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Suburban Roots: How to Homestead in the City

No grass grows at Michelle Kwek’s house. Instead, the Folsom homeowner has turned her residential lot into a mini farm. Prettily arranged plantings of vegetables, fruit trees, funky little kiwis, berries, herbs, a rogue patch of dandelions for soil enrichment—plus fresh eggs from a couple of chickens—allow her to harvest groceries at her back door. She doesn’t keep bees, but she trades eggs for honey from a neighbor who does, and she fills a shallow basin with water and marbles for the bees who stop by.

Michelle Kwek


Kwek, who pulled her grass more than a decade ago, is at the forefront of a back-to-the-land trend: homesteading small urban spaces. Millions of people are growing a surprising amount of food in their modest-size yards. In fact, 16 million new families took up gardening in the U.S. last year, according to Garden Media Group. Locally, Folsom Code Enforcement Supervisor Pete Piccardo is seeing an uptick in the number of residents who keep chickens, and students at the Folsom school Kwek’s daughters attend planted and tend a garden. Kevin Marini, Master Gardener program manager for Placer and Nevada Counties, has "absolutely seen an enormous increase in food amazing demand for seeds...and a huge increase in backyard chickens." Not only chickens but bees, rabbits, ducks, and quails. "Why do we have all this green grass," Marini poses, "when we can be growing zucchini, tomatoes, and basil?"

Judging by the statistics, more and more homeowners are wondering that, too. If you’re considering backyard homesteading, here is some food for thought:

Backyard Garden


With the growing popularity of urban farming, cities and counties are relaxing their standards for raising animals on small lots, but you should know your local ordinances before you begin. Be aware that your homeowner association may impose further restrictions. Roosters, geese, turkeys, peacocks, and, of course, livestock, cannot be kept on most residential property. Check with your animal control or code enforcement officer for exact requirements, but here are a few guidelines:

•    Placer County: Six chickens are permitted; no beehives are currently allowed.
•    Roseville: You can keep a total of 10 fowl—chickens, ducks, pigeons—and 10 rabbits (in enclosures not less than 20 feet from a property line); and two beehives 500 feet from any structures.
•    Sacramento County: Poultry cannot be kept on lots smaller than 10,000 square feet; two beehives are allowed on small lots.
•    Folsom: Folsom restricts domestic chickens to two, with coops 20 feet from the property line; no restrictions on beehives.
•    El Dorado County: Poultry, fowl, and rabbits may be kept in suitable enclosures; beehives must be 100 feet from any property boundary unless the adjacent resident agrees they can be closer.

Fresh tomatoes


If you plan to sell your farm products, you generally must get a business license and apply for a permit—even if you’re setting up at a farmers’ market or a stand in front of your house. Kwek doesn’t sell her produce, but she does offer some for free at a sidewalk stand.

Raising suburban chickens


Two excellent resources to help you start or thrive as a backyard farmer are the University of California Cooperative Extension’s (UCCE) Master Gardener Program ( and Soil Born Farms ( in Rancho Cordova. UCCE is free and represented in every county, and Soil Born operates an urban farm plus offers classes, information, and samples. 

by Linda Holderness

Photos by Michelle Kwek.