Backyard Farming: How to Homestead in the City

Backyard Farming- How to Homestead in the City

Growing some of the food that your family consumes is a great way to save money and eat organically on a budget. As food prices continue to go up, more families turn to backyard farming as a way to access high quality food without breaking the bank.

The Rise of Backyard Farming

Food cost concerns and the desire for higher quality food has fueled the rise of backyard farming. There are an estimated 20 million acres of lawns in North America. We spend millions of dollars a year growing a mono-crop (grass) and pouring chemicals on it to make it greener and kill unwanted plants.

If we all farmed our yards, even in small container gardens, we would greatly increase the availability of local food and reduce food costs. This trend of backyard farming is growing with creative homeowners finding dozens of ways to homestead in the city.

Backyard Farming For Your Family

Some families are backyard farming simply to grow food for themselves. These small scale urban farms range from simple raised bed gardens to elaborate mini-homesteads with various types of animals, bees and ponds.

Any family can start some kind of small-scale backyard farm. This may just be a container garden or larger raised bed garden. It could even include backyard chickens or a beehive!

The book Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) explains many of the ways to farm in a small yard. It provides sample garden plots and explains how to organize a small lot for the most growing potential. The authors have a highly-productive microfarm on one acre. They keep chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep on an acre, as well as having a large garden, fruit trees and nut trees and beehives.

Backyard Farming for Profit

Many families also have profitable backyard farms that supplement or replace a family income! I didn’t realize how profitable a small backyard could be until my friend Daniel recommended the book The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit. The author is a commercial urban farmer who grows food for farmers markets, restaurants and for his own consumption.

I was fascinated with the concept and after researching, I found that many people make $30-50K in supplemental income on as little as 1/10 of an acre of land! These creative mini-farms range from basic gardens to greenhouses with raised beds. Others have hives of honeybees, aquaponics systems for fish and vegetables, or chickens.

Ways to Try Backyard Farming

I’d encourage all families to grow or produce something in their own yards. There are so many health benefits to gardening and even just to spending more time outside. There’s also an intangible benefit to directly connecting with where you food comes from, even in a small way.

Our family has tried to move toward living as locally as possible and growing our own food as much as we can. While we only have an acre, I’ve been amazed at how much our land can provide, and we don’t even utilize most of it! Even our small garden helps reduce our food bill and our kids have learned where their food comes from by helping grow it. My son’s beehive is a source of local honey and small income for him as well.

If you don’t already, consider backyard farming in one (or all) of these ways:

1. Just Grow Something!

Even those in apartments can grow small container gardens or window plants, and those with land can consider much larger scale gardens. Start with a small square foot garden if you are new to gardening or stick to vertical gardening if you are tight on space.

A small garden has two benefits:

  1. Provides food– Even a small garden provides some food that is fresher and healthier than grocery store produce.
  2. Reduces lawn space– Lawns may look nice but they have to be maintained. Instead of spending time mowing, watering, fertilizing and weeding, that same time and space can now produce food! Replacing some grass with an edible plant is a great way to make your yard more eco-friendly.

Even if you only grow a few microgreens in your kitchen, start growing something on your own!

If you are more ambitious, consider growing more than your family needs and sharing with friends or selling at a farmers market. Or grow flats of microgreens in an inexpensive greenhouse and sell to local restaurants. A flat of microgreens can sell for $20 and some backyard farmers sell 50+ of these a week to restaurants. They grow quickly and with minimal overhead, so they are a great starting crop.

2. Branch Out to Animals

If you live in a city, you likely can’t have a cow in the backyard (and you wouldn’t want one in a small yard!). But many cities allow various types of small backyard animals:

  • Backyard chickens are increasingly common, even in cities.
  • Rabbits can be raised for meat, manure for fertilizer, and entertainment, and are also allowed in many cities.

3. Generate Some Buzz

Honey bees are another great backyard option. Most cities allow bees, and with declining bee populations, raising honey bees can help your entire community. This website has a lot of great information to get started with beekeeping.

Bees also don’t just provide honey! I use beeswax in many natural beauty recipes, including lotion bars, and homemade lotion.

Your turn. What simple homesteading activities are you doing where you live? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. I love this post. My family and I have been starting a project just like this and we’re in the process of buying 1/2 acre. We will be gardening, having a few little cochin bantam hens, and moving our already existing rabbitry there. I love teaching my children how to care for themselves, and other critters, along with having them put in some good, hard work 🙂

  2. What is it about hanging laundry on the line to dry?? Is there anything better than line-dried sheets? I use my dryer to dry my sheets in the winter (because I don’t have the means to air-dry them inside) and use a drying rack for my clothes inside when I can’t use my clothesline. But oh! how happy it makes me when I can spend time outside in the sunshine clipping each piece of clothing to blow in the breeze 🙂

    • The HOA where I live doesn’t allow clotheslines–even though they claim to be in favor of “energy-saving” devices!
      We’ll be moving at the end of the summer so next year I hope to have a REAL garden (I grow in containers now and actually get quite a lot of our vegetables that way!) and we want a few chickens, too.

      • I’m glad to hear that you will be moving to a more sustainable community. I have long wondered why people would move into a place where you give up so many of your rights to live a healthy, eco-friendly lifestyle. I am encouraged by more and more people moving into sustainable neighborhoods that allow clotheslines, chickens and front-yard gardens, whether in the city or country.

    • What about dust from traffic? I live on a very busy “country” road. It IS paved, but there is a long driveway just opposite me that is not, and the dust from traffic there and with the traffic on our dusty paved road, makes me wonder about having dust attach to wet/moist clothes while driving.
      I just bought a huge drying rack made by the Amish, but wonder about using it in the summer due to dust.
      Any ideas or suggestions?

      • Maybe just give them a good shake out before you take them inside? I lived on a busy street and hung my clothes out to dry and they were never visibly dirty, but i always gave them a good shake out to make sure no funny stuff was on there. 🙂

  3. I love this blog!!! My husband and I moved out of the city 4 years ago and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Being out in the fresh air, getting dirty, watching my son run free with the chickens… It’s the life I’ve always dreamed of. We grow our own veggies and this year (thanks to this amazing blog!) started making my own tinctures, salves, and beauty products. Thank you so much for sharing and getting the word out about how easy it really is to live sustainably.

  4. Hi Katie, why can’t I get meal plans?

  5. I live in the city, but we have 50 acres in the country we are prepping for our retirement, but in the meantime we have a garden in our backyard. We enjoy canning our peppers and tomatoes. We have also been known to trespass and pick berries which we make jelly out of. We love to make soap and thanks to this website I make my own skincare products and can’t imagine not doing an oil cleanse daily.. I’m excited today because I got a order in yesterday to make some tincture and baby products for a baby shower I’m hosting this next week. Thank you so much for your website, I’m a big fan.

  6. Don’t forget rabbits can be good for their fur too! An angora variety can be sheered (lol!) and the fiber is warmer than wool (something like 5x warmer) so it is coveted by mountain climbers.
    And I’m 100% with you on the bees, they can magnify your garden yeild and they’re so low maintenance. I can’t wait till my family can get out of this apartment. Even a house with a small yard will afford us so much more freedom! But for now I grow a small container garden on the porch, community garden at church, and cook, ferment, and make body products and household cleaners from my kitchen. You can always start doing something where you are!

  7. So I grew up in the country, my father a logger. We had our own garden, goats, chickens, and horses. And yes we washed our clothes by hand and hung them up to dry. We preserved our own food and lived off our land.

    Somehow I ended up in the city, well actually, I married a man from the city. What love will do right? We live on the 3rd floor of an apartment. We hang dry our clothes, I try to buy produce in bulk and preserve what I can with our limited space, and I grow a few things in our laundry room, that gets the most sun, I clothe diaper, but I still feel guilty and so very much long for my life in the country.

  8. I live in a small town off the coast of South Africa and have a 5000 acre farm nearby. I have chickens at home and eat game off the farm and grow my own vegetables. I SO enjoy your blog, especially the recipes and as a reflexologist the health advice. My 3 young children’s immune systems are all the better for it! We are all part of a wonderful new consciousness and I am so happy to be tagging along xx

  9. what did I miss re homesteading??

  10. I have been fermenting things lately. Just love it.

  11. In my first few years of marriage, I briefly did a stint of hanging my clothes to dry, but I had to discontinue this chore, because of city pollution and my allergies. All my clothes and the bed linens would smell like car exhaust fumes, and at times be laced with the various pollen from trees and flowers that grown in Memphis, TN. This pollution on my clothes and bed linen would aggravate my allergies m However, when I go home to visit my parents on their cattle ranch in Eastern Montana, I have noticed that my clothes have a clean fresh smell after being hung to dry outside. Also, there is not as much pollen on them because I go home in the summer.

    There is nothing like having fresh produce to eat. I grew up eating fresh produce from my mother’s garden. I have been successful at times with growing my own foods, providing that I had good soil to work with.

    My dad was a cattle rancher, so we had our own meat. We also raised hogs, and chickens, too.
    Thank you for posting this blog. I think it is good for one to take interest in what they eat, how it produced and how it affects one’s health.

  12. We live a city in the UK and are lucky enough to have an ‘allotment’ which is a patch of land locally that we rent from the local authority to grow veggies on. Taking on an allotment has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made, both for my physical health and my mental health, although I started growing food 9 years ago by pulling up the concrete in our tiny back yard which was only about 12ft x 9ft! We grew courgettes (zucchini), potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries in pots, tyres and raised beds!

  13. I appreciate these tips! I have to say that hanging out laundry is a favorite of mine. In fact, I call it “laundry therapy.” It is so relaxing to me. I also recall hanging out laundry with my grandma when I was a young girl, so every time I hang laundry out, I think of her fondly also. Just writing this makes me want to go and hang laundry out! 😉

  14. We have a house in suburbia, but I long for a simpler life. Even though we both have full time jobs, we have chickens in the backyard (for the eggs and fertilizer), and we ripped out the front lawn and replaced it with fruit trees and mulch. Just about everything planted at our house is food. We hope to add bees in a few years. I dehydrate and freeze extras, ferment veggies, and learned how to make my own lotion, salves, oil blend moisturizers, etc. I found a local source for pastured beef, and we have a fab farmer’s market where I get raw milk, sheep’s milk yogurt, and healthy pork. I hope to buy land someday to retire on. I’ll have to try the hang dry on the laundry!

  15. I grow our own green beans, and strawberries. We’ve been trying black raspberries for years, but it’s difficult to get to them before the birds, even with nets. I’ll try a smaller weave this year because our garden is full of the plants! I used to can but have to work now and can’t manage unless it’s frozen applesauce, etc. I found after years of being inside offices or schools with fluorescent lighting that I was so fatigued and lethargic but that being out in the open air and sunshine makes me so energetic and satisfied.

  16. Some things different that we do as a family, we have 2 huge homemade compost containers that we full with newspapers, egg shells & containers, scrab veggies and fruits. Our gardens love it. I also quilt which is a great way to use up old clothes and fabrics though I use my machine. But these can be used to preserve memmories and keep us warm too!

  17. I grow parsley, raspberries, black currants, rhubarb, mint, garlic, and thyme in our backyard. Not a lot, but we love it and it reminds me of my childhood growing up in Russian villages, eating tomatoes of the vine. I always wanted my kids to have a similar childhood, and it happened though of course my grandmas garden was a LOT bigger! 🙂

  18. Man just thinking of your lifesstyle on your Wyoming farm gives me peace! I truly see no way out of the Rat race for now, so ima gonna figure out me a way to do exactly what you said on my little piece of Metrosurburbia thanks Mama!

  19. We are trying to grow veggies each year (somewhat successfully.. it helps to plant each variety at the right time of year lol) and we’ve been buying mostly local organic fruits veggies eggs milk etc. This year we’ve planted some fruit trees that I hope will do well! I dream of being able to run my own farm someday. Forget 9-5’s and grow my own food. I want to be sustainable so that my family can live without having to be in a typical job, but rather working on our own farm, doing the things we like to do. And it would be nice to be able to provide enough produce and things to be able to share the wealth through CSA too, for those who can’t or don’t want to do the same as us ^.^ Oh it would be glorious!

  20. Thank you for this post! We are a family if four, my husband, myself, our 8yr old son and 2yr old daughter. We are homeschoolers so I have both kids home all day. I was getting really sick of after school hours being tv and video game time, the lack of family bonding, and the fact that my husband has to work 58 hours a week for us to live on one income (plus a side business of welding, fencing, and misc handy man work) and this is the least he’s worked in years!

    I’ve always felt my duty as a home maker is to use our money wisely, if that means clipping coupons, bargain shopping making food from scratch etc. With our dd I even cloth diapered which has saved us a fortune!

    We spent a year living with my parents (all four of us in one room!) Because my husband’s job cut back on over time that we depended on. I just started thinking, it shouldn’t be so hard to make it! My husband is a hard working man and I’m so sick of the struggle of money! I wish I lived in the good ol days where a man could build a house to suit his family, raise their own food, and work as a family to meet the families needs. Now it’s mortgages, and credit scores, and grocery bills. So a dream was born, a dream of a pig farm/chicken farm lol. My husband said it sounded nice but he didn’t know anything about farming. I don’t want a farm where my animals end up at the grocery store, just enough to breed our own piglets, slaughter and freeze and maybe even enough to trade a couple pigs for a meat cow, and enough poultry for eggs and to eat. My little homestead is still a dream, we don’t have enough credit to get a loan for property 🙁 but thankfully have a home that we are renting in the city. While I have put my pig farming dream on the back burner for now I’m trying to do what we can with what we have. We have a broken dryer and our rental house came with a clothes line, the broken dryer forced me to hang clothes on the line, best thing that ever happened 🙂 we are planting our first garden and hopefully next season’s will be bigger then this season’s. Canning will definitely be my next feat. I already cook mostly from scratch but I make an effort to either make dog food or compost out of scraps. I try to find ways to recycle or re-use everything. My husband like I said has a little welding business, it’s decorative welding and we are trying to expand on that with other craft items holy t shirts = rag rugs old jeans = new quilts. Someday maybe he can only work from home but for now I’d be happy with even a normal 40hrs a week!

    Thank you for your post, it definitely encouraged me on my homestead journey, someday we’ll have our home stead (and pig farm;) ). Maybe I can talk my land Lord into letting me have a few chickens 🙂

  21. Trying to save to get land. Live in a city now and not alowed to have chickens or bees. I am older and have had people say to me ” your to old to homestead” Life has handed me a lot of challenges and I know I am going to have land enough to life off for my whole family I keep praying and working towards my dream no my goal to live free

  22. As a new-bee(!) beekeeper, I’m excited to support these sweet little creatures in helping them to optimize their mission, in exchange for beautifying my gardens! On the subject of organic gardening, does anyone have a recipe for a good natural fertilizer for edibles such as Meyer lemons, herbs and vegetables? I want to fertilize but don’t want to ingest commercial, toxic products. Thank you!

  23. Growing lots of beets! My radishes are doing well too. Storing them is a problem though.

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