On paper, Heidi Kass’s Rochester home and property look like any other city lot. Her single-family house sits on a plot of land of about 15,300 total square feet between two other residential plots on the city’s Northeast side.
A glimpse of it tells a different story. Almost every available space is occupied by a garden bed or something that supports her gardens or produces food.
Even a steep hill on the property’s east side has tiers of raised garden beds. At the foot of the hill is a peach tree.
“My pride and joy,” she said.
The backyard is fenced in with a patio and a chicken coop that houses three hens. Along the shaded portion of the north side of her home is a tarp covering an array of logs she uses to grow shiitake mushrooms. Her front yard is a pollinator garden.
A rain barrel collects water from the roof of her garden shed.
“Just that small roof provides a surprising amount of water,” she said.
Kass’s patio and a drop-off between her land and her neighbor to her west are about the only spots that aren’t gardens of some kind. She has her eyes on them as well. A retaining wall could turn the berm into more growing space, and the patio could be replaced with something more permeable.
“There’s still a lot of room to do more here,” she said.
It’s a familiar refrain for urban homesteaders — make use of every square foot of space.
For many urban homesteaders, putting every square foot of space to best use becomes the ultimate — and unattainable — goal.
“There’s always something new to learn, or to improve,” Kass said. “The more you learn, the more you want to do — at least that’s the case for me.”
Kass points out even the state of Minnesota is encouraging people to forego keeping only traditional grass lawns, with the state Board of Water & Soil Resources Lawns to Legumes program.
“The state itself is saying we want you to set aside some space for wildlife,” she said.
To learn more about urban homesteading, Kass looked around online and found a Southeast Minnesota-based meetup group that had gone inactive. She revived the group and has since watched it grow to more than 170 members. You can learn more about the group, Backyard Bounty Urban Homesteaders, at meetup.com.
Kass said she believes that’s in part due to the urban homesteading movement gaining momentum.
“Personally, I think more and more people have become aware of the weaknesses of our current food system,” she said.
In addition to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and unsustainable transportation and farming practices, people saw shortages of food due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s becoming more clear we need to build community self-reliance and even personal self-reliance.”
John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.