Backyard Homesteads

Photography by Lori Eanes | Captions by Della Watson

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  • Urban farmer Kitty Sharkey often takes her four Nigerian dwarf goats for walks through her Oakland, California, neighborhood.

    Nope, this herd's not lost. Urban farmer Kitty Sharkey often takes her four Nigerian dwarf goats for walks through her Oakland, California, neighborhood. The milk-producing goats' small size makes them well suited for life on a bustling 4,000-square-foot homestead (which includes Sharkey's 1,500-square-foot house). The breed is known for its gentle, affectionate demeanor; the goats even protect Sharkey's chickens from predators.

    Sharkey is part of a burgeoning movement of city dwellers who carve out a small-scale pastoral existence amid the bustle of urbanity, reaping the health and environmental benefits of hyperlocal food. Bay Area photographer (and frequent Sierra contributor) Lori Eanesdocuments the lives of some of these unconventional agriculturalists in her Urban Farm project.

    Eanes says she embarked on the project after reading about food issues: "First I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and was appalled, and then I read Farm City by Novella Carpenter and was inspired. I really wanted to meet the people who were turning their yards into farms, and I wanted to learn how they did it." For Eanes, whose 15-year photography career has centered on portraits of food and people—her latest book is Backyard Roots: Lessons on Living Local From 35 Urban Farmers—chronicling urban farms seemed a natural fit. "My favorite thing about the project is the people," she says. "I'm hoping to get the word out on what they are doing."

    We've highlighted some of our favorite shots in this slide show.

  • Esperanza Pallana's grandparents, Mexican immigrants with a strong connection to the earth, were her inspiration to become an urban farmer.

    Esperanza Pallana's grandparents, Mexican immigrants with a strong connection to the earth, were her inspiration to become an urban farmer: "I want a deeper connection to my own culture and to my food source," she says. She raises chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and bees. A meat-eater who is uncomfortable with the inhumane conditions on factory farms, Pallana chooses to raise and slaughter her own animals.

  • Christopher Shein's 6,500-square-foot backyard farm in Berkeley, California, is home to 30 chickens and ducks.

    Christopher Shein's 6,500-square-foot backyard farm in Berkeley, California, is home to 30 chickens and ducks. He grows bamboo as a renewable building material, which he's used to construct plant arbors and a chicken coop. Shein's studio is built from hay bales. His three-year-old daughter, Gitanale, already has a knack for picking veggies and feeding chickens.

  • Laura Allen successfully fought Oakland's policy forbidding permits for graywater systems, which utilize water from baths, sinks, and washing machines for garden irrigation.

    Laura Allen successfully fought Oakland's policy forbidding permits for graywater systems, which utilize water from baths, sinks, and washing machines for garden irrigation. A cofounder of Greywater Action, Allen leads classes on harvesting rainwater, constructing composting toilets, and installing wetland filtering systems, like the one she has in her backyard homestead. The sustainable oasis supports a thriving vegetable garden and 15 fruit trees.

  • Heidi Kooy adapted to San Francisco's hilly topography by constructing a terraced farm.

    Heidi Kooy adapted to San Francisco's hilly topography by constructing a terraced farm. Her two goats and four chickens live in an enclosed pen on the bottom level of the 25-by-40-foot backyard. Establishing her farmstead hasn't been a carefree experiment: Early on, she lost several birds to a respiratory illness. She chronicled her tear-filled first experience killing a sick bird on her blog. San Francisco's climate has offered challenges as well, but Kooy has learned that kale thrives in the cool, foggy city.

  • Heidi Kooy's chicken and goat enjoy the view from their backyard pen in San Francisco.

    Heidi Kooy's chicken and goat enjoy the view from their backyard pen in San Francisco.