This economy is forcing more of us to live our lives differently and, in many cases, it's taking us back to a time when our family and neighbors used their land for more than just pretty lawns and landscaping. 

When I was a kid in upstate New York I would spend my weekends helping my uncle tend to his garden where he grew corn, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and a host of other fruits and vegetables that wound up on the extended family's dinner table. He also had a chicken coop that supplied several families with eggs for breakfast.

This scenario probably doesn't seem all that unusual until you consider that my uncle wasn't a farmer but worked for the New York state senate. He was however a homesteader in that he used the land around his home to put food on the table.

Today, a growing number of Americans have started to do the same thing, some for economic reasons and others just because they believe it's healthier to eat fresh vegetables uncontaminated by sprays and other chemicals used to make them look nice in grocery story bins.

It's not just for people living in the country or suburbs either. You'll find them in cities growing herbs and vegetables on balconies and rooftops as well as back porches. In New York City, block associations and community groups have turned vacant lots into community gardens.

Steve McNulty is the founder of the Triangle Area Homesteaders group in North Carolina. The group has 400 members in North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. McNulty told U.S. News that members connect on Meetup.com to swap tips and plan workshops on beer-making, composting, and gardening.

These members range from what he calls "survivalists” to just people looking to save money as well as others who want to reduce their carbon footprint or just live more simply.”

A similar group in Cambridge, Massachusetts has a membership approaching 1,000. It's called the Urban Homesteader's League and offers instruction on such crafts as baking bread, preserving food, making raised-bed gardens, and tapping maple trees.

Sound interesting? Meetup.com provides a list of more than 80 homesteading groups throughout the country. Meetings are usually free and workshops that teach you how to live off the land will cost about ten bucks.

Before you go out and buy stuff to start your garden or chicken coup, you should check on local ordinances. Some might restrict what you can and can't grow or raise. I know there's an apparent trend in the hills of Malibu, California to raise lamas and alpacas but that might not go over so well on the West Side of Manhattan.

In the beginning you may want to start small or be part of a group that grows vegetables to share. Container gardens are considered a good first step for people who live in apartments and have access to outdoor space. Also, if you don't own any land, you could also share someone else's yard.

Creating a garden shouldn't cost much money either. A low maintenance garden where you can grow lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower, cucumbers and peppers should run about $30. That would buy some terra cotta pots, soil, fertilizer and seeds. It should yield you enough veggies to make salads for a month

You might also want to pick up a copy of The Homesteader's Kitchen by Robin Burnside who has been homesteading in northern California for 17 years. Basically, it's a handbook with recipes for sustaining the homesteader lifestyle.