Urban Homesteading is a Popular Trend, but It’s also Ruffling Some Feathers

by Cole Mellino

Urban homesteading, in which households grow their own food and often raise animals for food in an urban environment, is becoming more and more popular as people decide to opt out of our globalized, industrialized agricultural system.

Concerned about the state of agriculture and the impact our farming methods are having on the environment, a growing number of people are doing it themselves — often in the urban setting. But growing large amounts of food and raising animals in an urban or suburban area can cause conflict too.

There is mounting pressure on cities to update old zoning laws that place restrictions on urban homesteading. In many cities, practices such as beekeeping, selling produce, and raising and slaughtering animals for food are outlawed. Those who want to change the laws argue that it’s a basic right to be able to produce one’s food. Those who are opposed raise concerns about animal welfare, cleanliness, safety, noise and general unsightliness.

Oakland has become the key battleground between these competing groups.

As of November 3, citizens of Oakland can sell the fruits and vegetables they grow at home. Oakland City Council just re-wrote its 46-year-old zoning code to allow Oaklanders to directly sell their produce to one another. City officials are in the process of creating rules on how big urban farms can get, when and where people can sell their produce, and whether residents can slaughter animals for food.

This last part, backyard slaughter, is highly controversial. In Oakland, a group called Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter (NoBS) has formed to speak out against the pending laws. NoBS fears that neophyte farmers will abuse or neglect the animals or improperly dispose of their waste. Many urban homesteaders, such as Kitty Sharkey, who raises chickens, ducks, dairy goats, rabbits, quail and bees, are quick to defend their practices. Sharkey takes extra care to clean up animal waste and to ensure that her birds are safe from predators at night. She received extensive training in proper slaughter techniques at a farm in Sonoma County before she ever killed a chicken on her own.

However, it’s not even clear under the city’s old code whether backyard slaughter is unlawful. Law enforcement only gets involved if a neighbor complains. So Sharkey and many other Oaklanders will continue to harvest their own food. But if they had the support of the city, especially in allowing direct sale of food from resident to resident, they’d be even happier and Oakland’s impact on the earth would be a little lighter.

Hopefully, more municipalities will adopt smart, progressive laws that allow for an increase in urban homesteading — allowing potential farmers to be good stewards of the earth and good neighbors.

— Cole Mellino is an intern with the energy team at the Center for American Progress

7 Responses to Urban Homesteading is a Popular Trend, but It’s also Ruffling Some Feathers

  1. Russell says:

    Instead of relying on our friend the quail ,which is the official bird of San Francisco, the nitrogen and phosphorus needs of urban organic farming in coastal cities like Oakland might be met by integration with ecologically balanced mariculture

    Combined rearing of cephalopods like Architeuthys and cetaceans like Physeter in San Francisco Bay could make calimari competitive with carbon intensive beef, striking a blow against fast food while attracting tourists to Oakland’s depressed waterfront with the prospect of supersized sushi and recreational whaling with Native American guides.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    It sounds like what is “ruffling some feathers” is not so much urban “homesteading” per se, but specifically raising and slaughtering animals in urban settings. And there is good reason for that. Raising and slaughtering animals presents serious issues of animal welfare and public health that simply do not arise with growing plant foods. Having a market garden full of vegetable plants next door is one thing — having a slaughterhouse next door is another.

  3. Basically, sanitation should be best considered before undergoing such project or endeavor.

  4. Gestur says:

    An interesting article. I’d highlight a couple of things if I might. First, there are considerable and obvious benefits in reducing carbon emissions—not to mention convenience—when you don’t get in your car to go buy vegetables and especially herbs. Then there are the benefits of fresher, better tasting veg and again especially herbs. And while you may not have them all year round right out your back door, you can preserve them in sauces for pasta, say, or simple puree’s of tomatoes, and use them throughout the non-growing year. But mostly, there’s just the elemental satisfaction of wandering out in the sunshine with a scissors and basket and gathering the ingredients for a delightful, nutritious evening meal, with wine glass in hand. It’s hard-wired in us, I believe, and so would many more if they gave it a try.

  5. Angie Mohr says:

    Backyard slaughter should follow a set of rules for sanitation and animal welfare just like any other endeavor. However, the ultimate answer as more and more people raise their own meat is to allow mobile slaughterhouses that can process onsite and have the facilities to handle it properly.

  6. Everett says:

    This is a great article, but we would appreciate it if you could link to our site since you’re using a photo of us. ;-) “Living a Simple Life” is the site. Thanks!

  7. J4zonian says:

    Just yesterday the town of El Cerrito, north of Oakland and Berkeley, approved a new more liberal ordinance for back yard livestock. Specific regulations about slaughter, fees, etc. will follow.