Creating an Urban Microfarm on no budget.
In December 2017, I moved into the house where I’m living. For most of 2018, I was sick. I also wasn’t sure I’d be staying here. I was debating between two dreams:
- Get a motorhome or minibus and retrofit it as a tiny house on wheels, then travel through North America.
- Stay here, in this house, and homestead.
Option two is the winner.
Well, if I can manage to pay the property taxes by March 31st, but I’m working on that. And even if I can’t, there are alternatives.
Because I’ve decided that right now, I really don’t want to travel.
First off, I have five cats, two of whom are pregnant and due in less than a week/two weeks respectively.
I also really, really like this house. It needs a lot of work, but I don’t have to pay rent or a house payment, just pay the property taxes and the bills. It’s also on a lot and a half, has a pond, and the woman who owns it and gave it to me was a prolific garderner. She was just going to let it go to back taxes because it’s in the City of Flint – hello, ongoing water crisis – and in a neighborhood and condition where it’s livable but unsellable. She moved out of the city – as she’d wanted to for years – and left me the house to do as I please as long as I can pay the property taxes, and no hard feelings if I can’t because she was going to let it go anyway.
So here I am, figuring out how I’m going to pay those property taxes, and having faith that I’ll manage it, planning out the next few years of building up the homestead I’ve dreamed about for over a decade.
Those plans have a primary focus of sustainability, emphasizing food, water, and energy sustainability within the limits/confines of being in the inner city and living in poverty.
Which is challenging because as much as homesteading is about living simply, going back to basics, and all that good stuff, it’s generally a middle class privilege to be able to do so.
I’m blessed that a friend was walking away from her house that’s already paid off. Sure, it’s three years behind on property taxes for various reasons beyond her control, but catching up those property taxes is essentially my house payment, and I’m cool with that. This year, it’s less than $2000 total that I have to come up with to keep it from being foreclosed on, which is a stretch, but also within the realm of doable. Where else am I going to get a house and property for $2000/year? And once I have the property taxes caught up, they’ll actually be less than $1000/year.
I wouldn’t be able to homestead otherwise. Hell, I can’t afford to live anywhere else right now – I made less than $6000 last year, and most of that went to feeding myself, getting the water turned back on after six months without running water, and just keeping life going.
So, back to those plans of sustainability.
Food sustainability is my first focus, with water sustainability a close second. Living in Michigan and in poverty means energy sustainability is going to be more difficult – even if I could afford solar panels, I have a whole bunch of trees that need to be cut back for those solar panels to get enough sun to supply the energy I use, especially since I grow cannabis and vegetables year-round indoors, which requires a lot of energy for lights. Even with that energy, though, my monthly bills are less than $1000/month now, and I only just took over the electric bill in December 2018 after my Fairy Godmother who gifted me the house moved the last of HER plants out and let me take over the grow rooms. Seriously, electric/heat, water, internet, and groceries are less than $1000/month for me. My bills would easily be double if I had to pay rent or a mortgage.
Long-term, yes, I’ll work on energy sustainability with less grid dependence, but for now, food and water are the focus.
As I mentioned, I’m already growing veggies indoors, under the same lights that my cannabis plants are growing under. Right now, I’m in an experimental and learning stage as I’ve never actually grown ANY plants before, but I have done LOTS of research and I’m putting my theoretical learning into hands-on experience now.
So far, so good. Tomatoes have sprouted and now are hardy seedlings. I’ve already grown two cannabis plants to harvest, and while they were small harvests, I was very happy with them, and I have even bigger plants now after deciding to add a can of sardines to the soil of each transplant, whether it’s cannabis or veggies. It worked WONDERS for giving huge, lush green growth! Seriously! I get cans of sardines at Aldi’s for less than a buck each. One can per five-gallon pot, right under the roots of the transplant. As the roots grow, they dig into those fish and suck up all those yummy nutrients.
It’s not a trick I came up with myself. A friend mentioned it as an old Native American practice, and it made total sense, so I tried it. Then after I got that great growth, another friend asked how I did it, and I told him about the can of sardines. He’s grown for decades and mentioned that he knew people who would go fishing, come back with a bucket of small fish, and gut them right above the hole where they’d be planting their cannabis outdoors, toss the whole fish in, then put the plant in and fill around the roots with dirt.
Ultimately, I want to spend as little as possible on food and therefore I need to be able to grow as much of my own as possible. I’m doing indoor veggies because I want year-round veggies, and since I’m already paying for the lights to grow cannabis indoors, I might as well use that light to grow some other stuff, too. Right now, I’ve got tomatoes that are seedlings, spinach that has sprouted, and I’m waiting for carrots, onions, and white sage to sprout as well. I need to add some more lighting and I’ll be adding more veggies and herbs once I do.
I’ll also be gardening outdoors – lots of tomatoes for canning, cucumbers, melons, peas, beans. You now, the standards.
I’m using a combination of methods that I’m learning through my research on permaculture and indigenous growing methods, and I’ve settled on building raised beds using a modified hugelcultur method and landrace gardening for developing strains that are prolific producers specifically adapted to my microclimate/yard/growing techniques. I’ll be blogging about all of that as I go.
Homesteading is not just about sustainability for me though.
It’s also a spiritual practice. I’m an animist. I believe that everything has a soul, and while rock souls are different from animal souls are different from human souls, they’re all souls and we can connect with them if we open ourselves up to them. Homesteading is an extension of my existing spiritual practices. I didn’t figure out how to keep the cannabis alive until I learned how to connect with its soul, and the same for the other plants.
I believe that we are each an extension of our environment, and the environment I have the most control over is my home and my yard.
I’m also an anti-Capitalist, and a big fan of the local food movement, but have always felt a bit left out of it because it’s very much a middle class movement and I am very much not middle class. I grew up in poverty and have struggled with poverty my whole life. I’m still struggling with it, though it’s less of a struggle now, and more of an acceptance of what is and learning to work with it. What can get more local than growing my own food?
So there’s a whole ton of reasons why I’m doing this, and I’ll be blogging about it as I go. Sharing what I learn, tips, tricks, and rants as well. Exploring the ways that poor people, like myself, are frequently locked out of conversations about sustainability, and how we can find our ways into that conversation. Exploring how to grow as much food I can in the space that I have. Exploring how deepening spiritual connections with the land that I live on changes my life. Exploring how to decolonize myself, extract myself from the influences of Capitalism and consumerism. Exploring how to heal myself and those around me.
Stay tuned for more!