Whether it’s because people are trying to supplement store-bought items, get “in touch with the land,” or simply seek a healthier lifestyle, urban farming has seen an increase recently. Sparked by the “local movement,” farming and homesteading has spread from rural and suburban areas to urban lots and rooftops. While once left to cultivate the occasional pot on the balcony, urban farmers now can reap a much larger yield than ever before, in a space much smaller than the average agricultural venue. Over the last few decades, the do-it-yourself movement has also brought farming, animal husbandry, and food preservation into the cities, sparking a new age of shrinking your global footprint while enlarging the pantry.
A crop of new ventures
Urban farming was similar to stealth-bombing: no one knew where it was going to hit until you saw the explosion—usually of vegetables. However, the expansion of community farming, either by residents or through municipal involvement, is becoming more acceptable. The trend continues beyond just growing food: the existence of rooftop beehives, miniature cows and goats, and ordinances allowing chickens in large urban cities such as Los Angeles and New York proves that this is more than a passing fad. Detroit has made news as some ponder the idea of turning deserted lots into community garden space, bringing new life—and produce—to a struggling city.
Permaculture is a system of sustainable agriculture, bound into much of the organic methods of gardening and farming in urban areas. Homesteaders can use permaculture to create an interconnected system that is low maintenance, energy efficient, and sustainable through the generations. Centers exist nationwide, and many two- and four-year colleges now have classes and degrees in permaculture design, usually within a horticulture program. Yet readers who want to implement permaculture on a small scale, even without devoted study, can find many resources devoted to the topic.
The amount of material on homesteading and urban farming that is available in libraries will depend on the interest of patrons and the community. In areas where community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers’ markets are already entrenched, there will be personal interest in the topic as well. Libraries that promote services and programs about gardening may find the expansion into other areas of urban homesteading popular. Some libraries are now offering seed collections: patrons “borrow” seeds in the spring to grow in their own or in community gardens and are encouraged to return some of the seeds to share the following season. Libraries also initiate programs on how to raise chickens, organic gardening, and sustainable agriculture. Even if your local community does not allow the keeping of chickens or other livestock, the interest from surrounding areas may be enough to warrant purchases for the collection.
Starred () titles are essential for most collections.
General Homesteading Guides
The Backyard Homestead. Storey. 2009. 367p. ed. by Carleen Madigan. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781603421386. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603425148.
How much food can you get from a quarter of an acre (or less)? With chickens, goats, fruit and nut trees, and a garden, you can put your backyard to work for you.
Coyne, Kelly & Erik Knutzen. The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. expanded & rev. ed. Process Media. (Self-Reliance). 2010. 330p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781934170106. pap. $17.95; ebk. 9781934170212.
Self-sufficiency in the city is possible. Coyne and Knutzen cover projects in gardening, preserving, and urban animal husbandry that will help people take a more active role in their food, health, and environment.
Emery, Carla. The Encyclopedia of Country Living. 40th anniversary ed. Sasquatch. 2012. 928p. illus. index. ISBN 9781570618406. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781570618413.
This encyclopedia was first published in 1969, and its author has continued to add content through this latest edition, making it one of the most comprehensive resources available today. (LJ 6/1/03)
Fox, Thomas J. Urban Farming: Sustainable City Living in Your Backyard, in Your Community, and in the World. Hobby Farm. 2011. 416p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781933958934. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781935484837.
Moving from the big picture (the whole world) to the backyard, Fox gives readers a tour of urban agriculture and the tools to create a farm in the city.
Permaculture & Gardening
Bartholomew, Mel. All New Square Foot Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space. 2d ed. Cool Springs. 2013. 272p. photos. index. ISBN 9781591865483. pap. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781610587334.
This classic reference for small-space gardening is updated for beginner and expert gardeners alike and includes evaluating space, creating a soil mix, vertical gardening, and controlling pests. (LJ 11/1/11)
Falk, Ben. The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Chelsea Green. 2013. 304p. illus. index. ISBN 9781603584449. pap. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781603584456.
A comprehensive look at regenerative permaculture, Falk’s manual highlights many of the strategies used at his own research farm. This in-depth look at self-reliance shows how to develop a homestead for the present and the future.
Gough, Robert & Cheryl Moore-Gough. The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, and Shrubs. Storey. 2011. 311p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781603425742. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603427081.
Highlighting the simple cycle of “plant, grow, save seeds, repeat,” this organized reference offers an abundance of information on collecting, saving, and distributing seeds for future seasons. (LJ 11/15/11)
Hemenway, Toby. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. 2d ed. Chelsea Green. 2009. 313p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781603580298. $29.95.
Touting the message that permaculture works with nature, Hemenway’s revised edition expands into urban permaculture. Tables, charts, and images detail how to create this interconnected system. (LJ 9/1/01)
Holzer, Sepp. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. Chelsea Green. 2011. 232p. photos. index. ISBN 9781603583701. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603583831.
An intensive look into Holzer’s 100-acre farm in Austria, considered one of the world’s most consistent examples of permaculture.
Jasko, Robin. Homesweet Homegrown: How To Grow, Make, and Store Your Own Food, No Matter Where You Live. Microcosm. 2012. 127p. illus. ISBN 9781934620106. pap. $9.95.
From growing to preserving your own food, this book is full of information on irrigation systems, homemade seed tapes, and DIY rain barrels. Lively illustrations give this compact guide a zine-like appearance.
Kemp, Juliet. Permaculture in Pots: How To Grow Food in Small Urban Spaces. Permanent Pubns. 2012. 193p. illus. ISBN 9781856230971. pap. $14.95.
Kemp demonstrates how low-impact practices can still produce a high yield of food, even from the minimal space of balconies and container gardens. A month-by-month guide for starting your potted garden.
McGee, Rose Marie Nichols & Maggie Stuckey. McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container: A Container Garden of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers. Workman. 2002. 432p. illus. index. ISBN 9780761116233. pap. $17.95.
For those whose urban gardening is confined to pots, this comprehensive volume covers the basics of space, soil, and seeds.
Trail, Gayla. Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces. Clarkson Potter. 2012. 208p. photos. index. ISBN 9780307886873. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780307953254.
Trail’s third book on urban gardening highlights organic gardening in small spaces, e.g., balconies, rooftops, and community spots, creating urban oases with delicious results.
Animals & Beekeeping
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals. Storey. 2011. 353p. ed. by Gail Damerow. illus. index. ISBN 9781603429696. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603426978.
Rabbits, chickens, and sheep, oh my! Space-conscious homesteaders will enjoy learning how to raise a multitude of farm animals on as little as a tenth of an acre.
Conrad, Ross. Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. rev. ed. Chelsea Green. 2013. 274p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781603583626. pap. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603583633.
This revised edition of Conrad’s organic beekeeping title offers advice for natural hive management for both personal and small-scale commercial use. (LJ 6/1/13)
Crowder, Les & Heather Harrell. Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health. Chelsea Green. 2012. 176p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781603584616. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603584623.
Top-bar beekeeping “allows bees to build combs as they would in their natural environment” and complements organic methods of hive management. Covers raising queens to processing honey and beeswax.
English, Ashley. Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need To Know To Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. Lark: Sterling. (Homemade Living). 2010. 135p. illus. index. ISBN 9781600594908. $19.95.
This beginner’s guide to acquiring and raising chickens includes recipes for your results (eggs)! English’s personable tone makes the information accessible; with plans for chicken-related projects. (LJ 3/1/10)
Flottum, Kim. The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. rev. & updated ed. Quarry: Quayside. (Back Yard). 2010. 208p. illus. index. ISBN 9781592536078. $24.99.
Flottum (editor, Bee Culture magazine) brings beekeeping into the backyard with this handbook on keeping hives and harvesting their products. New material on natural beekeeping and “extreme urban beekeeping” will satisfy readers in most locations.
Schneider, Andy G. & Brigid McCrea. The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens: Everything You Need To Know…and Didn’t Know You Needed To Know About Backyard and Urban Chickens. Quarry: Quayside. 2011. 176p. photos. index. ISBN 9781592537280. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781610581424.
Radio personality Schneider compiles his “Chicken Whisperer” knowledge on urban chickens into one concise volume.
Preserving & Producing
Costenbader, Carol W. The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. rev. ed. Storey. 2002. 347p. illus. index. ISBN 9781580174589. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603429177.
Designed for busy folks who want to preserve produce from the market or their garden, this easy-to-use illustrated reference covers all kinds of preservation methods.
Farrell, Michael. The Sugarmaker’s Companion: An Integrated Approach to Producing Syrup from Maple, Birch, and Walnut Trees. Chelsea Green. 2013. 314p. photos. index. ISBN 9781603583978. $39.95.
Combining traditional skills and modern technology, Farrell documents how sugaring can be a personal and profitable journey. With essentials on tapping, sap collecting, processing, and marketing. (LJ 10/1/13)
Topp, Ellie & Margaret Howard. The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Delicious Recipes To Use Year-Round. 2d ed. Firefly. 2007. 376p. photos. index. ISBN 9781554072569. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770854192.
For those who aren’t stocking a huge larder, this book on making spreads, condiments, vinegars, and freezer preserves will save time and space. Recipes included. (LJ 1/90)
Weingarten, Matthew & Raquel Pelzel. Preserving Wild Foods: A Modern Forager’s Recipes for Curing, Canning, Smoking, and Pickling. Storey. 2012. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9781603427272. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603428910.
Learn about a wide range of preserving techniques for foods grown in your garden, tapped in the forest, or foraged from the urban landscape. (LJ 4/1/13)
Carpenter, Novella. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Penguin Pr. 2010. 288p. ISBN 9780143117285. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101060179.
Carpenter, the daughter of two nature-loving hippie parents, transforms a vacant lot next to her Oakland home into a farm. The amusing exploits of both the neighbors and the animals show that farm life can exist within the city. (LJ 6/1/09)
Friend, Catherine. Hit by a Farm: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Barn. De Capo. 2006. 240p. ISBN 9781569242988. pap. $14.95.
Children’s author Friend and her partner Melissa purchase a farm in Minnesota, filling it with chickens, goats, sheep, and a host of successes and failures. (LJ 4/1/06)
Kingsolver, Barbara & others. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Harper Perennial. 2007. 370p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780060852566. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780061795831.
Moving from Tucson, AZ, to Southern Appalachia, Kingsolver and her family resolve to spend one year eating only locally grown food. (LJ 4/1/07)
Toensmeier, Eric & Jonathan Bates. Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City. Chelsea Green. 2013. 234p. photos. index. ISBN 9781603583992. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603584005.
Two single men take a chance on an urban lot in Holyoke, MA, chasing their dream of creating a “permaculture paradise” and meeting the women with whom they will share it. (LJ 4/15/13)
Watman, Max. Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food. Norton. Mar. 2014. 223p. ISBN 9780393063028. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393243161.
One man’s revolt against the “pink-slime cheeseburger” turns into a quest to create real food. Watman’s successes and failures illustrate that the path to crafting food is not always a smooth one.
Woginrich, Jenna. One Woman Farm: My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle. Storey. 2013. 208p. illus. ISBN 9781603427180. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603428675.
Author Woginrich chronicles four seasons on her upstate New York farm. Written in diary style and beautifully illustrated.
Mother Earth News. bi-m. $19.95. Ogden Pubns., motherearthnews.com. ISSN 0027-1535.
One of the best-known magazines for rural living covers topics ranging from agriculture to animals to green construction.
Permaculture Magazine. q. $36. Permaculture, permaculture.co.uk.
Based in Britain, Permaculture offers an international view of self-reliance. The magazine covers global climate issues and ecofarming and features personal stories on creating a sustainable home and garden.
Urban Farm. bi-m. $19.97. Urban Farm. urbanfarmonline.com.
“Sustainable city living” is the motto of this magazine that focuses on hot topics such as gardening, urban livestock, and community sustainability. Information about individual and community initiatives and a lighter tone make this accessible for beginning and skilled urban farmers.
Pickin’ Chicken Breed Selector App. (Version 1.1.5) itunes.apple.com/us/app/pickin-chicken-breed-selector
This app highlights over 75 breeds of chickens. Search results are based on layers versus meat breeds, size, egg color, and more.
Fermentation Workshop with Sandor Ellix Katz. 110 min. Chelsea Green, chelseagreen.com. 2010. ISBN 9781603582667. $34.95.
Author of the popular Wild Fermentation, Katz demonstrates fermentation techniques and discusses the history and benefits of the process. An extended interview with Katz touches on food security and social justice through food production and preservation.
Holistic Orcharding with Michael Phillips. color. 300 min. Chelsea Green, chelseagreen.com. 2013. ISBN 9781603583961. $49.95.
Fruit orchards can benefit larger farms and smaller homesteads alike. Phillips leads viewers through four seasons of orcharding, including grafting and pruning techniques, developing a beneficial ecosystem, and caring for trees in an organic and holistic way.
Homesteading for Beginners. 4 vols. color. Homesteading Prods. c/o Amazon.com. $99.95.
Follow the Harrison family as they present a variety of homesteading skills, including gardening, baking, and animal husbandry.
A Lot in Common. color. 76 min. Bullfrog Films, www.bullfrogfilms.com. 2003. ISBN 9781594584435. $275. Public performance.
Meet the neighbors in a Berkeley, CA, neighborhood as they convert a vacant lot into a community garden and outdoor art venue. Intergenerational families, a single mom, and a local psychic band together— and fight one another—but forge a community much stronger than it started.
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Heather Harrell. color. 50 min. Chelsea Green, www.chelseagreen.com. 2013. ISBN 9781603584807. $14.95.
New Mexico beekeeper Crowder shares his decades of experience in developing best practices for working with bees in top-bar hives. Les and Heather Harrell (Top-Bar Beekeeping, see above) discuss hive management, how to harvest and process honey and beeswax, and other techniques to provide noninvasive and holistic bee care. (LJ 1/14)
Truck Farm. color. 48 min. Bullfrog Films, www.bullfrogfilms.com. 2011. ISBN 9781594588211. $250. Public performance.
As filmmaker Ian Cheney plants a garden in the only available area—his grandfather’s old pickup—he surveys garden space, access to fresh produce, and urban farming. This amusing and insightful movie highlights urban farming in New York City.
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
Resources for sustainable food systems, including aquaculture, alternative livestock, and organic gardening. Suitable for urban farming and homesteading.
American Beekeeping Foundation
This national website is membership-oriented but contains lots of information on beginning beekeeping, national events and classes, and legislative actions to protect honeybees.
American Community Gardening Association
Covering two countries, this nonprofit assists with networking and information about the community gardening movement. A database of community gardens, information about seminars and education, and networking.
Mother Earth News
While noted for the Mother Earth News magazine, this robust site is reference-worthy. Articles and blog links include discussions and facts on homesteading, livestock, gardening, sustainability, and renewable energy.
Urban Agriculture & Improving Local, Sustainable Food Systems
Information on creating a sustainable urban agricultural project or community garden. Links to grants, documents on soil contamination cleanup, and garden design.
The Urban Farming Guys
A 501c3 nonprofit, these Urban Farming Guys also focus on aquaponics, alternative energy, and sustainable technologies. n