Recently, you may have been hearing the term smallholding more often. Amid the popularity of television shows like Escape to the Country and the rising number of people seeking rural properties in response to the COVID-19 lockdown, a larger part of the population is looking to have their very own sustainable patch of land to live on.
A smallholding is, essentially, a small farm, one that produces enough to support those that live on the land. It’s a term that is often used alongside others, such as organic, permaculture, and sustainability. While there remains some ambiguity to the term smallholding, if you have a piece of land by your home that is smaller than a farm but enough to grow food, then it’s a reasonable term to use.
The reality of moving to your own smallholding out in the British countryside, however, is tricky. It can be a large leap in responsibility when moving from a residential home. There are many lessons to learn and tools to collect before living off a smallholding becomes a sufficient and satisfying reality. Those that rush into the romanticism of living off the land usually end up regretting it, finding themselves overwhelmed and underproducing.
What some urban and suburban residents are doing instead, is beginning to look at their garden. Motivated by hobbies spawned during the lockdown, such as baking, preserving, and curing, there has been a sharp rise in the popularity of garden spaces being transformed from aesthetic patches and into makeshift smallholdings.
Your residential garden is an excellent way to develop and trial a budding smallholding enthusiasm. Plots of soil can be used for a variety of fruit and vegetables, which can be supported with modest grow boxes to help the crops year-round. They can also become spaces for sheds and log cabins to be turned into still-rooms and pantries. A key component of sustainability is that your family is supported entirely from the land and, with an array of jams, pickles, and preserves to keep you going throughout the colder seasons, you will need the appropriate storage!
A large part of smallholding projects is that they may also support the community and even earn a profit. Websites like NextDoor, as well as local Facebook groups, are now populated with backyard growers exchanging their surplus products with each other. This means that an excessive amount of tomatoes from your garden could easily go to a neighbour, who might give you some eggs or bread in exchange.
Many residential smallholders also attend local markets, such as farmers markets, where they are able to sell their produce and products, some of which don’t directly come from the soil. Urban beekeeping is a well-established hobby and can be done from the garden, allowing homeowners to create delicious honey for their cupboards and the local community.
So, while gardens have typically been seen as luxuries, places for relaxation, BBQs, and family activities, it is their utility that is now being prioritised. They offer a great vehicle for people who are looking to endeavour into a more sustainable and green-fingered life without the commitment of purchasing an established smallholding further out of the city.