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Urban Homesteading: Sustainable living in the city

Posted 9/18/2009

A concrete walkway is broken up and reassembled as a flagstone path.

A concrete walkway is broken up and reassembled as
a flagstone path. It’s curved away from the house to
make way for a rain garden watered by roof runoff.
Photo by: Leslie Allen

Sustainable living in the city is easier than you might think.

Leslie Allen, commercial horticulture program coordinator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, has several tips you can use to combine the satisfaction of sustainability with the comfort of city life.

The National Network for Sustainable Living Education defines sustainable living as: living a life that is deeply satisfying, fulfilling and appealing because it is socially, environmentally and economically responsible.

Try using some of Allen’s tips around your home to become an "urban homesteader," then sit back and enjoy the social, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable living.

  • Plant fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens — these simple additions will bring the same food to your table at a fraction of the cost.
  • Chickens are easier to maintain than dogs and are legal in Elko, Washoe County and Reno (not Sparks). They stay in small flocks and will enjoy a small, simple coop design. Chickens raised from chicks are quite sociable and are available at feed stores beginning in March.
  • Consider apiculture (beekeeping) as a potential source for natural sweetener — not to mention a fascinating hobby.
  • Harvest water. Gather rainwater from your gutter’s downspout with a barrel to irrigate your indoor and outdoor plants. About two gallons are wasted waiting for your shower to warm up. Collect cold shower water in a bucket, and watch your water bill drop.
  • If your landscape is paved, consider breaking it up into chunks and filling the spaces with gravel. This helps collect rain and runoff water and creates a nice urbanite, paving stone look.
  • The desert sun is a useful tool. Clotheslines dry clothes quickly, and passive solar devices like solar ovens and solar food dehydrators produce food while cutting energy costs.
  • Deciduous trees placed on the south and west side of a home can cut cooling bills considerably.
  • Lawn maintenance brings opportunities for sustainable choices. An hour on a standard gas mower produces as much pollution as 11 automobiles. A push-reel mower cuts grass better, and the blades remain on the lawn — providing essential nitrogen compounds as they break down.

In cities all over the country, "urban homesteaders" are taking strides to live sustainably. The sustainable lifestyle starts with an understanding of our connection to the environment.

"When we think of environmental impact, we often think of some place far away, as if the environment isn’t the place where we live," Allen said. "But the environment is right outside our door, and how we design and tend our landscapes does have an impact."

Local Organizations

The Northern Nevada Poultry Fanciers Association meets monthly and can give you excellent advice on keeping city chickens.

The Northern Nevada Apiculture Society meets monthly and can help you start your own honey bee operation.

Permaculture Northern Nevada meets at 6 p.m. to discuss urban homesteading the first Wednesday of every month at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Reno.

Reading Resources

"Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock" by Judy Pangman

"Chickens In Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide" by Rick Luttmann and Gail Luttmann

"Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer" by Novella Carpenter

"The Backyard Homestead" edited by Carleen Madigan

"The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

"Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide" by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

Internet Resources

Backyard chickens - a recourse for raising chickens in limited space

Backyard beekeeping - a guide to apiculture

Storey Country Wisdom Bulletins - country living skills that can be applied in the city

Sustainable Living Project - an Oregon State University Extension Program

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