Green Acres Is the Place to Be - Urban homesteaders live off their land
Ever get hungry for a snack, but there’s nothing in the house to eat? At dhijana and Borys Scott-Harmony’s house all you have to do is walk into the backyard and grab everything you need for tasty salsa, a healthy salad or a mushroom and onion omelet.
dhijana (she uses a small “d”) and Borys are urban homesteaders – city dwellers who strive for self-sufficiency by creating their own permaculture from the ground up using every bit of space available, often starting with the lawn. They see the typical single-family dwelling as a perfect mini-farm and grow food in beds, containers, rooftops and balconies. Homesteaders may use gray water systems and solar power, raise chickens, plant orchards and make everything from clothes to flour.
Living on just a half acre in the Starmount community of Charlotte, the couple call their homestead Harmony Garden and have constructed five ponds, three greenhouses, a chicken yard and house, workshop, terraced garden beds, raised bed boxes and mushroom logs – all done using found materials that otherwise would have gone to the landfill. dhijana wants Harmony Garden to be a working model of a way to live in harmony with Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants, not just the two-leggeds.
“Mecklenburg County has given up nearly all of her agricultural lands to development. We live on a form of food welfare, depending on factory farmers from far off distances to provide what we need to survive,” says dhijana, a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital. “Our model is designed to show the possibilities and responsibilities of city dwellers to use their lots for something more constructive to the earth than keeping a lawn with a few exotic foundation plantings that feed no one.”
The welcoming front yard at Harmony Garden serves as an edible landscaping option as well as a wildlife habitat for hummingbirds, butterflies, lizards and amphibians. Food, water and shelter are provided for birds to raise their young. A bed of bright green lettuces lines the sidewalk and a lemon tree dripping with produce sits by the front door. The focal point of the backyard is a large 35,000 gallon pond brimming with floating plants, goldfish and lily pads. A cascading waterfall runs down a long, meandering slope into the aesthetic water feature that attracts herons and frogs. It can be used for irrigation if necessary.
Looking around the lush landscape, you’d never realize you were in a typical subdivision yard. There are numerous plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs growing everywhere – in green houses, out of hay bales, in containers, raised beds and from the ground. A colorful assortment of chickens softly cackle and scratch around their compound. Their eggs and bounty from the gardens are sold at the Charlotte Tailgate Market or directly to consumers.
Borys, a retired Russian engineer, built a tropical rainforest greenhouse onto the brick house to store his vast orchid collection and other plants during the winter. He used recycled glass doors from grocery store refrigeration units for the windows and foam insulation and concrete to make an authentic looking vertical waterfall that trickles down a vine-covered wall from the ceiling and splashes into a small stone pond. His latest project is building an outdoor clay oven to bake organic European breads.
The couple is a role model for green living on every level. By repurposing found items, reusing stuff and recycling, very little makes its way to the landfill. They use no chemicals, practice integrated pest management techniques, compost and use leaves and wood chips for mulch. “We burn wood we find on the streets to keep our greenhouses warm,” says dhijana, who was one of Charlotte’s first wholistic health and lifestyle educators. “We soon will collect most of the rainwater from our roofs and now collect runoff from the driveway for irrigation.”
Borys and dhijana are exploring alternative energy options to retrofit their 50 year old home. “We are interested in passive solar and also developing some sort of gray water system once the codes are changed to permit this type of recycling of water,” she says. “We are also investigating an outdoor wood furnace option that would heat home and hot water in the winter and on non-sunny days.”
dhijana says it will take several more years to complete their project and then they will focus on training others to convert their yards to homesteads that steer them toward self-sufficiency and sustainability.
“We are both in our sixties and will keep at this as long as we are physically strong enough to do this work,” she states. “Hopefully others will want to learn from us so they can implement some of what we have done here in the middle of Charlotte.”
For more information on tours or produce contact dhijana at [email protected] or 704-552-0465.