The “hub” of the urban homestead – outdoor solar shower, composter, garden/animal feed shed, parking for bikes, homebrew biodiesel operation, garage (for packing produce and other crafty projects like soapmaking) , solar oven and edibles (figs, bananas, grapes, tomatoes, herbs, huckleberries and more)

Blackberry and Lady Fairlight say “good morning, where’s our breakfast?”

Simple & practical. The urban homestead kitchen with homegrown, preserved goods

Early summer garden

PTF is going to be re-launching a new improved online resource and social networking site for urban homesteaders – a site by urban homesteaders for urban homesteaders. Just goes to show how our readers donations and support are being put to work — and we can still use your support for our growing efforts. So, if you haven’t already donated (even a small amount helps) or purchased something from our nifty online store please consider supporting our outreach efforts.

We are hard a work putting the site together and will be looking for UH contributors to develop the content. Interested?

The current urban homesteading movement is a positive trend in American society. Within certain parameters, it has the potential to revitalize families and, thus, towns in our long tradition of self-sufficiency and independence. Homesteading in the city requires responsibility to one’s neighbors and fellow citizens. When it is undertaken with such a foundation, this way of life yields rich rewards of experiencing the rhythms of nature and the wonders of animal life. – Jules Dervaes

With that in mind, head urban homesteader has put together a list of “Elements for the Modern Urban Homestead” which will be featured on the new site. With a nifty widget Jordanne is developing you’ll be able to “rate your urban homestead” — sorta like a guidepost for the modern urban homestead movement.

Neat huh?

Elements of the Modern Urban Homestead

Copyright 2008 Path to Freedom

Listed are the 10 KEY FACTORS that define an urban homestead in the 21st century. The principle that underlies all these factors is that urban homesteading is a way of life-a journey towards a sustainable and self sufficient life.

While these 10 factors make up the “ideal” urban homestead, it is understood that individual circumstances vary greatly and that many of these factors take years to implement fully. Therefore, the urban homestead will be a work in progress (we’ve been whittling away at it for 20 years).

I. Grow your own FOOD on your city lot.
More than 50% of diet, organically, on an urban lot (approx. less than half an acre*) with visually appealing landscaping. *Depends on square footage of house, location, and climate zone.

II. Use alternative ENERGY sources.
E.g., solar, wind, in conjunction with energy efficiency and conservation measures to reduce usage.

E.g., bio-fuels and/or alternative methods of transportation (bicycle, walk, public).

IV. Keep farm ANIMALS for manure and food.
Practice animal husbandry.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without, compost it, re-purpose it.

VI. Reclaim GREYWATER and collect RAINWATER.
Practice water conservation and recovery.

…in the manner of past eras. Develop back-to-basics homemaking skills, including food preservation and preparation.

VIII. Do the work YOURSELF.
Learn to do home and vehicle maintenance, repairs and basic construction.

IX. Work at HOME.
Earn a living from the land or hand work done at home. Develop a homebased economy

X. Be a good NEIGHBOR.
Offer a helping hand for free. Urban homesteading is a community-based way of life, not a business opportunity. Be a neighbor, not a business person.

No Comments

  1. Kym Helwig says:

    I am all for urban homesteading, and consider our family well on our way to meeting your 10 key factors, except for one…we have 6 acres and are 5 miles outside of town. Would you consider us “urban” homesteaders, or farmers?

    Kym H.

  2. Marshall Family says:

    Kym’s comment really surprised me, as I have been really thinking about the question “what does living in the country” really mean. I live on a small acreage just outside the city limits, but I certainly don’t consider myself a farmer… more of an ‘urban’ homesteader too.
    I always thought living in the country meant km (or miles) from town on a large farm.

    Anyway, I like your 10 factors list and our family is working hard to achieve most of them.

  3. Susy says:

    Love the list! I do a lot of these.

    We’re currently working on a rain barrel project, we’re building them ourselves from recycled food-grade barrels. We’re tearing off part of our deck for the platform for them, so we don’t have to buy lumber.

    We work from home, no commuting!!!

    We grow some of our own food, just started last year so we’re slowly building up our percentage.

    We don’t use alternative transport yet, maybe a bike soon, but we live pretty far from the nearest town!

    We also buy as much local as we can, raw milk & eggs from a local farm. Next year the plan is to get some ducks for eggs.

  4. KK says:

    This list is very helpful. We humans got way off track with cheap oil creating a lazy, non-resourceful suburbanite, weak and ignorant of nature’s cycles, of how we grow food, etc…so destructive to the environment….wasteful, and full of hubris about it too! To think we fight wars to protect this feeble way of Living!The list is a tall order for the majority of people in the already over-populated urban/suburban centers.
    There is a growing hunger for being more self-sufficient, but I find “being green” is now such an over-hyped marketing scheme only rich people can do. (just like buying organic…it’s an elitist activity) My Family is able to achieve about 60%-70% of the list, but by commiting to a lot of the activities, I sacrifice income. I wish I could afford solar panels and a nifty alt vehicle, so we do what we can with what we have. And it is a long-term commitment too, so I’ll put those projects on my wish list and work toward them down the road. That’s what’s so great about PTF…you’ve been chipping away at it for years, and you operate on a frugal budget. Thanks for your living and showing by example.

  5. Evelyn says:

    My HOA doesn’t permit solar panels. It took few years for them to accept the little satellite dish on the fascia on the side of the house never in the front. I am still working on having less grass in my front yard. It is hard when you have to follow so many rules. The landscape architects of our HOA will have a heart attack if my front yard looks like yours. They think palms and grass is what is beautiful. You cannot have fruit tree in your front yard. I stuck with this house so I have to make the best of it. Anybody have any ideas??

  6. Becky L. says:

    Thank you Anais for reminding us that this transition takes time. I get so frustrated, thinking that I need to get all of this accomplished ASAP.

    We’re making really nice strides here. Not where we want to be, but on the road to getting there!

    BTW – we’ve just gone through a power outage a few weeks ago, and then a boil water alert (broken water main) in which we were without drinkable water for three days. Talk about wake up call!

  7. Nuno says:

    Great job with the list- it’s an easy and efficient way to spread the word. I like the fact that it’s balanced, moderate and allows for several degrees in achieving partially or gradually the goals it sets out.
    It also sounds very pragmatic and apolitical which is essential in passing it around.

    Although I don’t have a backyard or a garden fortunately several cities in my country have communal gardens where you can take up to 1\4 of a an Hectare (more if you really want it) in urban voids or municipal properties- in a couple of them they even look out after poultry and bees.

    The only thing I don’t entirely agree is the Bio-Fuel part.
    Did you mean biomass? I use it for heating purposes. Bio fuels are essentially based in industrial GMO farming and are renewable but not sustainable. Recycling oil for fuel is a great idea but a bit short term one since we’re not going to eat enough fries to support it.

    Another thing to point out is improving your home (of which grey water recycling is part) with better insulation, passive solar planning, good urbanism, green façades, etc.
    Architecture and Agriculture are sisters!

    Already printed, translated (with the link to PTF at the bottom) and posted on the town farm.

    Once again nice work!

  8. risa bear says:

    We’re doing nine of the ten! Right now, we’re harvesting radishes, rhubarb, broccoli, spinach, beet greens, onions, spices — and the corn, potatoes, green beans, purple beans, runner beans, squash, eggplant, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, tomatoes, carrots, and cauliflower are in —

    — and we do sell chicken and duck eggs and goose eggshells —

    — but still have jobs … and have to commute to them … sigh. That’s the hardest part to fix, seems like.

    The Dervaes family — an inspiration!

  9. Kory says:

    Happily I can nod yes to a few of those things, and “in time” to the rest. I’m sure I don’t score as well as some, but I score better than I did six months ago, and wasn’t even on the map a few years ago.

    The farmer/ urban homesteader question? Why label, if I must be something I will be change, I will be possibility. Language is powerful, use wisely. As St. Francis said: “Preach the gospel always, use words when necessary.”

    And for the people stuck with HOA rules. What is the penalty for disobedience? What is the risk of doing vs. not doing. What do the rules protect? If you don’t like a law can you lobby to have it changed?

  10. Christine says:

    Very good article! I was wondering, had you thought about raising some heirloom trees for food for your chickens and goats and ect.? I’ve been reading about Permaculture, and find it facinating. I’m sending for a book from the Library loan, “How to make a forest garden” by Patrick Whitefield. I just hate the idea that I should have to depend on the stores to deliver our food for my animals. If you haven’t the room, maybe a neighbor or even where you take the goats for their walks, would be a place to plant a few fruit bearing trees for them. What do you think about this? Is there any reality in this question for your animals? Thanks, C

  11. Indigo says:

    Being in a multi-family inner city house means we can’t do most of the list. But I’ve been enjoying your blog and expanding my container garden.

  12. Evelyn says:

    Penalties for disobedience are really high. If you do not comply the HOA will sue you they will send somebody to fix it and they will charge you later double the amount. If you do not pay they will place a notice of lien on your property. . My HOA told my neighbor to cut her passion fruit vine out of her own tree. It was full of fruits and it was so sad. This tree was outside her property in our public property but she still have to maintain that side. You have to maintain the house as it is new. Nothing can look dirty, unpainted, or un-keep in my house. That is why you see every yard in the suburbs that looks the same. I am doing my research on combining vegetables, herbs, flowers in my raised beds. Once again I have to play by the rules so I will have beautiful raised beds and grass.

  13. PhoenixJen says:

    Anais and clan:

    Thanks for putting this list together! As a member of the Phoenix Permaculture Guild – many, many of our members could already say YES to at least half the items you list – which is truly inspiring for a desert megopolis! The Guild itself (a non-profit) partners with the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (farmer’s market) and has a weekly information booth and hosts classes on various “green living” topics every Saturday. We’ve hosted classes on everything from urban chickens, to effective microorganisms, to native food walks/harvesting, to canning, site analysis, composting and much more. We also collaborate with other non-profits to spread the word such as Roots and Shoots to reach school children, various nature preserves and senior groups. It’s amazing how hungry people are for this information.

    We, too, are using a “social network” platform to host our guild’s site and its working out extremely well with lots of good conversations and resources available. It really is a wonderful community building tool.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration. We’ve linked to your videos on our site and they are some of the most heavily viewed of all.


  14. Andrea says:

    I love love love the list! Like an earlier poster, I feel the need to accomplish it all ASAP, but the list gives me a wonderful sense of direction and to some extent, sets a pace for me.

    It’s been a goal of mine to teach my young children (ages 2 and 3) basic life skills including gardening and cooking from scratch. And while they’re only toddlers, they both know how to sow seeds, hang out laundry and knead bread. So many young people, even in my generation, have never known the comfort of a freshly tilled spot of earth or of eating a ripe tomato right off the vine, still warm from the sunshine.

    In their futures, I think it will be more important than ever to have these skills under their belts. They may never be rich, famous, earn an impressive degree or hold a prestigious job, but they can feed themselves and provide for their families.

    Thank you so much for the inspiration you’ve given me to accomplish all that I can with my little spot of earth.

  15. kory says:

    wow, I could never imagine something like that. Properly transformed HOA’s could be “a force for good” Rob over at might be able to give you some tips.

  16. juliey says:

    X. Be a good NEIGHBOR.
    Offer a helping hand for free. Urban homesteading is a community-based way of life, not a business opportunity. Be a neighbor, not a business person.””

    But you folks at PTF are business people: you choose to use some of the land that could be used to feed your family to grow crops for upscale restaurants – for cash.

    Doesn’t that contravene factor #9
    IX. Work at HOME.
    Earn a living from the land or hand work done at home. Develop a homebased economy.

    The reality is that no matter how large our homestead, none of us can grow everything we need – hence the need for cash.

  17. Sharon says:


    Some areas have had luck with getting a city or county rule that allows everyone to grow food in their front yards or have clotheslines, compost bins, rainwater collection etc. It overrides HOA rules.

    In the meanwhile, try growing non obvious food in the front yard. For example there is an newly available amaranth green which looks like a coleus plant. Other amaranths have beautiful and nutritous seed heads. See Bountiful Gardens for a variety of edible amaranths.

    The Scarlet Runner bean is attractive to humming birds and you can eat the green beans, but remember to call it Humming Bird Vine and if anyone asks, you are saving the pods for seeds. Just pick the seed pods really young and green to keep the flowers coming 🙂 until you do really want to save a batch for seed.

    Asian flat leafed chives have gorgeous white flowers and the leaves can be harvested regularly for eating. If anyone asks those are allium bulbs.

    Daylily buds are very good and Chinese cooks often dry them to use in winter soups. Do not eat the Asian type lilies though as they are not edible.

    As for the palms can you have date palms and coconut palms? Can you have nut trees?

    A number of hibiscus are tasty such as okra and the one where part of the flower structure gets used for flavor as well as the red color in hibiscus tea. There are some others that Korean cooks use for stems and leaves, but I haven’t found anyone with enough English vocabulary for that specific situation to enable me to understand what they are doing with it. Are there Korean cooks reading this journal who could help us out here?

    Roses with large hips are good to dry and they are high in vitamin C.

    Ipomea vines are a very trendy ground cover in many areas. Coincidentally their tuber happens to be the sweet potato. In addition to the regular tasty ones you might add some of the nearly black or the lime green foliage ones as decoys as people will be more familiar with them from the nurseries.

    Do people in your neighborhood like to landscape with clumps of ornamental grasses? If so there are some very attractive varieties of some grains which people might not realize are food. Not sure what would do well in your area, but some of the millets are very nice. If sea oats are popular, you might be able to do regular oats and call them miniature sea oats.

    Naturtiums have beautiful flowers and you can eat the flowers and the leaves.

    Next time the housing market is doing well in your area would it be worth it to move to a more health supportive neighborhood?

  18. Sharon says:

    Oops. Not sure how to edit a previous post, but that should have been spelled Nasturtiums.

  19. PhoenixJen says:

    Hi Juliey:

    I don’t think the PTF folks are advocating “giving everything away” – currently most of us have to have some sort of cash coming in. However – compare what they make in $ per year (30K for a family of 4 in Pasadena) to what they do in terms of outreach, education and lending a hand in the ‘hood.

    Here we all are taking advantage of this FREE forum to express our thoughts and exchange ideas. They’ve also started any number of other websites – all are free. They give talks at local events, host booths, etc. And they fix bicycles, etc in the ‘hood for free if I recall correctly. Plus their property beautifies the entire street.

    When you compare all the “neighborly” free stuff they do for their physical and virtual community to the small amount of $$ they make in their business venture (7.5K per yr per person!) – it’s easy to see that they are mostly about spreading the urban homesteading movement. And yes….they have to earn some cash.

    It would be nice if more people who enjoy all this “neighborliness” would contribute to the site. Even a small monthly or quarterly amount would help out. They’ve set a wonderful example of giving to the community – we could do more with giving back to them. (yes – this is a topic near and dear to my heart as I also volunteer extensively for a non-profit and donations are always greatly appreciated.)

    Everything in balance.


  20. Evelyn says:

    Thank you Sharon for taking your time to give me great ideas. This is a true community. This is my kind of globalization, the exchange of great ideas.

    Juliey, I just got free advice because of this free website. See been a good NEIGHBOR is working in here.

  21. Andrea says:

    There’s so much more to being neighborly than giving away the fruit of your labor. How about educating, inspiring, encouraging and directing??? This reminds me of the “if you give a man a fish” metaphor. Farmer D has chosen to teach men to fish rather than give his fish away. Metaphorically speaking. That constitutes a good neighbor in my book.

    And good for Farmer D, if he can do what he loves, provide for his family AND earn a living from HOME. In a perfect world of no property taxes or medical co-pays, I’m sure he would opt to give away his food overages rather than sell them. But as this is not a perfect world, I think he’s found a beautiful way to balance urban homesteading and harsh cold reality.

    Bravo to the PTF family.

  22. Frank says:

    Complete city kid from Boston, Massachusetts…
    Because of reading this blog including the archives(alot of those) and watching the videos, I am happy to say that I bought my first tomato plant. Hopefully, I have a green thumb.
    Thank you and keep up the great work.

  23. Andrea says:

    What a stinky situation! But I do have a couple of suggestions. First, there’s a variety of basil out there that looks very much like a boxwood shrub, but I don’t know the name right off the top of my head. Second, there’s a variety of blueberry bushes called “Tophat” that grow into beautiful 2 foot shrubs that would fit in with any landscaping. And third, may I suggest Serviceberry trees! They’re ornamental trees that just *happen* to grow bright red/purple edible berries. And they make the most incredible jelly….tastes like Hawaiian Punch.

    I know these 3 little specimens aren’t much, but maybe it’s a start. And maybe you can sweeten up your HOA with some Serviceberry Jelly!

  24. Anais says:

    Frank – thanks for sharing your story with us. Great to hear from newbies who are making small steps.

    Happy growing.

  25. Anais says:

    Wow. there’s some great dialogue . Great so see such discussion.

    What that line (be a good neighbor, not a business person) is saying is to put PEOPLE over money. Follow the golden rule and don’t be cosumed by making a buck.


    Hope that clarifies things up a bit.

  26. Anais says:


    Thanks for your comments. You are right about having to be so depedent in the feed department.

    Fortunately, we are a believer that such backyard barnyard animals shouldn’t be heavily dependent on “store bought” grains. In fact our animals diet consists primarily of greens from the garden. The ducks and chickens love kitchen scraps.

    There is enough food that we can forge for the goats – they love dried leaves and that’s plenty available.

    As for the chickens we may have to grow more prolific “grain crops” like millet and sunflowers. There’s even wild “grains” growing in the surrounding hills and arroyo which we may need to forge for.

    The urban homestead is not static and we are constantly changing and refocusing efforts as the days, weeks and years go along.

    There are solutions for every problem – and we aim to find them.

  27. LIVING THE PATH TO FREEDOM | Little Homestead in the City says:

    […] life (even homesteading) was familiar to most of us and yet putting all the necessary elements that make up a vital urban homestead were learned as we went along – there was no map or blueprint (book or website) just hard […]

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