In my dreams, I live in a rustic cabin far from the madding crowd. I have several acres of forested land, as well as a few acres which have been tilled for my numerous gardens. There's a greenhouse and a pond, a pole barn with a couple of sweet little Nubian goats, a coop of chickens who happily lay me eggs each day, an orchard full of fruit trees, and a pond where my children can fish. In my dreams, I make everything from scratch, I live off the grid, and life is good.
In reality, life is still good, but I live on a half-acre lot in the suburbs. I live in a split-level house just a block and a half from a major road, and instead of the clucking of my hens I wake each morning to school buses and fire trucks rumbling down the street. I do have a garden, but it's not the endless rows of vegetables and herbs that I imagine on my fantasy homestead. Instead, it's a strip a few feet wide running along my fence. I don't have an orchard, but I've got raspberry bushes clustered around my storage shed.
I've learned that for me, homesteading isn't about how much land I have. It's about living in a way that's responsible and self-sustaining. It's about making do with less, respecting the way food comes to my table, and being a steward of the land on which I live -- even if it's just a fenced-in half acre.
I plant a garden every year, and while it's not as big as I'd like it to someday be, ir provides my family with a significant amount of food each year. There's a row of tomatoes along the south wall of the sunroom which will give me endless bounty in the fall -- sweet cherry tomatoes to eat as a snack, rich meaty Romas to use in sauces and canning, and bold Cherokee Purples that I can slice and put on a sandwich or burger. Beneath the tomatoes, onions grow as their companions. Come September or October, I'll dig them out, let them dry, and hang them in fat braids. Some will end up in my spaghetti sauce.
Along the west fence, there are cabbages growing. A few have been nibbled by a rabbit I've named Mr. Hopperton, but he's been courteous enough to leave the centers alone so far. When they're plump and ready to pick, some will be eaten as coleslaw, others will end up curing as sauerkraut in a giant stone crock I found in my father in law's basement. There are beans and peas climbing up a trellis. Those will be eaten fresh, although some will be blanched and frozen so that I can eat home-grown beans in January and February. The tomatillos are blooming already, and I'll turn them into salsa. The celery is leafy and full already, and my kale has spread into rich green leafy fronds. My strawberries are in their second year, and I'm getting round, rich fruit.
My kitchen herbs grow in a circle around my gazing ball. Basil, sage, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme will all end up in my kitchen. The basil in particular will make several pints of pesto -- some will get frozen in ice cube trays for later use. Lavender, pennyroyal and mint grow in pots so they don't take over, and I'll add those to my potpourri in the fall.
I've got pumpkins galore vining under a tree, and tender delicata squash coming up behind the strawberry patch. When it rains, the downspout shoots water directly into my 50-gallon rain barrel that I built last summer. Kitchen scraps go into the compost bin that my husband and son made me last year for Mother's Day. This harvest season, despite the fact that I don't live on a twenty-acre hobby farm, I'll be counting my blessings, as I collect the abundance of nature's gifts from my garden.
I don't live in the country yet. But I will some day, and the skills I'm learning as a suburban homesteader are going to help me when I get there. So it's only a half-acre in the 'burbs. It's mine, and for now at least, it's home. That makes it worth enjoying.