It takes no effort to find many existing uses dating well before this century, so the question becomes how the term is used. Historically, raising crops was an expected usage of a homestead.

Urban v. rural is a matter of categorizing location. Using a homestead of either kind for food production is a long-standing tradition. The idea that “urban homestead” is a non-generic term for raising crops within an urban border is absurd.

I haven’t had much spare time to collect materials on the phrase “urban homestead.” This is a snapshot of my notes. Many of the sources are tertiary at best. Unless otherwise noted, my focus is on the United States. Citation styles are somewhat random, and I’m somewhat displeased with ikiwiki’s footnote handling.

Pre-HUD survey of usage


“The home and appurtenant land and buildings owned by the head of a family, and occupied by him and his family.” – Collaborative International Dictionary of English1

Essentially, a homestead is a home. Shockingly enough, there are both rural homesteads, those outside city-like borders, and urban homesteads, those inside city-like borders. Homestead laws exist to protect property owners from forced sales to satisfy creditors. The totals and specifics vary from state to state. The distiction between urban homesteads and rural homesteads is related only to their location and not use other than being a home.

At some point in history, growing food on a homestead simply was assumed regardless of its location. The Law of Homestead and Exemptions2 from 1875 discusses urban and rural homesteads but makes no distinctions between them for farming. A Treatise on Homestead and Exemption Laws from 1878 outlines differences between what is and us not a homestead in different urban and rural jurisdictions entirely separately from how to dispense crops grown on either type with respect to liens. In Waggener, et al. v. Haskell, et al., 1896, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals considers how to treat crops on a homestead when the homestead becomes urban because of urban border growth.3

The New Deal set up “subsistance homesteads”4 to relocate unemployed urban workers5 and try to jump-start rural-urban industry. Again a “homestead” is assumed to include food production, and “urban” simply is a location. Apparently, much more history is given in Hughes & Bleakly’s Urban homesteading,6 but out library does not have this book. A critical review focuses on the HUD-style urban homesteading that began in the 1970s.

At least one city study states that homestead traditionally implied some cash crop production.7 In Schneider’s usage, urban homesteads are centers of consumption rather than production. This is rather the opposite of other claimed uses but emphasizes the relationship between urban homesteads and farming in some direction.

The HUD usage

The US Housing and Urban Development has an explicit “Urban Homestead” program established in 1974.8 This program attempts to reduce urban blight by offering reduced prices and loans to low- and moderate-income families if they repair a property. This is modeled on the 1862 Homestead Act that opened up vast Western public domains to settlers and required farming the claimed rural properties.

“Similarly, urban homesteading programs, which are quite self-consciously modeled after the homesteading programs for nineteenth-century farmers, encourage low and moderate income people to fix up old housing and impose resale restrictions to ensure that the rehabilitated building continues to provide housing for families with low and moderate incomes.” — “Inalienability and The Theory of Property Rights” (1985)9

The Homestead Act was effectively finished in the continental US when President Theodore Roosevelt turned public domain lands into national parks and officially ended in 1976 (except for Alaska, 1986).

Modern, HUD-style urban homesteading still is used in some cities. Of note is the UHAB in NYC. One write-up following the founding of the HUD program pays specific homage to raising crops on an urban homestead in NYC.

“On the Lower East Side of New York, they raised a first crop of peanuts and sent some to the White House in the Carter administration as a public relations gesture.” — Dolores Hayden, Redesigning the American dream: the future of housing, work, and family life10 In the context of urban redevelopment, the phrase urban homestead was used in popular media.11

After the HUD Urban Homesteading program began

The HUD’s emphasis on repair rather than raising crops did not separate the traditional usage from the term “urban homestead.”

In 1975, Booklegger magazine mentions “food coops”, “urban homesteading”, and “victory gardens” as “facets of urban survival”.12 “Urban/Rural Homesteads” are mentioned in other publications during the 1970s.13 Use of variants like “backyard homestead” in farming and gardening resources implies that farming is a natural use of a homestead regardless of other adjectives.14

Common linkage of homesteads to food production is not limited to the US

A United Nations report15 doesn’t use the phrase “urban homestead,” but makes clear the use of urban properties to produce food, and refers to those properties as homesteads. A Canadian report on urban food systems16 considers “homestead cultivation” an important aspect of “self-reliant urban food systems.”

Existing use in commerce within the US

These do not count for trademarks. Trademarks are granted on a first-registered basis regardless of any sense.

  1. The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48, retrieved from 20 February, 2011. ↩

  2. Symth, John H. (1875). The Law of Homestead and Exemptions. S. Whitney & co. ↩

  3. Waggener, et al. v. Haskell, et al. Court of Civil Appeals, Texas, 1896. ↩

  4. Schimizzi, Sandra Wolk, Wolk, Valeria Sofranko, & Carey, Michael (2010). Norvelt: A New Deal Subsistence Homestead Arcadia Publishing. ↩

  5. Jacob, Jeffrey (1997). New pioneers: the back-to-the-land movement and the search for a sustainable future. Penn State Press. ↩

  6. Hughes, James W., & Bleakly, Kenneth D. (1975). Urban Homesteading. Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University ↩

  7. Schneider, Kenneth R. (2003). On the Nature of Cities: Toward Enduring and Creative Human Environments. ↩

  8., retrieved 19 February, 2011 ↩

  9. Rose-Ackerman, Susan, “Inalienability and The Theory of Property Rights” (1985). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 580. ↩

  10. Hayden, Dolores (2002). Redesigning the American Dream: the Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life. W. W. Norton & Company. ↩

  11. Ebony, Jan 1974, p108 ↩

  12. Booklegger magazine, Volume 2, Issues 7-12, 1975, Booklegger Press. ↩

  13. Rodale, Jerome Irving (ed.) Organic gardening and farming. Volume 23, Issues 1-6, 1976. Rodale Press. ↩

  14. Jeavons, John, Griffin, J. Mogador, & Leler, Robin (1983). The Backyard Homestead, Mini-farm, and Garden Log Book. Ten Speed Press. ↩

  15. Van Veenhuizen, R., Danso, G. (2007). Profitability and sustainability of urban and periurban agriculture. UN report. ↩

  16. Koc̦, Mustafa (1999). For hunger-proof cities: sustainable urban food systems. International Development Research Centre. ↩

Comments on this page are closed.