Can Start a Farm in Heart of the City
Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen,
January 9, 2009.
Sick of flavorless,
genetically modified, pesticide-drenched frankenvegetables? It's time
to start growing food in your back yard.
Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (Process Self-reliance Series, 2008)
is an excerpt from The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient
Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (Process
down to a salad of peppery arugula and heirloom tomatoes that you grew
yourself. Or a Sunday omelet of eggs laid that morning, served with a
thick slice of fresh sourdough, butter and apricot jam -- all homemade,
of course. Or imagine toasting your friends with a mead made from local
honey. Where would you have to move to live like this? A commune in Vermont?
A villa in Italy?
Erik and I have done all of this in our little bungalow in Los Angeles,
two blocks off of Sunset Boulevard. We grow food and preserve it, recycle
water, forage the neighborhood, and build community. We're urban homesteaders.
have fantasies about one day moving to the country, the city holds things
that are more important to us than any parcel of open land. We have friends
and family here, great neighbors, and all the cultural amenities and stimulation
of a city. It made more sense for us to become self-reliant in our urban
environment. There was no need for us to wait to become farmers. We grow
plenty of food in our backyard in Echo Park and even raise chickens. Once
you taste lettuce that actually has a distinct flavor, or eat a sweet
tomato still warm from the sun, or an orange-yolked egg from your own
hen, you will never be satisfied with the pre-packaged and the factory-farmed
again. Our next step down the homesteading path was learning to use the
old home arts to preserve what we grew: pickling, fermenting, drying and
brewing. A jar of jam that you make of wild blackberries holds memories
of the summer, and not the air of the Smucker's factory.
grow some of your own food, you start to care more about all of your food.
"Just where did this come from?" we'd find ourselves asking
when we went shopping. What's in it? At the same time, we began to learn
about cultured and fermented foods, which have beneficial bacteria in
them. Few of these wonder-foods are available in stores. The supermarket
started to look like a wasteland.
of urban farming is nothing new. Back in the days before freeways and
refrigerated trucks, cities depended on urban farmers for the majority
of their fresh food. This included small farms around the city, as well
as kitchen gardens. Even today, there are places that hold to this tradition.
The citizens of Shanghai produce 85% of their vegetables within the city,
and that's just one example of a long Asian tradition of intense urban
gardening. Or consider Cuba. Cubans practiced centralized, industrial
agriculture, just as we do, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1989. Overnight, Cubans were forced to shift from a large, petroleum-based
system to small-scale farming, much of it in cities. Today, urban organic
gardens produce half of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by Cubans.
States once was a nation of independent farmers. Today most of us do not
know one end of a hoe from the other. In the last half of the 20th century,
a cultural shift unique in human history came to pass. We convinced ourselves
that we didn't need to have anything to do with our own food. Food, the
very stuff of life, became just another commodity, an anonymous transaction.
In making this transition, we sacrificed quality for convenience, and
then we learned to forget the value of what we gave up.
concerns offer us flavorless, genetically modified, irradiated, pesticide-drenched
frankenvegetables. They are grown in such poor soil -- the result of short-sighted
profit-based agricultural practices -- that they actually contain fewer
nutrients than food grown in healthy soil. Our packaged foods are nutritionally
bankrupt, and our livestock is raised in squalid conditions. The fact
is that we live in an appalling time when it comes to food. True, we have
a great abundance of inexpensive food in supermarkets, but the disturbing
truth is that in terms of flavor, quality and nutrition, our greatgrandparents
ate better than we do.
a hidden cost behind our increasingly costly supermarket food. The French
have a term, malbouffe, referring to junk food, but with broader, more
sinister implications. Radical farmer José Bové, who was
imprisoned for dismantling a McDonald's restaurant, explains the concept
used the word 'shit-food', but quickly changed it to malbouffe to
avoid giving offense. The word just clicked -- perhaps because when
you're dealing with food, quite apart from any health concerns, you're
also dealing with taste and what we feed ourselves with. Malbouffe
implies eating any old thing, prepared in any old way. For me, the
term means both the standardization of food like McDonald's -- the
same taste from one end of the world to the other -- and the choice
of food associated with the use of hormones and Genetically Modified Organisms
as well as the residues of pesticides and other things that can
endanger health. -- The World is Not for Sale by José Bové
and Franois Dufour
So what are
the strategies urban homesteaders can follow to avoid malbouffe? Farmers'
markets, co-ops and natural food stores serve as good supplements to the
urban homestead, but we've found that growing our own food, even just
a little of it, rather than buying it, not only results in better quality
food, it has changed our fundamental relationship to food and to the act
of eating itself. Now, now not only do we know our crops are free of pesticides
and GMOs but we discovered an entirely new world of taste and flavor that
big agribusiness had stolen away from us. Growing your own food is an
act of resistance. We can all join with José Bové in dismantling
the corporations that feed us shit.
shifted from being consumers to being producers. Sure we still buy stuff.
Olive oil. Parmigiano reggiano. Wine. Flour. Chocolate. And we're no strangers
to consumer culture, not above experiencing a little shiver of desire
when walking into an Apple computer store. But still, we do not accept
that spending is our only form of power. There is more power in creating
than in spending. We are producers, neighbors, and friends. Think you
don't have enough land to grow your food?
way you see land.
start thinking that you have to move somewhere else to grow your own food,
take another look around. With a couple of notable exceptions, American
cities sprawl. They are full of wasted space. As a homesteader, you will
begin to see any open space as a place to grow food. This includes front
yards as well as backyards, vacant lots, parkways, alleyways, patios,
balconies, window boxes, fire escapes and rooftops. Once you break out
of the mental box that makes you imagine a vegetable garden as a fenced-off
parcel of land with a scarecrow in it, you'll start to see the possibilities.
Think jungle, not prairie. The truth is that you can grow a hell of a
lot of food on a small amount of real estate. You can grow food whether
you're in an apartment or a house, whether you rent or own.
Do you have
4' ? 8' feet of open ground? If you don't have a yard, do you have room
on a patio or balcony for two or three plastic storage tubs? If you don't
have that, then you could get a space in a community garden, a relative
or neighbor's house, or become a pirate gardener, or an expert forager
-- some of the tastiest greens and berries are wild and free for the taking.
don't have time? Think again.
at our own pace, to suit ourselves. Some things, like bread baking, have
become part of our regular routine. Other kitchen experiments, like making
pickles, come and go as time allows. More ambitious projects, like installing
a greywater system, take time up front, but save time once implemented.
It's unlikely that we spend any more time on our food-producing yard than
we would on a traditional lawn-and-roses-type yard. You can set up your
urban (or suburban) farm so that it takes minimal time to keep it going
-- we talk about ways to do that in this book.
when life gets too crazy, we don't do anything beyond the barest maintenance,
and eat a lot of pizza. Nothing wrong with that.
time, with the exception of a few ambitious projects, like converting
to solar, everything we talk about in this book is also cost-effective.
Homesteading is all about reusing, recycling, foraging and building things
yourself. Seeds are cheap, composting is free. Nature is standing by,
waiting to help. And as oil prices continue to rise along with the cost
of food, learning to grow your own may be one of the wisest investments
you can make.
is an affirmation of the simple pleasures of life. When you spend a Saturday
morning making a loaf of bread, or go out on a summer evening after work
to sit with your chickens, or take a deep breath of fresh-cut basil, you
unplug yourself from the madness. Many of us spend a lot of each day in
front of a computer. Homesteading hooks us into the natural world and
the passing of the seasons, and reminds us of our place within the greater
cycle of life.
of homesteading is about desire. We bake our own bread because it is better
than what we can buy. We raise our own hens because we like chickens,
and we think their eggs are worth the trouble. Erik bicycles everywhere
because that's a thrill for him. There's mead brewing in our guest bedroom
because you can't buy mead at the corner liquor store -- and because fermentation
is the closest thing to magic that we know.
aren't so into gardening, but would like to brew your own beer. Maybe
you'd like to tinker with a greywater system for your house. Maybe you
want to make your own non-toxic cleaning products. Try it! Start by doing
just one project, one experiment, and you may well unleash the homesteader
Coyne and Erik Knutzen are the authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide
to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City (Process Self-reliance
Series, 2008). They happily farm in Los Angeles and run the urban homestead