of homesteading, and herbs are honestly the easiest thing to grow. They’re fast, small and you can grow them easily indoors without a grow light. You just need a window and a little bit of space to put planters!
There’s also so many herb kits out there. From mason jar herbs to box planters, if you aren’t sure how to get started, pick up one of these home planters to practice gardening and growing herbs. My favorite herb to grow in our apartment is basil because we cook up a LOT of tomato-based sauces over here and I’m always reaching for fresh basil.
3. Grow Vegetables
Yes – you can grow vegetables even if you live in an apartment and don’t have room for garden beds, or even a patio! I know because my husband and I are living proof of this. We have a grow light situation that we made and have successfully grown hydroponic tomatoes, and currently trying cucumbers and peppers out for a spin.
But, if you have any outdoor space you’ll find it a lot easier to grow veggies and grow more of them than we can. Urban gardening does require a bit of creative thinking and time to figure out how to make it work for you and your limited space, but it’s possible!
If backyard homesteading is out of the question, and you aren’t able to grow food indoors (maybe it’s against your lease), then opt to volunteer at a community garden!
4. Grow Mushrooms
Robin is obsessed with growing and foraging mushrooms. We started with these mushroom grow hits and then graduated to a large setup for a bigger harvest. And, we’re about to take our first mushroom foraging class to learn how to hunt for fungi on the coast of California.
Mushrooms grow SUPER fast. Sometimes they grow over an inch in a single day. Mushrooms are good for you, are tasty in meals and are a great way to substitute meat. Our favorites to grow at home are Lions Mane and Pink Oysters.
Did you know foraging is legal (well – in many places it is, some counties don’t allow it. Check your local city laws!) Years ago I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Portland and saw a guy bust in covered in dirt and holding a giant Chanterelle mushroom proudly telling anyone who would listen how he hunts for mushrooms in the forest.
That got my gears turning. Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom and I would frequently pick wild violets in our yard to use in salads, along with dandelions to make tea, etc. But I never thought about foraging on public lands (when allowed) until that day in Portland.
When foraging, it’s vital to know what you are looking for and eating to ensure you don’t accidentally poison yourself. Robin and I are currently taking a few foraging classes here in the Bay Area to properly learn how to identify plants. I’m sure there are classes you can take near you if that’s of interest!
Setting up a compost system is super easy and affordable. You can even compost in an apartment without worms. If you have a backyard and a garden bed, you can make your own turning bin and compost pile to put right back into your garden.
Most of us in a city don’t have yards available but thankfully most major cities have compost programs built into their trash pick up so you can put your food waste to good use!
7. Raise Backyard Chickens & Animals
Dear LORD, I cannot wait for the day we can have chickens. Usually, when folks are looking to up their homesteading game, they raise backyard chickens. Chickens are cheap, small and make fresh eggs daily (score!) Plus, they’re cute and silly animals that I personally just really enjoy.
I’ve also seen families opt to raise goats and pigs, too (for food or just as a hobby farm.) My aunt had horses and llamas for a while, and as I’ve mentioned, I want donkeys. You shouldn’t feel limited to chickens if you have the space and passion for raising animals.
8. Shop At The Farmer’s Market
The grocery store imports food from all over the world, leaving a huge carbon footprint. If you can’t grow everything you eat, you can instead shop at farmer’s markets. This way you can eat more food that is local, seasonal, and has a far shorter route from the ground to your dinner plate.
9. DIY & Upcycle As Much As Possible
Do you watch Parks and Recreation? I always equate the “DIY” mindset to Ron Swanson. Why buy a new chair if you can make one yourself, and a better one to boot. Granted, I don’t know how to make chairs and I’m suggesting you learn either unless you want to, but the idea with incorporating DIY and upcycling to your life is the same.
For me, that has looked like upcycling old candle jars and coffee containers into planters. I also opted to make my own macrame hanging planters instead of buying them on Amazon. We turned my wedding dress into a woven wall hanging, and when I did a bathroom makeover last year, I bought a tiny saw and wood and cut those things to cover a shelf instead of buying a new shelf.
10. Learn How To Fish Or Crab
Homesteading isn’t just about growing food, but sometimes hunting it. One of my friends here in San Francisco is an avid crab fisher. He’ll jump in his kayak, head out into the bay and spend a few hours crab fishing. He’ll then bring his haul back to the shore and cook up a locally caught seafood feast that evening.
I went to the annual Crab Derby festival this year on Baker Beach and got to eat crab that was caught literally an hour before and WOW, is all I can say. The taste is amazing and you can’t get more local than that.
It’s ok if crabbing isn’t for you. Fishing is another option! I used to go fishing all the time as a kid. We would catch trout or bass on the lake, then have a good fish fry at night. Get your permit and head out to a nearby river, bay or lake and try your hand at catching fish.
11. Brew Your Own Drinks
Beer, wine, cider, limoncello, even drinks like tepache (pineapple beer) can be made in a home kitchen! You know, as long as you aren’t selling it. Robin makes Tepache all the time and we just got a new wine making kit so we can try and make some homemade wine in a small batch.
Some drinks, like limoncello and beer use fresh ingredients you can grow yourself (hops or lemons!) Using them to make something boozy is just plain fun.
12. Plant Flowers
Flowers are so so important for bees, plus they’re just pretty. Even in small spaces, you can usually find spots to plant flowers on a windowsill, balcony, etc. But if you have a yard, I highly urge you to transform your plain grass into a mini local wildflower garden.
Plus, if you have a backyard garden of veggies, these native flowers will help attract bees to pollinate your veggies!
13. Use Sustainable Cleaning Products
Swap the harsh chemicals for natural cleaning products. You can make your own cleaning products using things like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. We love to buy sustainable and clean cleaning products instead. We shop from Grove Collaborative because they have EVERYTHING – from cleaning solutions to compostable trash bags to cat safe ant killer.
Try Grove out and use this link for $10 off! If Grove isn’t your jam, you can instead try a brand like Blueland which makes tablets you can dissolve in water to make cleaning solutions, cutting back on plastic.
14. Go Solar
Own your own home? Put a solar panel on top of it! Most states have renewable energy tax credits and programs in place homeowners can find affordable ways to install solar panels. Then once they’re up, you can expect your monthly electric bill to go WAY down, and have the happy feeling of living off renewable energy.
15. Put Up A Hummingbird Feeder
Supporting the local wildlife is super important if you value homesteading. And one of the easiest things you can do is buy a hummingbird feeder and stick it on your window.
16. Collect Rainwater
Collecting rainwater to use in your garden or for cleaning is a no-brainer. Sadly, it’s not always legally allowed (shakes fist at capitalism!) But, if your county permits homeowners to collect rainwater and you have the space, this is a fantastic way to reduce your own water table use.
17. Guerrilla Gardening
I was introduced to this concept via TikTok but have since learned this practice has been going on for decades. In short, Guerrilla Gardening is the act of planting native plants, usually, wildflowers, in urban areas, like empty lots of those awkward patches of dirt on sidewalk blocks that look like a tree was supposed to be planted there, but never was.
This helps keep urban areas wild, keep bees and wildlife healthy and look good, too. The key is making sure you are planting hype native plants that won’t harm others. Here in San Francisco, there is a whole group called SF In Bloom that is dedicated to this mission, and they even sell planting kits! You probably have a similar group near you.
One of my favorite unique backyard homestead ideas is beekeeping. One of my friends raises mason bees every year in the small backyard of her condo and it’s not as scary (or stingy) as you think it would be. Bees are always in danger so helping community colonies thrive is #majorkey.
You can start small, like with mason bees, or go big with honeybee hives and harvest your own honey!
19. Learn How To Sew
OK here me out: knowing how to mend your clothes is a super important skill for anyone wanting to be more self-sufficient. Knowing how to patch holes and ripes can help you reduce the number of new clothes you are buying, thus reducing your personal fashion waste and helping items live longer.
If you get really good at it, you can learn how to make clothes, too!
20. Shopping Local & From Sustainable Brands
You don’t have to make everything yourself to be a homesteader. Community is a big factor in this lifestyle. Shop local everything when you can. Local farmers markets, boutiques, artists, even local breweries and wineries.
When shopping online, try and support sustainably made brands and ethical fashion as much as you can. It’s expensive, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s just not in your budget right now. If you love activewear, my favorite brand is Girlfriend Collective. They make leggings, sports bras, etc out of recycled plastic and go up to size 6XL!
21. Preserve Food
Lastly, learn how to can and preserve food. If you grew a large batch of tomatoes in your garden this summer or bought a bunch from a local market, learn how to turn that into canned tomato sauce to last you all winter. Dry your own seasonal fruit to have in off seasons. And so on, and so on.
Honestly, this list could probably go on forever but I’ll cap it at 21 for now. At the end of the day, I want you to know that living an intentional life IS possible in this modern age, even if you live in the suburbs or an apartment.
I hope this easy homesteading guide helps you learn some handy self-sufficient living tips and how to begin homesteading even if you live in an apartment (you know – especially if you live in an apartment).
If you have any questions, drop a comment below and we’ll try to help you out! Or, DM Robin and Kara on Instagram @soulhomesteading.