Urban homesteading and farming can sometimes feel like a lonely gig. After all, the lifestyle choices you make are at best counter-culture and at worst … well, just plain weird. How do you explain to your friends that instead of going downtown tonight for dinner and a show, you will be staying home to keep an eye on your pregnant goat who is nearing delivery? Part of building a sustainable lifestyle is finding friends who can encourage you on your new path and relate to what you are experiencing. Even better, getting together a group of like-minded folks can help you learn new skills, build a barter network and even work together on certain homestead projects.
As you probably already now, building a community doesn’t happen overnight. So how can you find and nurture the right relationships with the right people? Starting an urban homestead meet-up group can put you on a new path to creating a vibrant group of seed-swapping, chicken-raising, cheese-making strangers just like you. After all, just because you want to be self-reliant doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Here are some steps you can take for starting a group of your own.
1. Make a Tentative Plan
If you want to start a homesteading group, you can get caught up spending a lot of time thinking and planning. While pre-planning is helpful, it can be just as well to get the ball rolling. Pick a date, such as the third Thursday of the month, and move forward with planning your first meeting. You won’t ever find a date that works for everyone, so just be consistent and avoid a lot of rescheduling. Don’t overanalyze it. The group will naturally grow and evolve with time, so there is really no better time to start than now.
2. Find a Meeting Location
While meeting at home or on the farm might work for friends, a neutral location is better and safer when strangers are involved, especially in the early stages of the group. Newcomers are more likely to visit a public space than someone’s private home. Avoid loud locations, such as busy restaurants, or locations that cost a lot of money to rent. Try the community room at your local library or another public building.
3. Find Your People
Try websites like Meetup and Earthineer to find people near you who share your interests in homesteading. While listing your group in online directories and forums is helpful, don’t forget to engage in offline recruiting, as well. Word of mouth through your friends and social media will likely generate the most interest in the beginning. Also, place fliers in places where like-minded folks will congregate, such as food cooperatives, farm supply stores and small animal auctions.
4. Develop Goals
At your first meeting, gauge the interest level of the group to decide what direction to go. Are people looking to learn about living a more sustainable life, or are these established urban homesteaders simply looking to connect with others? What do attendees want from the group? Use their input to make a schedule for the next few months (or maybe even the entire year). Having scheduled events and topics makes it easier to invites newcomers.
5. Plan Activities
There are many possible activities to engage your homesteading group:
- Book and Magazine Swap: Bring old homesteading books or your favorite issues of homesteading magazines, such as Urban Farm, to trade with other members of the group. This can even be a part of each month’s meeting, as members bring items to give away.
- Seed Swap: Seed swaps work great in the spring and fall and can be a great way, if well-publicized, to open the group to the community and gain new members.
- Farm Tours: Arrange tours of area farms, both urban and rural, to provide inspiration and education to the group’s members.
- Skill Workshops: Is one of your members skilled at a certain homesteading task—cheese-making, hoof-trimming or something else? Plan workshops that group members and other community members can attend. These can be a part of your regular monthly meeting or happen at other times, depending on the time investment involved. One of the many benefits of a homestead group is to be able to learn skills from the lost art of homesteading directly from others actually doing them.
6. Make a Virtual Group, Too
Once you have had your first in-person meeting or two, it will be helpful to create a virtual group where members can stay in touch. Facebook groups, Yahoo groups or even an old-fashioned email list can help members connect and share between meetings. Some ideas for a virtual group include listing farm items for sale, putting out requests for farm help and sharing helpful events that are happening nearby.
7. Stick With It
Like anything valuable, starting a meet-up group of urban homesteaders can be a slow process. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a lot of attendees in the beginning. Your group will only continue to grow and adding even just a handful of new homesteaders to your life will be very rewarding!
About the Author: Jamie Aramini is a freelance writer and founder of Sustainable Kentucky, a website devoted to the green movement in the Bluegrass state. She is an avid gardener, mother of two and manager of her local farmers’ market.