By Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
Process Press, 2010, $17.95
I read gardening and back-to-the-land books like many people read romances or the sports pages, and lots of books just don’t cut it for me. But this book was a very pleasant surprise.
While many books have a narrow focus, are very simple or just nothing new, The Urban Homestead is surprisingly comprehensive for its compact size. Starting with the premise that nowadays the land most people go back to every day is a smallish lot in the city or suburbs, the authors encourage us to become more responsible for meeting our own needs and making our neighborhoods more livable; to bloom where we are planted.
Their informal, warm, and encouraging style conveys the idea that becoming more self-sufficient and involved in one’s community is fun and satisfying. It’s less about moving away from things we don’t like, like 3000 mile iceberg lettuce, frankenfoods, and fear of further economic collapse and energy depletion, than moving towards things we do like, such as fresh peaches and tomatoes still warm from the sun, cupboards full of homegrown preserves, and becoming more resilient and capable. The two authors are helped by a community of contributors, so a variety of ideas and ways of doing things are presented. We are encouraged to pick the things that appeal to us or will be a better fit for our situation. Just get started and let your plants, projects and skills grow from there.
Fully half of the book is about food. The nitty gritty of growing is left to the multitude of good gardening books in the reference section, while projects and advice especially relevant to urban settings or sustainability are emphasized. Urban foraging from weeds and acorns to dumpster diving, ahem, adds to the local food supply. The chapter on livestock shows they know their chickens and introduces several other yard sized animals. A great overview of traditional preservation methods is covered under “Revolutionary Home Economics.” The final third of the book offers ideas about water harvesting and recycling, energy, and transportation. Many small projects are covered with enough information that they could be completed with just this book, but references to other, more in-depth books are liberally included.
While generally written for city people new to these ideas, The Urban Homestead has a lot to offer more experienced gardeners and those with more room to grow. Their enthusiasm and multitude of ideas encourage us to expand our personal and community food systems and capabilities.