Clintonville: Canning and Raising Chickens is Cool Again

Emily Thompson

Urban homesteading is a hot trend. But where does one learn to raise backyard chickens? A little shop in Clintonville paves the way.

Amid the many businesses that sprawl up High Street, City Folk's Farm Shop stands out with a bright orange awning and large logo boasting a chicken on the window. At first glance, the inside of the shop looks like a small-town garden supply store-standard gardening tools line the walls, birdhouses sit atop shelves and trashcans are off to the side. But a closer look reveals those trashcans are actually composting bins, and some of the products are even less recognizable. What exactly is a Nut Wizard, anyway? Customers frequent the store for this nut- and seed-gathering gadget, along with cheese-making kits, how-to books about fermenting, food dehydrators and the Farmer's Almanac.

The Clintonville shop is quiet one Tuesday evening in February as owner Shawn Fiegelist arranges a spread of snacks from a recent food share-local farmers and gardeners trade homegrown food at regular gatherings-for tonight's meeting. The first of many, this is a meeting of urban homesteaders-both experienced and aspiring-hoping to rely less on conventional sources of food and energy. For nine months, they will work as mentors and students in a program called Ground Swell.

Anchored by City Folk's, the Columbus urban homesteading community reflects a nationwide trend of city dwellers going DIY. Not everyone is on board with blurring the lines between country and city living, though. Urban chickens have been the subject of hot debate the past few years, with city officials caught between advocates and unhappy neighbors. But tensions haven't stifled the growing trend, and Fiegelist has been getting more frequent inquiries about how to get started with urban homesteading.

That's where Ground Swell comes in. Fiegelist and four couples will mentor 10 prospective homesteaders, who will attend classes and workshops to earn credit hours and, eventually, certification as "model homesteads." Many of the classes will also be open to the public and will cost $25 to $40 each with materials supplied.

For many of the mentors, urban homesteading is not only a lifestyle-it's a source of income. Ground Swell mentors Joseph Swain and Jen Kindrick grow mushrooms, microgreens and vegetables at their modest Clintonville farm and sell the produce at farmers markets and restaurants.

"Joseph and I thought about moving to a farm in the country; that was a dream," Kendrick says. "And the hardest thing for us, we talked about, would be leaving our community."

Adds Swain: "When you move out to the country, then you lose access to a lot of the things that the city has to offer. We're trying to stay in the city, where we have that accessibility but at the same time live that free lifestyle."

But not all homesteaders do it full time.

"I see people who have sort of the traditional jobs and work and have children who are going to the city schools," Fiegelist says. "So it's not like they want to become what we think of as 'real farmers' that live out in the country on acres and acres of land. They just want to control maybe a little bit of the food that they eat."

Mentor Annie Warmke says one of the biggest challenges of urban homesteading is overcoming stereotypes associated with the lifestyle. "When we talk about sustainable living and urban homesteading, people think of hippy-dippy types," she says. "But we're really not in that category."

The Takeaway

Urban homesteading encompasses several aspects, so the Ground Swell mentors created four program pillars. Here's what participants can expect to learn.

1. Sustainable living: Ranges from budgeting and ecofriendly grocery shopping to installing solar panels

2. Growing and preserving food: Farming land or simply growing herbs in a pot on a windowsill; gardening and canning

3. Keeping livestock: Raising chickens and rabbits, beekeeping and worm composting

4. Home keeping: Making household products like soap or laundry detergent