Homesteader of the Month: Meet Jenna
May’s Homesteader of the Month is Jenna! Jenna has been part of the Homesteaders of Michigan community since its early days and inspires others to reduce waste and grow their own food in order to preserve and protect our environment.
HOM: A lot of the folks in the Instagram community know you by your username, victory.homestead. Can you share what that means to you?
JENNA: In addition to worrying about what chemicals in food can be doing to our bodies, I’m afraid of what those chemicals are doing to our soil. When the world was at war we were called to grow food and raise livestock to relieve the pressure we were putting on our food system to allow food to go to troops and workers to produce weapons. Now I feel like we should be doing the same to relieve the pressure that our food system is putting on our planet. The pesticides many farmers are forced to use kill the biodiversity that make our soil alive. I’m hopeful that if we make biodiversity and our health a priority, the food system might change to meet that desire. Ideally, people would grow organic and what they couldn’t grow they would purchase organic. The demand for regeneratively grown food would increase and hopefully our system would rise to the challenge and organic growers would thrive and others would be supported to convert to more environmentally friendly practices.
HOM: Can you tell us a little bit about where you live and the property you’re on?
JENNA: I live 10-15 minutes outside the city limits of Detroit in the suburbs. The grassy space in my backyard is only about the size of our two car garage. Since we have two big and very energetic dogs, tearing up the backyard for garden space isn’t really an option. Instead, I’ve built some raised beds on the driveway, planted in buckets and bags and done my best to make our front yard a multi-purpose veggie and flower garden to keep the neighbors happy with the pretty, and secretly edible, aesthetic. The city has a lot of rules that limit what is allowed, but with some creativity we can work around some of that.
HOM: Did you grow up in a similar setting?
JENNA: I did grow up in more of a city setting but this is actually the smallest yard I’ve ever had. We found ourselves in a pinch when we needed to move and renting wasn’t an option. This house is perfect for us other than the small yard, so we made a sacrifice. My grandparents have about 40 acres and it was like heaven growing up. My siblings and I were pretty much set loose on that land to get dirty, find bugs and flowers and just be kids. In a perfect world that’s what I would have now.
HOM: Do you think it was your grandparents’ influence and memories from childhood that pushed you into homesteading?
JENNA: Honestly, by the time I was born they were mostly done tending the land and caring for the animals themselves. Every year my grandpa and his friends get together there and turn the soil with antique tractors. I’ve been riding, driving, and dropping the plow from the time I could walk! Otherwise they rent out the growable space and the rest is wooded or full of wild flowers. I loved it and if I ever bought a substantial amount of land, it would probably be a desire to get back to what I enjoyed so much about being there. That being said, I think the current state of our food system is what pushed me to homesteading. Our government allows more than I’m comfortable with in that production of our food and I just wanted a closer connection to what I’m eating.
HOM: Speaking of what you’re eating, what are you looking forward to growing in the garden this year?
JENNA: My garden this year is still a little bit of a mystery to me. I did some serious planning the fall of last year, but then we found out I was pregnant over the winter which meant I wasn’t feeling great at the time of seed starting. It’s not entirely too late, but I feel like I missed my window for a few things and some of the seeds I started didn’t do well with the neglect that they received after my months of “morning” sickness. My kale is doing well and I’m looking forward to finding new ways to enjoy that. Usually my tomatoes are one of my favorites, but those starts aren’t looking great and may need to be replaced.
HOM: What are your goals for this season?
JENNA: Frankly, my bar is low this year. I want to keep my beds full and harvest and preserve as much as possible before the baby is born in September. I have a dehydrator for the first time this year and I’ve grown garlic for the first time. I want to dehydrate and can things to hopefully eat over the winter. My biggest goal may be to make pickled radishes which I’ve done before, but I’m totally craving them now!
HOM: I think some people who live in the suburbs or on more “urban” lots can be overwhelmed or intimidated at the thought of growing their own food due to a lack of space. What advice do you have for those people?
JENNA: Use your fences if you have them. Grow upward. Five gallon buckets can be used to grow lots of things. Make sure you’re growing on the southside of garages or homes if possible. In tight spaces there tend to be a lot of shadows from other houses or trees and the south side will get the most sunny hours. Your city may not allow you to have a veggie garden in your front yard, but if you mix in flowers no one is going to fight you on it.
HOM: Earlier you touched a little bit on your ideal property. What’s your overall goal?
JENNA: Definitely to have some land and chickens. I don’t know that I can have the amount of land that my grandparents had because I don’t see us moving too far out of the area we currently live and land is pricey and in short supply in this part of the state. I’d be thrilled to have a few acres and fewer restrictions from the local municipalities.
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