Why Try to Homestead in the Suburbs?

I was a philosophy major, which means I’m the kind of person that is always asking “Why?” I don’t find the “how” interesting at all until I find out the why. I was never the least bit interested in gardening until I began to learn about the problems caused by industrial agriculture in this country. When I learned about the degradation of our soil, the concentration of our food sources into three or four mega companies, and the tenuousness of the whole system, all of a sudden it seemed very important that I should be able to grow some of my own food.

I oppose on ethical terms the industrialization of agriculture. I am not okay with factory farms where animals live tortured lives and die tortured deaths. I’m not okay with my food being sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals. I’m not okay with GMO food, food that doesn’t make seed and is owned under a patent by a corporation. Corporate control of food should make all of us nervous.

It was only when I began to be concerned about the state of things in my country that I started asking the questions of “How?” How can I extricate myself from what I believe is an immoral system? How can I grow my own food? How can I prevent weeds? How do I get rid of insects? Why won’t my tomato plants make any tomatoes?

A lot of people are becoming disenchanted with the food system in America. Some of them are growing tomatoes on the patio and some of them are moving onto acreage and living off grid. I’m somewhere in between. It all starts with a determination to live differently, to get out of the system.

For me, there’s another layer as well. I’ve never liked living in my home. The house itself is fine. It’s the setting that irks me. I don’t like the suburbs, both because of practical realities like having to drive everywhere (everything is spread out and there are no bike lanes) and also because of what they represent (rampant consumerism). Ever since we moved here 12 years ago, I’ve been trying to move.

My yard has always been the typical blasé suburban yard. I don’t find the suburban setting to be inspiring in the least. Cookie cutter houses annoy me, most of the yards are boring, and I don’t find the houses or the yards inspiring or relaxing. Most people do enough to their yards to satisfy the HOA, but they’re not all that interested in being outside. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that lot sizes are getting smaller while house sizes are getting bigger. Most people want to stay inside their homes with the A/C blasting and their devices plugged in.

Nothing about the suburban setting feeds my soul. I grew up on an island off the coast of North Carolina, literally inside of a national park, surrounded by stunning natural beauty. The suburbs by comparison are depressing. It’s like growing up in a family of gourmet chefs and then being forced to eat PB & J on white bread for every meal.

I find that a lot of times when I’m home, I would rather be somewhere else. I would rather be out in the wilderness on a camping trip, or in my kayak, or at the barn spending time with my horses. All of those things fulfill me in a way that being in my suburban home never has. I would like for that to change.

I’d like to have something pretty to look atsomething that draws me outside into my yard, and something that makes me want to stay home, instead of constantly wishing I were somewhere else.

In the past I’ve thought that the only way to make myself happy would be to move onto land. I envision an old barn, a creek, and fields for the horses. It doesn’t make financial sense to move though, and my kids and my husband are very happy where we are. Rather than uproot them, it makes more sense for me to transform the small piece of land we already have into something inspiring.

Trying to garden and homestead and become more self-sufficient has launched me into learning the old ways of doing things, and one of the principles that people used to live by is to make do with what you have. Before our economy turned into the consumer nightmare that it is today, people used what they had or they did without. Everyone nowadays thinks that they need the best and the newest of everything, all the time. Learning to be content with what I have and where I am is a wonderful way of connecting with the old ways.


3 thoughts on “Why Try to Homestead in the Suburbs?

  1. I love your desire to improve your suburban yard! It’s so great when people make the attempt to be the improvement they want to see.
    Suburbs are indeed a huge cause of damage to the environment but I’m not sure that farming is everything you seem to believe. So many armchair environmentalists and people with an agenda to spread paint farming as a terror to the environment and animals.
    peta loves to spread propaganda about how farm animals are treated. They lie and doctor videos to convince people to give them money. If you really want to know how farm animals are treated please go visit a farm. I can tell you my cattle are living happily out on pasture and that most farm animals are very well treated. The same as most horses are, there are always a few bad apples.
    The majority of farm ground is the same way. If we were truly degrading the soil and ruining it we wouldn’t have anything left to farm much less pass on to our children which is most farmers goal in life. Good crops require good soil, destroying it would defeat the purpose. American farming is some of the safest and most conscientious of the environment of any in the world. Yes chemicals are used but homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. Nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually. On top of this, 90 million pounds of chemical fertilizers are used on lawns annually. Additionally, 26.7 million tons of air pollutants from mowing are introduced annually.
    Keep up the good work with your lawn but remember that we farmers are doing the same thing on a larger scale every day. Loved the post!

    1. Hey there! Thanks for commenting! Let me clarify a few things. I never said ALL farms are bad! Of course we need farms because they grow our food! I shop at the grocery store (because my garden so far has been an utter failure), so I’m still participating in the system of Big Ag that I’m disparaging in this post. For me it very much depends on the size of the farm. What I have an issue with is factory farming- huge monocultures of crops that spread for miles, and feed lots where cows stand knee deep in their own poop eating corn until they’re fat enough to be slaughtered. Small family farms are VASTLY different than these giant corporate operations. Corporate owned “farms” more closely resemble factories than farms. I wish we had more small family farms, but everything I’ve read tells me that it’s a lot harder to make a living as a farmer these days because of having to compete with the mega corporations, or be basically employed by them instead of being as autonomous as the small farmer once was.
      As far as the degradation of the soil, industrial farming depends on chemical fertilizers and big machinery, which makes the whole operation dependent on fossil fuels. It’s petroleum based farming. Small farms (at least some of them) use permaculture practices, things like crop rotation, rotational grazing and composting manure to feed the soil. These practices use nature to their advantage instead of the industrial approach which is basically to spray poison on everything, farm the same crop until the soil is totally diminished, and then dump more chemical fertilizer on it and start the whole process over.
      I’m getting these ideas from different sources. The two biggest influences are Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin, but also many documentaries, articles and books about how our food is produced in this country. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” come to mind.
      I can’t comment on your farm or your practices because I don’t know you and I have no idea what you’re up to. But please don’t walk away thinking I’m anti-farmer by any means. I’m anti Big Ag, not anti farmer!

  2. Love this post. I’m still working on my tiny farm here in the yard where you grew up. I don’t use pesticides or any commercial fertilizer. Mother Nature is really angry with our island. We keep getting 3-4 feet of salt tide in the yard and all the huge garden containers which cannot be moved up to the deck keep getting wrecked by salt water. Burning the branches that fall during hurricanes and adding the ash to the soil helps. So does adding lots of manure from my chickens. I still don’t want to give up, although in the last 4 years, I have been totally wrecked twice. So…Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can…. That has become my mantra. I want to move to a farm, but your Dad does not. So here I am and here I will stay and have my garden and chickens and ducks and do the best I can. Hanging clothes on the line, growing as much as I can to feed ourselves and the chickens and canning and sewing seems like such a little accomplishment, but I’m not satisfied to do nothing. There are happy bees, chickens, ducks, cats, birds, deer and raccoons co-existing here in our less than an acre yard bordered by a salt creek. I’m not changing the world, but our lives have been greatly changed. I also think it is good for me to long for a farm, because I think it is healthy to not have some of the things we dream of. It kind of teaches us to take advantage of what we do have. Even if what we do have is flawed. Doing this tiny farm, if we could even call it that, has made me so excited about simplifying our lives. I do feel less like a blatant consumer. Recently I went o Elizabeth City with a friend and hardly bought any thing, because there wasn’t much that appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to get home and put my yard clothes on and feed the chickens and check on the garden. Like I said, I’m not changing the world, but I am changed and I like being a “Tiny Farm” girl on a barrier island.

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