Urban Homesteading in the Dallas Suburbs

Chickens Nash Farm Grapevine

Many times I look around Dallas and Fort Worth and wonder how this place will fare with high oil prices. Much of the urban areas are not densely built or very walkable. Some of the suburban areas aren’t even served by transit. It was recently frequently noted in media coverage of the Super Bowl that Arlington, that huge area between Dallas and Fort Worth, has the unfortunate moniker of being the largest city in the United States without public transit. None, nada, nope. Buy a car or stay home.

In my view, in the future these areas will have the most difficulty adapting to both high oil prices and changing demographics. Rebuilding them will be cost-intensive. Demand for locally-produced food and goods will increase, and with that, one activity likely to rise is what’s being called urban homesteading, which includes micro-scale farming operations.

It turns out suburban homes are better suited for this because well, they have yards. A program run by Nash Farm in Grapevine, Texas–a community just above Arlington–recently offered a Saturday program on Urban Homesteading and other sustainable activities.

Walking onto Nash Farm, you get the feeling that things around here are not like they always were. It’s clear the impact of highway programs, inexpensive oil and government subsidies to single-family housing have had a huge impact on the land and environs. Grapevine itself boomed in the 1980s with the construction of DFW airport. As the pictures displayed in the 1869 farmhouse show, before that this home was surrounded by crop fields.

Today the expanse of land around the house only stretches about one square block. In fact its one of the few “square blocks” in the town, much of it being comprised of cul-de-sacs which make walking around difficult, but that’s another topic. Today Nash Farm contains two gardens, a barn, lawn, chicken coop and other features. It serves as a reminder of how things were, and now as a reminder of the sustainable activities those living on what was the Grapevine Prairie knew well, and a learning tool for how they can be applied today.

Connie Woodcock is a volunteer gardener at Nash Farm and maintains a small kitchen garden outside what would have been the kitchen portion of the home. She provided an overview of some of the things that grow well in the area, including peas, yellow squash, radishes, lettuce, beats, broccoli and Chinese green beans.

Before the program began I had the opportunity to speak with Rebeka Cook, Heritage Program Manager at the City of Grapevine, who says the program is designed to let people know about ways they can become self-sustaining. Cook says vegetable gardening can be done in any amount of space in any yard–even if you live in an apartment.

The program wasn’t only about growing veggies. There were also presentations on wind power, bee-keeping and milk goats. While it is permissible to keep bees and even raise chickens in Grapevine, it wasn’t clear whether keeping a goat was permissible. There does however seem to be an active farm with sheep in the city limits.

The program is making an impact. A presentation last year on bee keeping rubbed off on Grapevine City Councilman Chris Coy, who now proudly counts himself as a local bee farmer.

If you’re like me, replacing a jar of honey with a yard full of bees would take a bit more convincing. Cook says that’s one of the best things people can do, however, given the current threats facing the bee population.

The presentation on wind power didn’t seem so practical. It was presented by Shawn Riddle of Oncor Energy, who suggested a wind turbine wouldn’t be permitted anywhere it could damage a home should it topple. Thinking of my own home, that pretty much ruled out having one. There may be pressure for these rules to change with a rise in energy prices. It was helpful to learn the difference between a windmill and wind turbine, however. The turbine produces power, the wind mill does work of some sort. For example, there’s a windmill at Nash Farm used to draw water.

Certainly there are things we can all do to live in a more sustainable way. Supplementing our food with home-gown vegetables is one of the simplest things anyone can do. Those who live in a home with a yard of any size can replace an unsustainable activity, such as keeping a lawn that needs continual watering and cutting, with a sustainable activity like keeping a vegetable garden.

Looking ahead twenty years, I’m not sure all the yards in Grapevine and Arlington will have bees, goats and vegetables, however. If the world changes as much as some think it might, it will make more sense to clear large parcels the size of Nash Farm, which are used to produce more local food. Don’t be surprised if one day Nash farm is again used to produce food specifically for consumption, not simply as a teaching resource.

Text and photos by Eric Miller

 

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at ericmiller.me