One of the many reasons I stayed in Columbia, aside from finding good employment, was the vast and diverse community I’ve had the privilege of meeting since my arrival here. Many would beg to differ, but I’ve found a treasure trove of unique folks in this place, each with their own story. Columbia seems quite undervalued in my opinion, especially when held in comparison to the likes of Greenville or Charleston. We are our own entity here, and we should cultivate and embrace it.
Recently, I encountered a woman who introduced herself to me as a “homesteader.” April Jones and I met at a young professionals event and this was the first event she’d been to in a while, hence the reason I’d not met her yet.
Needless to say, I was taken aback at her proclamation of being a “homesteader,” picturing 19th century Oklahoma Land-grabbers, as seen in the movie, Far and Away, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (if you’re not familiar, it’s a must-see film). I chuckled and replied, “A homesteader?” She said, “Yes, an ‘Urban Homesteader.’” With little more effort than a Google Search, I found this was indeed a thing. Apparently, it’s much more than having a couple chickens in the backyard.
As it turns out, we knew many of the same folks, and on-the-spot she planned a party, offering me a cordial invitation to her home, or homestead. I graciously accepted. She provided a bountiful table for us guests, much of which she cultivated herself. She agreed after the dinner party to grant me an interview.
So what got you interested in this lifestyle?
I’m a researcher and I just remember reading about it and thinking how cool it would be to grow my own food and become self-sustaining. It was just kind of a gut feeling. I think it’s important to have a connection to your food supply. So, this is what I wanted to do.
So do you slaughter for meat?
No, not yet. My chickens are still producing eggs. But I’ve thought about it maybe when they get older. When they’re not layin’ anymore.
What do the neighbors think about your setup?
They’ve really not had much to say. Some of my neighbors had chickens growing up and I’ll bring them some eggs from time to time. They’ll let me know if any chickens are trying to escape. They’re really good neighbors.
So, is there some sort of local, regional, or national support group you can look to in order to help you sustain this lifestyle?
I recently went to the Organic Growers School in North Carolina, and they’re a great support group. And I went to their conference where there were people shearing their sheep, and others raising both sheep and goats. Some were selling their chickens to local markets. There were also folks there with a quarter-acre or less who were almost totally self-sustaining, so I’m learning there’s a whole spectrum to homesteading. You can go as deep down the rabbit hole as you’d like (local laws permitting).
Does homesteading provide an income for you at all?
No. Not for me. For me it’s mostly about being self-sustaining. It (self-sufficiency) is something I value. The key for me is being self-sustaining and self-reliant.
So what would you say might be the first steps to starting an urban homestead?
I think having fresh flowers would be a good place to start. That’s how I got started and I think that’s a really easy gateway. Then, if you like fresh salads like I do, you could branch out to an herb and vegetable garden. The next step would be some chickens, or whatever else you can have (within legal bounds) on your property.
Are there any other facets of the lifestyle you would like to adopt in the future?
I might make my own clothing. That might be the next step. Solar panels and getting my own well system for water might also be a next step. That’s the thing about homesteading is that it’s never-ending. Also, I’d like to start making my own wine and cheese at some point. I already make my own bread. I’ve got a good bit of the food necessities but it might be time for some edible luxuries made by yours truly!
After our dinner and our interview, I got in my car and whisked away, thinking about how dependent we’ve become on our fragile supply chain for sustenance, and for most of our daily needs. Though it’d likely be best for me to refrain from making my own clothing, it certainly wouldn’t hurt any of us to get our hands dirty in a garden.