When the back 40 is the back yard.

The urban homesteading movement is a growth enterprise (sorry) in the United States. My current column at MSN Money shows why.

A chicken in every condo?” details some of the ways that let people with small urban properties — or those who don’t own property — produce food.

Depending on time, square footage, patience and local covenants, you can take this as far as you want, from a few raised beds and a couple of chickens for eggs, to feeding yourself almost exclusively from your city-based “homestead.”

Two years ago someone in the apartment house next door was raising chickens and for a time at least one rooster. After a few early wake-up calls the rooster disappeared, thank heavens.

One morning I went out to get my paper and saw that someone had blocked the front door open again — and that a chicken was just stepping foot (claw?) over the threshold. I started yelling and flapping the newspaper.

The chicken screamed, turned and ran. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I chased it the length of the property, shouting, “Go home! Go back to your own yard! I am not cleaning up chicken poop in the hallway!”

That said, I have tasted fresh eggs and they are vastly superior to the supermarket version. Some day I may have chickens of my own. I’ve already named them: Regular and Extra-Crispy.

Yep, when they stop laying they will become dinner. Although they’ll probably be stewed, not fried, because the older they get the tougher they become. (Hey, so do I!)

Readers: Do you have your own farm in the city? Would you consider trying?


In other news, my writing was accepted for a couple of blog carnivals:

This isn’t your grandparents’ recession” is in the Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by Live Real, Now.

Five ways to outwit the ATM,” from my other day job over at Get Rich Slowly, was chosen for the Festival of Frugality at The Military Wallet.

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  1. Yes. I have space for a pretty substantial food garden and chickens in my city backyard. I kept chickens for three years, but I took a break last winter. I’m going to rebuild my coop/run and get more chickens this year. I not only miss the eggs, I miss the other services they provided: cleaning up kitchen scraps and providing fertilizer for the garden.

  2. I have a townhouse with a very small patch of yard but I do make the most of it. I plant tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers in the back and herbs in the front. I wish I had just a LITTLE more space to grow more spreading items, but I don’t see myself raising animals. My grandparents had a farm when I was growing up and I put in my fair share of farm chores. Not my idea of fun.

  3. Funny thing is, me and the hubby were just discussing raising a few chickens in our small yard to supplement our small garden, so I really appreciated your article. I really dont care for eggs, but the other 3 in the house do. And I am one of those ones that cant see myself eating a chicken we raised. The whole process of getting it from the backyard to the table is not something I could imagine and then sit down to eat but possibly if you lie to me, telling me later or not at all, and tempt me with some hot sauce and I might consider trying it LOL! I am not sure if we will spring for the chickens this year or if it will remain a thought but we are going to get our garden started this weekend, hoping it will be just a little bigger than each year before. I really want to learn how to can and preserve some of our goodies so that is on my to do list.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Melissa: Deciding whether to keep the chickens as pets after they’ve quit laying is another decision that urban homesteaders need to face. A couple of the people I interviewed said they’d do that. It’s definitely an option.
      Just make sure to keep an eye on the girls if they’re out of the pen — they’d love to head into your garden and peck open the tomatoes.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  4. Suzanne

    I am in process of researching the possibility. I have plenty of land but the housing options are perplexing to me. I would like one of those mobile houses so I can pull it around and not destroy one area of my grass (and hopefully keep the smell down). I am waiting for the right deal on one then will take the leap~ not only fresh eggs (which I already buy from a fella at work with a farm) but the compost supply for the veggie garden!

  5. SherryH

    I don’t think we’re allowed to keep chickens (rented land), and I’m not 100% I know enough to do it, but after years of very limited success at growing vegetables in containers, this year I’m trying a small straw-bale garden. (In the past, we’ve supported a local farm stand, and we’ll be headed there again in the next few weeks, as their strawberries are in…)

    Tomatoes and lettuce are doing well, as are the zucchini. Cucumbers are doing okay, except for the one something sat on and broke. (A cat, we think.) Likewise eggplants – one thrived, one got smushed. I’ve done well in the past with bell peppers in pots, but this year I could not get them to sprout for love or money, indoors or directly in the bales. (Or maybe they sprouted in the bales and birds ate them?) I picked up two pepper plants at the hardware store yesterday. They’ll be the only veggies this year I didn’t start from seeds, but maybe they’re big enough to survive!

    My next goal is herbs in pots – thyme and basil for sure, and maybe some marjoram and oregano. Oh, and restarting the cat grass in small pots – I can never get it to thrive for the long haul.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to write a book, here…

  6. Agatha

    My mother had chickens in her backyard. They had their own fenced off area and coop. Note I did not say she raised them. At least one was a “rescue” hen who had escaped from a Tyson truck on it’s way to the slaughter house. My brother picked her up and my mother “adopted” her. All they were essentially were pets who laid eggs, came when their name was called, and followed my mother around the yard like they were puppies, not chickens.

  7. We would LOVE to have backyard chickens but they violate the by-laws of our city.

  8. Stacy

    I just went on a “chicken coop tour” around our city, and there are surprisingly many of them, even right downtown–and I live in a major city. I did expand my garden this year, and put in some fruit bushes and rhubarb. My husband doesn’t want chickens because he’s afraid they’ll ruin his yard, but when I look around our yard all I see is wasted space where I could be growing something! It’s kind of cool to decide you want a salad for dinner, then go outside to pick it.

  9. An article in our Homeowner’s Association newsletter called for opinions and comments on allowing people to have up to three chickens. I am all for it!

  10. Laura P.

    I have a garden going in this summer. Right now I have several veggies and herbs starting in my kitchen. I’m really looking forward to getting them out of the kitchen and into raised beds after the frost danger is gone. I considered it a “must do” this summer, since groceries are just going to continue to go up. Just doing tomatoes and peppers would save a bunch, but I went for several other veggies too.

  11. Katie Schulz

    My cousin has two chickens, one of whom is named Turkey. Her daughter was 2 when she named it.

  12. I remember raising chicks from babies to the butchering them with my grandma one summer.

    That being said I don’t want people having chickens next to me. They’re noisy! I’m all for it if you have ample land away from neighbors.

  13. I had chickens when I was a kid. They were beautiful Japanese silkies with fluffy feathers covering their feet. They laid small blue and green eggs. They sat on my shoulder or on top of my head while I cleaned the coop. They all had names, they were family. I tend to get attached so of course older birds would stay at home in their retirement. This doesn’t really count with your urban chicken question because we had five acres at the time, but I loved having chickens, and would consider doing so again in the future.

  14. Carol the Long Winded

    Kay Lynnn – do you prefer dogs barking all night? We have chickens and they are frankly much quieter than a dog PLUS they go to bed at night. They have the run of most of the back yard, and then we have a garden fenced off. Asparagus, arugula, tomatoes, rhubarb and other stuff – its my husband’s deal. Our neighbors next door are planting tomatoes in their front yard. Yay! Oh, and in our front yard we have rosemary.
    We’ve had chickens for at least 3 years now, and I can’t imagine not having them. Oh, they are against our city’s bylaws too but as long as no one complains…:)

  15. dwhite2762

    I have one top bar bee hive, several raised garden beds, fruit trees and now 6 lively chickens. It’s been so fun but the first eggs are going to be really expensive since we build such a fancy coop and run for them. They are such fun. We won’t be eating them and we expect to support them in old age but the manure is going to be great for my yard. I live downtown. I agree that my chickens are much more quiet than my dog and probably nicer smelling! I say go for it. It’s been such a fun hobby as well. The BEES are fantastic!

  16. Hi Donna, I enjoyed your post on GRS today – I love me some oatmeal. But I’ve got chickens, so I end up eating a lot of eggs =] no complaints! My three hens are as sweet as can be, and make very little noise, certainly not compared to my neighbor’s car alarm going off at all times, for example. The conventional wisdom that chickens are noisy and smelly is really unfortunate – not at all true. I still don’t know what I’m going to do when they get past their laying prime, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I do have a 600 sq ft garden so their manure will always be welcome. =]

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ali: Free fertilizer! Well, not really free, since you’re paying for the feed. But people buy kibble and litter for their other animal friends and don’t get compost out of the deal. I’m told chickens are fun to watch, and that ducks are even more fun.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

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