Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Another urban homesteader

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I’m not sure I’ve ever used the term urban homesteader to describe myself.  Off the top of my head, there are two reasons for this.  First, although I find myself somewhat attracted to the term, I’m also not completely comfortable with some of the historical implications of homesteading (there’s a good post on some of those issues here), especially after a fair amount of study of things like colonialism.  While they are historical, meanings shift over time and don’t necessarily reflect on what’s going on in the movement today by any stretch of the imagination, I’m still aware of them, and still trying to figure out where I am without relying too much on labels, since labels can be uncomfortable in some circumstances, and can also have an unfortunate tendency to divide people.

Second, what I do here sometimes feels like it’s on such a small and limited scale that there’s no real way that I can justify why it could or should be called homesteading.  In the summer I grow some basil, dill, and the odd cherry tomato on my too-shaded patio.  I make my own pickles, jam, granola, and cleaning products.  I cook from scratch, and hang laundry to dry in my apartment.  I buy used, frequent the farmers’ markets, and keep the heat down in the winter.  I generally try to live as lightly as possible in this apartment.

That said, even in moments when I think I’m not doing enough, I want to live the life suggested by the idea of being an urban homesteader, whether I call it that or not.  Heck, maybe I’m just being hard on myself – as I so often am – and I’m already on the path; after all, this weekend I made pickles, granola, and bread, and started radish, spinach, dill, basil, pea, and cucumber seeds.  This week I hope to try my hand at yogurt.  And this lifestyle, and my hopes for what it can and will become, is why I find myself incredibly irritated at the kerfuffle over the recent moves by a family that will remain unnamed to trademark and take on this terminology for themselves.

I wanted, for a long while, to give them the benefit of the doubt.  While to my mind their site doesn’t offer a lot of practical information, it had, at one point, been a bit of an inspiration, albeit well after I had heard of homesteading.  Even after the initial furor I hoped that they had misspoke, and then that they had misstepped and would apologize for the confusion, explain their case, and back down.  That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, and nothing has come out other than a poorly-constructed press release and some brief blog posts claiming lies, hoaxes, and other insinuations that seem to be untrue based on their own communications.

And so, I’m calling myself an urban homesteader.  My way looks different from theirs, and looks different from those of the countless other people who are moving today to take back that term for themselves.  But that’s a good thing.  We adapt where we can, how we can, and we set up systems that not only work for us, but that also work for where we are.  But with all of these people, and all of these methods and ideas and ways of doing and knowing, there’s no reason why anyone should be claiming – or even trying to claim – sole right to being an urban homesteader.  Not only is there room for everyone in this movement, we need more people calling themselves urban homesteaders, or city gardeners, or whatever term works best to describe how they get involved and make these important changes to our selves, homes, communities, food, environment, and ways of living.  Shutting people out based on terminology and alienating them from the things they want to do – and in many cases already do – doesn’t help the community this is so necessary to figuring out how we can best live our lives in the ways that we want.

Now, I’m happy to see, people are starting to consider other ways in which we can use this momentum.  The taking of words and laying claim to a movement are offenses, certainly, but they’re small offenses (relatively speaking) with respect to a system that is fundamentally flawed and in need of our attention (there’s another great post from Grow and Resist on this as well).  Now, we get to figure out where to go from here, and how we can use this collective power to make more of a difference, more change, more movement.  Now that we’re galvanized, who’s in for the ride?

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Written by Jenn

February 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

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