Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

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23 Comments

  1. I think the decrease in lawn care and rose pruning could be viewed as a good thing.Folk are getting less interested in having a show garden and hopefully more interested in a working garden since it looks as though the vegetable gardening interest is holding steady.

  2. Every time there is an uptick in the economy, a lot of people loosen their belts. I like to think that each time, though, some people who started doing things like baking their own bread, raising their own food, etc. out of necessity keep doing it because they enjoy it. (We started many of those things 10 or 15 years ago, now, and every year we seem to add to the list of things we do ourselves, even though we could easily afford to live the “typical” American life these days. There must be more people like us out there!) xo

  3. My experience has been just the opposite: of my 4 favorite MeetUp groups, urban chickens, beekeeping, gardening, and emergency preparedness, attendance and interest is all on the ascent. In addition, have you checked the price of seeds and vegetable pony packs of late? The prices are going through the roof, which I attribute to increased demand.

  4. I actually think it’s not a bad thing. I would attribute at least some of this to the rising competence level in the people doing those activities; the first year I homesteaded, I was constantly searching the internet for lessons on how to compost, how to grow things, how to make soap, etc. My brother-in-law joked that the internet was the grandmother I should have learned all these things from as a child, lol. Now that I have some level of skill doing all these things (and some print-outs from internet finds) I search no more. For instance, after you’ve grown heirloom tomatoes and saved your seeds a couple of years running, you usually do not go searching the internet for information on how to do it anymore, right?

  5. I have been wondering the same thing,where have all of the homesteaders gone?

    I do agree with Hotflash though,once you get the hang of something there is no need to look things up.
    I know my husband and I wonder “is this it? Have we reached as far as we can with homesteading?” We try to search out new skills to add and are just not finding much if anything.
    I keep up with your blog because it’s one of the few places where we find new ideas and a sense that we are not crazy or alone in our life style.

    Maybe it all just comes down to getting to the point where it is all about maintaining what you are doing.

    Good post

    • The way I figure it is that my great-grandmother probably didn’t consider canning (or growing peas or whatever) a skill to be collected, but rather just a thing to be done. Like I think about…I don’t know…mopping the kitchen. She did her chores and then focused on what she really liked to do–like maybe singing in the church choir.

      Because these skills have become so exotic through disuse they can seem collectable. But I think what happens is that they become part of your routine. Then they become almost invisible.

      (I feel like I should add as an aside that some never seem to get easy–especially if you don’t do them enough. If I don’t focus on soap more, for instance, I’ll never master it. And every year we’re on the blog complaining about garden failures!)

      But anyway, my point is that if you feel like your basic set of homesteading skills is growing complete, congratulations! And the next step perhaps is to think about other skills based in the head and the hand and heart that would augment this independence. Like learning a musical instrument, perhaps, or studying some form of medicine?

    • Thank you Mrs Homegrown for summing up some of my thoughts so well.I do feel like at this point things are just the way they are and like you said invisible.
      And actually I am going back to school to learn medicine in April.Nutritional Therapy here I come,I am going to put to use all of my homesteading food knowledge to work, using food as medicine!

  6. The search trends are interesting. I surely hope that we haven’t reached our peak…there’s still so much to learn and change about our daily interactions with our environment and our communities.

    I agree whole-heartedly about getting kids into the garden! There is such a disconnect between our food and where it comes from…and our children are so passionate about the environment (I work with kids, so I see it every day). It is essential that we raise the next generation of urban farmers :-)

  7. Let’s see… No on the mall I’m allergic to shopping.
    Yes on the chickens and goats are looking good.
    Yes on gardening and greenhouse.
    I still love my roses and I still prune them…carefully it a Zen thing for me.
    Lawn care. No lawns are evil.
    Bread Baking YES!!!!! And yogurt making I love making yogurt.
    Sorry but no to the Bicycle. We live at 7800 ft and down some seriously nasty dirt roads…..horses are better there as an alternate transportation. Barefoot horses ☺
    I say good let “them” head out to the mall maybe wee homesteads will become more affordable for folks like “us”. If the trend is away from the urban homestead then there should be some great deals to be had.

  8. For our homestead it has not decreased, although, due to circumstances, I did have to slow down in some areas. I can say, though, that I am very determined to be 100% more functional and self-sustaining this year as compared to last year!
    I have noticed many who have just given up~ mainly because homesteading is work. And~ many have simply gone a bit/ lot underground as the government has their grimy fingers poking at many of us homesteaders.
    Even myself, with not much stocked, have gotten comments (I wasn’t supposed to hear) about having a lot of food and needing to be watched! Crazy! Not even a 3 month supply on hand and they are concerned. In these instances it is best to not google anything homestead-wise~ better to buy a book at a yard sale and stay safe from dear old Big Brother!!! IMHO

    • I don’t know how much you can really tell from statistics like that. As many people have said, once you learn something you don’t need to keep searching for information, and hopefully that is the case here.

      The more I talk with others about our ventures, the more they are encouraged to try their hand at it. For many folks the idea of becoming a homesteader is overwhelming, so I encourage them to try just one thing at a time. Just making one simple change can make a huge difference, and it leads to other changes that eventually become the act of homesteading. Maybe people aren’t searching for vegetable gardening, but are searching for ‘growing tomatoes’ or ‘pruning basil.’ On my end I’ve only seen increase in interest and support of homesteading, and I hope that’s true everywhere!

  9. I have had to scale back, because we are in an apartment now. My garden and chickens are gone, but my desire to DIY isnt. Instead of giving up, im just changing my focus. I will be container gardening, using mass transit, making bread and yogurt, and my own jam. Im not out, im just getting started!

  10. I think the periods of irrational exuberance will tend to get shorter, and so the curves will smooth out.

    I have had the same worry. But I know a lot of people who have made lifestyle choices, not economic choices. I quit a high-paying job to do this, I didn’t do it because I could only afford vegetables if I grew them myself. The field is tilting a little.

  11. Excellent article, Mr. Homegrown, strangely reminded me of the whole cataphatic vs. apophatic approach: John Scot Erigena (9th century), “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.”

    Some really good ones, along with some original source texts are:

    “The Other Side of Nothingness”
    - Beverly J. Lanzetta

    “Mystical Languages of Unsaying”
    - Michael Sells

    “Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works”
    - trans. Colm Luibheid

    “Nicholas of Cusa”
    - trans. H. Lawrence Bond

    “Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, and Defense”
    - trans. Edmund Colledge & Bernard McGinn

    “Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher”
    - ed. Bernard McGinn

    “Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian”
    - Robert K.C. Forman

    “Mystical Theology”
    - Mark A. McIntosh

  12. I have 75% of my property left to develop. I’m just getting started! I’ll be watching Craigslist for all those getting rid of their old homesteading stuff.

  13. I imagine that you are familiar with Dona Brown’s book Back to the Land. Brown provides a fascinating history of self-sufficiency movements from the 19th century to the late 2000s. The movements do wax and wane, and each has its own unique attributes and historical influences, but some individuals always carry on. I lived the 1970s back-to-the-land life, and although my life now, in a small town, could be described more as urban homesteading, the sensibilities and skills that I gained 40 years ago are still with me, and influence just about everything I do.

  14. Homesteading isn’t over, because peak oil has barely begun. Booming economies require oil to run them, but supply wont’ be able to keep up as the economy continues to “improve”. Oil prices will then increase, knocking the economy back into stagnating or recession status. This will prompt even more people to grow veggies and keep chickens. It’ll be cyclical with peaks and valleys, but overall, a downward economic trend over the coming decades. As the bumper sticker says, “Panic now, and avoid the rush!”

  15. I’m in adult education so I have to be familiar with how people look for information. That being said, I would perhaps explore other search trends. People, when first starting out, usually search for something like “how do i” or “learning to” or “how to”. Those are all search terms indicative of newbies. If we look at those, many trends are on the rise.

    “how do I garden” is certainly trending upward: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20do%20i%20garden&cmpt=q

    “how do I can” is going up a lot: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20do%20i%20can&cmpt=q and so is “learning to can” http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=learning%20to%20can&cmpt=q

    “How to raise chickens” is going up http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20to%20raise%20chickens&cmpt=q

    Granted, “how to prune roses” is all over the place http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20to%20prune%20roses&cmpt=q

    I recently started knitting, and apparently so have many other people. “How do I knit” is trending up, but is certainly seasonal: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20do%20i%20knit&cmpt=q

    “How to keep bees” is also going up: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=how%20to%20keep%20bees&cmpt=q

    While I don’t think a large portion of the population is going to go full-out urban homestead, I think many people are going to incorporate some things into their lives for many reasons: they enjoy it, it’s better than staring into a computer as a hobby, to give gifts, to save money, because you can make things better than you can buy them, etc. All of this knowledge used to be hard to find. You had to have a grandparent or parent who know it, take an expensive class, or try to find a book. Now it’s a google search, and as people become more accustomed to learning online, these kind of skills will be able to be learned by most anybody.

  16. Thanks Heather! You make a good point about adding “how-to.” I may be in error to think that gardening is trending down.

  17. Owning ones property is an important aspect of homesteading. Right now hedgefunds and private developers are buying up homes and putting them up for rent. My neighbors were forced to get rid of the fruit trees they gad growing in pots on their rental property and potted plants on shared balcony. These developers give a lot of money to politicians and then cry that we have a “housing shortage” bexause there arent enough houses for sale. They then build lots of hideous track housing on precious undeveloped land to fill a need they created and a new bubble is born. the BlowPop economy has got to stop. I guess i am abit of a broken record on this issue. In the mean time local ordinances could be passed to encourage landlords to provide garden plots for tenents. Tenent farming in the new millenium? Theres a post!

  18. I read this after biking to the library to pick up a book on gardening, so no, I don’t think the trends are dying out. ;)

    (I also disagree that it’s critical to own to homestead. I rent and have veggie garden boxes, bees, and avoid the car whenever possible. I think the relationship with your community is more important than your own or rent status.)

  19. Perhaps the lull in searches for vegetable gardening has to do with millions of cold, snowy, dampened spirits residing in that 500 mile wide swath from Denver to the Atlantic Ocean. I want to shovel dirt. I’m stuck shoveling snow :o P

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