Monday, February 21

A few of my favorite links

The Mother of urban homesteading:
urban homesteading:
Denver urban homesteading:
sustainable urban homestead:
the old urban homestead:
Leda's urban homestead:

What Urban Homesteading Means to Me

When I imagine an urban homestead I picture three different huge gardens I've lived next to. The first was the side yard of the depression-era couple my family lived next to when I was young. At some point in the distant past they bought the city lot next to the house and transformed it into a huge garden -- a huge ring of roses and other flowers in the front, vegetables in the back half, blackberries vining the fence between the two lots. A reflecting pool built into the back yard became a strawberry patch. There were grapes and apples and green beans, and who knows what else -- those are simply the things I helped with.

The second was across the street in the same house. The Mennonite pastoral intern took a break from his inner city revitalization work by digging up the back yard of the house and turning it into a vegetable garden, which I ate from regularly as they also watch us while my mom worked her night-shift job.

In high school, I worked one semester as a counselor for a camp my school district ran. The camp served many layered purposes -- getting kids from our mostly urban school district out of the city and showing them the stars, the way the plant interact with each other, the variety of plants that occur in even dry places, getting them to engage all five senses with a place utterly different from home. But also a history lesson. The camp we were at was founded during the homestead act of the 1800's. One of the activities was to stop at the original cabin on the hike in and use the wood stove to make biscuits while talking about the homestead act.

The homestead act created opportunities to own land by giving willing people a right to work the land and a window of opportunity to turn it into something. If they accomplished turning it into something (without the infrastructure of roads, running water, power, or even a nearby town in most cases) they won ownership of that land.

I got to see this in action in a rural part of Baja, Mexico where my church took a group of teens on mission trips for several successive years. The pastor we worked with was working under a homesteading agreement, and he was using his land to build a medical clinic to serve the region. We provided some of the unskilled labor -- digging and hauling rocks.

The third garden I think of was next to a house I lived in in my 30's. Both of our lots occupied the center of a 1950's post-war suburb block. Ours were the properties plotted out for horse owners. What my neighbors had done was turn half their quarter-acre lot into a garden. While I lived next to them they built a straw-bale garden shed, which opened my eyes to building your own buildings.

The other source of information for my thoughts on homesteading is reading. I'm a child of the 70's and our house had a copy of the Whole Earth catalog, One Acre and Security, and my parents didn't blink at buying me copies of Mother Earth News.

So here's what an urban homestead/homesteading is to me. First it is taking a place you've bought (or in some cases rented) and turning it into your own space by investing time and energy. Second it is having the longevity in a space that regular investment of time and energy cause it to develop a character of its own. Third, it is a space that provides food of some sort. Fourth, it adapts itself to existing within city limits.

For me, I do not own the homestead of my dreams. I am not yet an accomplished gardener -- I am still at the point where squirrels eating my tentative efforts can discourage me for a year. I own a suburban townhouse in a subdivision bounded on two sides by an agricultural lease, the third a high school and the fourth a high-volume major road (with frequent public transportation). My contribution to the world is nurturing a honey-suckle plant I inherited from the previous owners which is abuzz all summer with hummingbirds and local bees. I build things and I fix things. Over time, I can imagine the backyard transformed with raised earth boxes over parts of the patio, grapes on the fences, lettuces on the balcony, beans shading the garage from the summer heat. And in the garage worms turning scraps into compost, and mushrooms growing in the coffee grounds put out by my local coffee shop.

This post is prompted by the actions of the Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA, so I'll now turn to the politics and wrap up. That image in my mind reminds me that there is no single "modern implementation" of an urban homestead. It is a profoundly individual thing. There is no template which can produce authorized copies across a country, or even across a neighborhood in Pasadena. The homesteading movement across the country is working to rid zoning laws of the artifacts of prissy legislators embarassed by their farm roots and win for homesteaders everywhere the right to bees, laundry lines, solar hot water, solar electric, wind turbines, composters, chickens, fish, and other small animals. They are working to teach gardening, better ways to use lawns, how to live in a place and not just at an address. They are working to rebuild neighborliness. They are working to make spaces for kids to learn to garden at school -- and to actually enjoy fruits and vegetables because they worked on. They are carving out shared gardening spaces for people in apartments and townhouses. They are building green roofs and window farms. It's a big work. And it isn't served by one particular Urban Homestead(TM) deciding their Path To Freedom(TM) is the only real one around.

To the Dervaes family, because you have shut down incoming communication in the wake of your lawyers sending letters enforcing your shiny new trademarks: You're iconoclasts. But so are we. We resent your assertion of authority over what our yards should like like just as much as we resent Kentucky blue-grass enforcing HOAs. Let "The Dervaes Institute" be enough, just as "The Land Institute" and the "Rocky Mountain Sustainability Institute" are. Put the trademarks into a creative commons domain. We will help finance that if you ask.

Saturday, February 5


This was posted on the blog of one of my favorite local CSAs:

"We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change."
~Al Gore
And while I appreciate that Al is working on keeping his statements more sound-byte friendly, the writer in me sees my high school creative writing teacher's red pen alongside the statement. "Vague!" she'd write.

In memory of Sally Perez then, I'm going to take a stab at expanding that.

We are borrowing money from China to buy oil from terrorist-funding states in the Persian Gulf to fuel cars built from Chinese steel by Japanese companies in some of the poorest communities in the US where they can avoid paying for health care and pensions. We're going to drive those cars to the local department of some multinational corporation to ring up confined animal operation meat; a mix of corn, soybeans, and pesticides in attractive plastic packaging; and goods that are copied from American designs by folks who have no interest in paying the inventors; putting it all on our credit cards. Then we're going to go back to our air-conditioned houses, turn on our coal-powered entertainment center, and wonder what the hell's wrong with other people.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.