Having finished reading THE HOBBITT, Pat and I have had to find other things to read before turning in each night. We are picking up where we left off before having kids with THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, but we are also reading this book: THE URBAN HOMESTEAD. Now, Pat says he prefers reading fiction at night before bed, so we continue through the Chronicles of Narnia mostly. However, THE URBAN HOMESTEAD is every bit as fanciful and requires me to use my imagination every bit as much as a work of good fiction. The only difference is that I may be able to bring some of this book to reality in my own yard.
Having read this entry thus far, Pat informs me that I am a poser. However, allow me to make a disclaimer: I am not to the point of considering myself a homesteader* right now. As I said, this book does read as fiction to me. However, the ideas in it intrigue me and I'm willing to stick a toe in the homestead water to see how it is. The authors of this book are intense. I am not ready to have chickens yet or to make my whole yard into a wonderful jungle-like garden. I am not about to re-plumb my house to use grey-water to water my yard. Not there yet. But I am won over to the idea of edible landscaping and maybe having some bees around. I'm down with collecting rain water (once we can afford gutters...). I think home-grown food is vastly superior to the stuff you can get in a store. For starters, you get to brag that you grew it yourself and when you make a meal with it, you can feel like you really made the meal. But there are better reasons than that.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is financial. Seeds and water are cheap; buying fresh organic produce is not. Gardening is the poor man's (or the wise person's) way of obtaining organic produce so that you don't have to worry about what someone else may have done to the food. No concerns about whether the person growing my eggplant is a good steward of the land. And I don't worry about what kind of stuff designed to kill other animals was sprayed on it or what effects might come from someone having done whatever to "help" nature out. I try not to think about that too much, though, since we have to buy most of our food right now and can't afford organic. "Organic" is expensive (not to mention that it has become associated with snobbery). "Home-grown" is simply what my parents and grandparents have done all their lives. Yes, it's organic, but it's also just plain practical.
And it's a great activity to do with kids. Israel, at less that two, can recognize tomatoes and associates both beans and strawberries with 'those things in Steve's garden." He eagerly picks out the raspberry plants to find the "ra-beezies" on them. Israel knows where food comes from and already knows that God made the earth such that we are intimately connected to it. It's hard to convince people who think food comes from a grocery store that it matters at all what kind of stuff we put into our dirt. But when you garden, you know that you have a relationship with the dirt and that you can either help or frustrate each other. Israel will also value life -- even the lives of things like spiders and ladybugs -- and will know that something that small can be of assistance to us. The kids from the neighborhood benefit as well. I have one boy who is learning patience as he waits and waits (and asks and asks) for the jalepenos in the pot on our front steps to be ready to eat. (I really don't know why. I tell him there is no way he just wants to pop one in his mouth and I'm having a hard time convincing myself to waste one of them on this lesson.) Kids learn there are rewards to tending and caring for something as small as a plant. We become more aware of the weather. I get to spend mornings doing nothing but holding a water hose and watching the plants grow.
So, while I am no homesteader, I am ready to get behind this book. I encourage you to read it, to take from it what is useful, and to enjoy reading the parts you don't use. Now, for something rare: Pat would like to post something on this entry as well, and he is much more of a homesteader at heart than I, so I'll let you see what he has to say.
Thus far in my life two books have utterly changed the way I see the world. The first to do so was "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. This one changed the way I saw food and what I eat. A few years later at my sister's behest I read the Gospel of John which introduced me to the most life changing figure to ever exist and thus changed me and my life forever. This book I am now adding as the third book I've encountered that has caused a tremendous paradigm shift to occur within me.
Until now I had always thought "Man, it sure would be nice to have a farm somewhere outside of town -- raise all of your food, and maybe some animals. Too bad you would have to move out of the city though. Maybe some day we'll retire from this city work and go retreat to the country." You know these sorts of day dreams. Reading this book has made me see how much we can actually do with the space that we have. I've just always seen the "yard" as some sterile plot of grass to be maintained and weeded so that the neighbors don't get annoyed. Now I see it as potential sustenance for my family. My backyard that could maybe host a small bonfire and perhaps a dinner party is now seen as a place where my kids could learn to raise chickens and tend bees. Instead of a yard that needs the weeds pulled we have a lot of potential crop space that the kids can pull bugs and worms out of and harvest food for us to can for the winter. All of a sudden this old house that needs a good paint job and a new floor is a 90-year-old farm house, and that thought itself makes me so much more appreciative of my house (and its history) as it is. Instead of being a place is always in need of my service that I need to fix, my little parcel is a plot that gives to me that I get to tend and make fruitful.
That farm that I used to dream of - it was probably more than I really could have handled. In my saner moments I was forced to admit that to myself. But this small farm that I've been given is totally doable - complete with plenty of challenges and room to dream.
*Homesteader: (according to Lezlie) One who does things like raises their own food, tends their own land, makes their own stuff, and is not very dependent on outside help to make it in life. Some even go so far as to associate this with living "off the grid." Usually, homesteads are farms. (According to Pat) One who sees their parcel as something to tend and make fruitful.