Monday, February 21, 2011

Urban Homestead

There's been a lot of attention being given lately to the topic of urban homesteads on the internet. There is debate about who created the term, who does it and who owns it as an idea. I can't claim to be learned enough to even join that discussion. All I can comment on is my own experience.

The book the Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen has had a big impact on how I live my life. Although my grandfather used to tell stories about what it was like to grow up on a farm, for me they were almost fables. Having grown up in the suburbs the idea of living on a farm seemed like a fantasy, so when I ended up moving into a house with a big yard and lots of potential I was totally unprepared.

I had raised chickens as a kid and one of the things that attracted me to my neighborhood was the roosters crowing throughout the valley. But growing food was something totally new to me. Erik and Kelly's book helped me to get started and opened my eyes to all of the possibilities. They also cautioned my about all the the work I would be creating for myself. They were right on both counts. Luckily I like a project, and the weekends that I spend in the yard always feel well spent, even when I end up scratched and bruised and slightly sunburned.

I've enjoyed discovering what grows well here and how to work with all of the plants and bugs and lizards that are already making the most of my little patch of hill. I also realize that many people have come before me. Whoever lived here before had a picture of what this hill could be. I've written about all of the fruit trees that someone planted here. I'm not a good judge but some of them could be 20 or 30 years old.

My neighbors are also doing a lot with their yards and usually with more success than me. Front yards are filled with vegetable beds and backyards with chicken coops. In the Summer there are rickety pergolas covered with squash vines and right now many yards look like salad bars made up of a variety of winter greens.

For me gardening is a new skill that I'm trying to master, but for many of my neighbors it is the way that they've always lived their lives. To try to argue that urban homsteading is a new idea discounts a whole community of people that have quietly been doing it for generations.

I feel lucky that I ended up here, not just because of the way the sun slants through the house at sunset or the way the breeze cools the house when I throw all of the windows open. I'm lucky because my neighbor Joe is happy to trade a carton of eggs for a bag of loquats, and Fidelia is always trying to get me to take oranges and peaches from her trees. I'm lucky that my rooster's crowing blends into the background chorus. I'm lucky that there is a whole group of people within easy reach that are eager to share what they know and contribute to my success.

This might qualify as urban homesteading but it's not a new idea, or an idea that any one person or family can claim as their own.