I wrote this in response to the comment on Mother Earth News, about The Homesteaders of the Year (I'm one) not being self-sufficient and living off of their land....
I call our home an Urban Homestead to evoke the days when people traveled west, settled on a piece of land, and went to work to improve it, turning it into farmland. Was this always the best decision for the land? Probably not. Did they all remain on the land?—not at all. They moved to town, diversified their skills, became a community. So, Homesteading is not about self-sufficiency; it never really has been. It is about site repair, rooting in place, developing community. I like to think of our homestead as the center of a series on concentric rings, the permaculture concept of zones, where things most often used are the center, things less often needed further out.
Right here, at the center, is our home. Recipe box, fireplace, purring cats, reading nook, stove, each other—the things we use all day, every day. Around us are the herbs and greens for dinner, potatoes and onions, canned and dried fruit for breakfast, tools, bicycles, chickens, bees, and rabbit—daily interactions that may, in the middle of winter, require boots to reach. It is a densely planted, intensely worked1/10 of an acre, but that is not large enough for us to become self-sufficient, even if we wanted to. We cannot grow the wheat and beans, corn and barley, sunflower seeds and milk that we need for our daily calories—never mind the occasional orange, hunk of parmesan cheese, chocolate, and tea.
When we move out, we become part of the greater community. We just came back from the Fill Your Pantry event, where we bought wheat berries and oatmeal, four types of dried beans, flax seed and sweet onions to store in the basement. Combined with vegetables from our back yard, the CSA box, Sunbow farm, and the winter farmer’s market, Tillamook cheese, and milk from Monroe, they will form the backbone of our winter diet. We need to move outward for many other things as well. Someone else fixes my bike and our lawnmower; I buy my clothes from downtown stores; we eat dinner at local restaurants more often than we should, some weeks. My cat is known up and down the street for accosting people for patting. Others come in, as well. Homesteading is about having a tall orchard ladder that a friend borrows for apple picking and returns with a gallon of just pressed cider. It is the sound of someone else picking our figs into a large paper bag.
We reach out to others for community support; knowing that Sandy down the street is going to call in the party at the townhouses on Thursday night gives me a feeling of safety and connection. When we go to a lecture or concert, Mark scans the crowd and reports on the people he knows. I am always running into someone’s mother—although they don’t always admit it right away. As winter comes on, this ring pulls in closer through potlucks and craft nights, rituals and long winter walks in the damp woods.
Homesteading is also about protecting your place, not just by farming carefully, but also against outside forces. We do this when we testify to City Council and work on committees, listen to others outside of our own neighborhoods to gain perspective, form groups to defend our town from outside development. You can’t close the door on a small homestead; what happens around you hits too close to home (literally, sometimes).
We are also deeply rooted in this place, this greater bio-region known as the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, it has become home for us—Mark comes from Tennessee, I am from New Hampshire. We have learned the wildflowers; we know where to find
Fawn Lilies in the spring and plump blackberries in September. We hike in the mountains and along the coast. We understand the patterns of the weather. This is all part of homesteading—the Cascades are part of our outermost circle, even though Mary’s Peak, our local mountain, tells me when to plant my beans every spring (not before the snow has melted!).
So, we are homesteading. We have planted ourselves, literally and metaphorically, in this place that we have, in Adrienne Rich’s words “come to love.” And I think that is the real nature of homesteading— knowing your place.
XVII (from ”Twenty-One Love Poems”)
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No poison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces they had ranged against us,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us,
within us and against us, against us and within us.