Laura Mathews writes about and photographs what she knows: gardens. Her family believes she spends too much time studying plants, soil and sustainable agriculture. She’s a backyard farmer who aspires to help other gardeners be successful in their growing endeavors.
 

 
 

Harvesting Happiness
by Laura Matthews - posted 05/09/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Odom in his backyard homestead.

Placing seeds in sweet soil, backyard homesteaders grow food to grow a better life. Within the trend of increased interest in vegetable gardening, there are families who intensively garden, not as a hobby, but as a way of life. In a sense, they create mini-farms.

Bubbling up in about 2007, due in part to food contamination scares, the interest in changing your yard into a garden — known as backyard homesteading — is based on a desire for an overall improved quality of life. Homesteaders grow happier lives by providing food for their own tables. This gives them access to safe and healthy foods and the freedom of self-sufficiency. Important also is the satisfaction that they are gardening sustainably. Some homesteaders raise livestock and most learn food-preservation techniques.

Noticing the pristine quality of the rich soil around his home, homesteader Andrew Odom, author of the blog Tiny Revolution, had a life-changing thought about gardening.

“I looked at the land around me and thought, ‘Here I am driving 30 minutes to buy organic at Trader Joe’s. And I thought, ‘I can do that right here,’ and we just started,” said Odom.

“We started and we thought, this is true freedom,” says Odom, “We can grow and eat whatever we want.” He says that kind of freedom is addictive, “For us, our little taste of freedom happened in the dirt.” Odom raises food with the help of his wife, Crystal. They have a daughter, Tillie.


Andrew Odom moves hay with a garden fork. Homesteaders create mini-farms near their homes.
 

“Backyard farming is an act of revolution,” says Wilson Alvarez, of Lancaster, Pa., co-owner of Homegrown Edible Landscaping company. “We are actively saying, we aren’t going to eat exactly what you want us to eat. We aren’t going to grow exactly what you want us to grow. And we’re not going to grow it in the way our grandparents did. We’re going to grow in a way that’s best for the Earth.”

Homesteaders come from all classes and from a wide range of political leanings. Common, however, is a deep concern about the health of our soil. Most homesteaders garden organically and try to create as little waste as possible. Another shared trait is the desire to care for their health through food choices.

“We chose to pay more attention to the front end of our healthcare than the back end,” says Odom expressing the preference to pay the farmer for good food rather than pay the doctor to remedy illnesses from poor nutrition.

Several terms define the same culture. Backyard homesteader, urban homesteader, backyard farmer, and neo-homesteader are all used to describe the culture. Odom and Alvarez like the term neo-homesteading. Both families raise a significant portion of their food on their property. Alvarez raises enough to feed a family of four. They like neo-homesteading because they are very much part of the modern world.


Andrew Odom holds freshly harvested eggs.
 

“We’re neo-homesteaders because while we are rooted in sustainability but aren’t removed from society,” says Odom. “We have our cell phones, Internet, and we like to go to a good rock concert or a movie as much as the next guy. We’re not survivalists at all.

“Neo-homesteading is rooted academically in the understanding that growing our food is a freedom, in being able to source our own food, and in our ability to eat healthily and free of chemicals,” adds Odom.

While neo-homesteaders have no desire to separate from mainstream America, they do enjoy the self-sufficiency that growing food affords.

“When I look out at my garden, I feel very resilient, self reliant,” says Alvarez. “Especially since all my seeds are open-pollinated — regardless of what happens and regardless of outside pressures and influences, this garden is sustainable. I can preserve this garden without any outside input.”


Onions are one of the many vegetables Andrew and Crystal grow.
 

“I express freedom by planting a seed and watching it grow,” says Odom.

A garden creates independence while conversely creating a community.

“Tomatoes growing in a yard bring people together who’d never met before. If you have a patch of grass you’re never in, no one is ever there. But if you are in your garden, your garden will be a magnet for others. Community is an important product of a garden,” says Alvarez.

For homesteaders, many things come from the soil. A happy life is the most important harvest.

“To me, it’s an investment in the overall quality of our life. It’s not a hipster movement for us. It’s a lifestyle choice,” says Odom.

 

A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Eric Prine, Theron Humphrey, and Andrew Odom.

 

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