Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday's Green Books - The Urban Homestead

Urban Homesteading is about having your dream house in the country right here and now, in the middle of the city. Any city. Indulge in `guerrilla gardening' and enjoy a prodigious crop of tater tires. No waiting, no procrastinating, no excuses, no pain. Because, really, there is no reason not to.

Granted, terms like “Urban Homesteading”, “Tater Tires” and “Guerrilla Gardening” are just some example of the great copy sprouting from the green movement these days. Attractive, subversive, playful and just plain irresistible to some. Yep, I'm an easy convert, and so can you be.

The dream of many to get out of the city, settle down on acreage and start living off the land is not new. It reminds me of Gustave Flaubert'sBouvard and Pécuchet” (1881). In this classic unfinished novel by Flaubert, published a year after his death, two middle-aged copy clerks meet on a bench in Paris, fall in love, and end up inheriting property and moving together to the country.

The novel then follows Bouvard and Pécuchet trying to make it in the countryside by learning various essential disciplines, while colossally, funnily and consistently, failing in all their endeavors. Many believe that the main theme of the book is of knowledge. It is in many ways a criticism of learning by copying, book knowledge in general, and the reluctance to learn from the local farmers and their old fashioned ways.

But it seems like today nearly everyone is a Bouvard or a Pécuchet when it comes to self sustainability, especially in urban settings.

Whereas in Flaubert's days most of the population were living on farms, most contemporary Americans have never even seen one. Book knowledge has been replaced by blogs, wikis, and on-line forum advice, and Xerox made copy-clerks obsolete long ago.,

Fast forward 127 years to a bungalow in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and to Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen's urban homestead. In their little house and property they garden, compost, pickle, bake, can, brew, create their own cleaning products, and everything else that is in the book's table of contents. All of this while having a life that includes a job, blogging, and writing a book. It seems that rather than a chronicle of failures, urban homesteading can be a journey of discovery.

The book is a well written fun guide that explains the hows and whys of urban sustainability without being too preachy about it. You get a sense of the authors' philosophy, but you certainly don't feel that you need to wholly subscribe to it, in order to adopt and adapt any or part of their methods and techniques.

Having just moved to a new place I am going to treat this as a handbook, so no free book giveaway this week folks. My homework: start a compost pile (duh), create a raised bed over part of the existing backyard lawn for planting some local edibles (I am thinking greens). I already started using garden clippings as mulch, and definitely going to brush up on my pickling techniques and ask my mom and aunts for some tips. The cleaning cabinet is going to downgrade to baking soda and vinegar, once the household is sold on it. And it may not be an easy sell. And then, like they suggest, I am going to take it slow. No need for a sudden metamorphosis. I am not going to start pooping in a bucket just yet.

NOTE: Process, the book's publishers, are planting a tree with Eco-Libris for every single book bought from their website. So check out their amazingly eclectic collection of wonderful books, and take advantage of their offer by buying directly from them right here.

Title: The Urban Homestead - Your guide to self-sufficient living in the heart of the city

Authors: Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

Publisher: Process (self-reliance series, vol. 3)

Published: June 2008

Pages: 308