Sunday, February 20, 2011

Urban Homesteading at Rachel's Tiny Farm

Most folks by now know about the Path to Shooting Yourself in the Foot AKA the Dervaes family's trademark of "Urban Homestead" and "Urban Homesteading". For those of you that have managed to miss it, the brief summary is that a prominent urban homesteading family in Pasadena got the phrases Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading trademarked late last year. They then sent intimidating cease and desist style letters to other urban homesteaders or that dared use that decades-old term in their name or events. They had Facebook pages taken down of some folks and small businesses like Denver Urban Homesteading, a small farmer's market in Denver that also teaches and promotes self-sufficiency. There's a lot more that adds to the egregiousness of the situation, but a quick search will pull up dozens+ of stories about it, so I'll refrain from writing another one here. The long and short of it is that essentially the entire urban homesteading movement is upset. This is not a great move when your income, via donations and an internet store that sells urban homesteading-related items (with a pretty hefty markup so purchasing from them also includes an implied donation) depends primarily on other urban homesteaders.

I remember picking fruits and veggies at my grandparents house starting when I was very young, my grandmother also had shelves full of what seemed like hundreds of jars of canned foods that I liked to sit and stare at, though the only thing I wanted to eat were the cinnamon apples. She didn't teach me how to can, but she sparked the thing in my brain that made me want to do it, and has helped me along the way. It probably started in my grandparents gardens in the Ozarks when I was too small to remember and slowly snowballed into what it has become today, picking up bits of information and skills as I roll along my way.

Enough about that. In response, here are some things relating to self-sufficiency that are practiced here at the tiny farm. This is a post standing with my fellow urban homesteaders showing an overview of some of the things we do, illustrating that urban homesteading is a widespread phenomenon, deeply rooted and not something that one family can own. (No pics this time, sorry!)

Aquaponics: We're about 8 months into raising tilapia in a small (200 gallon tank, 100 gallon grow bed) home-made aquaponics system and loving it. I love the results and the concept, it's almost like having my own tiny biosphere in the backyard, without the late-night pizza deliveries... for those of you that remember that little fiasco. My goal for 2011 is to get the bigger system set-up and running. We're half way there, the pond is built and has gambusia (mosquito fish) swimming around eating any would-be baby mosquitos, I've just got to get the grow beds in and the mechanics finished. Another goal is to switch over to feeding the fish completely with homegrown feed (black soldier fly larvae, duckweed etc).

Food preservation: We do both dehydrating and canning. I prefer to dehydrate because the resulting product takes up less space and it uses only the arid AZ weather to create. (We use a solar dehydrator that I built which you can read about HERE.) This last year I found a brand-new pressure canner for cheap, so I'm able to do both water bath and pressure canning now. The pressure canner still makes me nervous and the safety monitor in me wants to wear a helmet and goggles while using it. For now I'm resisting the extra apparel and am I'm grateful to have the option to can low acid foods.

Chickens and Quail: We raise these (in separate areas!) mostly for eggs, occasionally meat. Because you can have quail roosters in the city, I'm able to breed the quail. In fact there's a batch in the incubator due to hatch the first week in March. The birds' manure can't be overlooked either, with attempting to grow as much as I do, that valuable fertilizer is necessary!

Composting: Because of composting, re-using and recycling, our household of two, including our businesses, now creates a small bag of trash every two weeks. Of course there are the other obvious benefits of composting.

Year round food gardens: Although we hit a new record low this year of 19˚ (how do you cold climate people get through winter??!!) our winters are pretty mild, generally with only a handful of freezes. Interestingly, the September through February season is often the most productive time of year in Phoenix, so 365 days a year there is something in the yard available for eating.

Solar power: The house, though on grid, creates 100% of the electricity it uses annually from photovoltaics on our roof. We also often cook with a solar oven, and dehydrate with the aforementioned solar dehydrator.

Rainwater collection: We have one 275 gallon rain collector and a few other smaller ones. Someday we hope to have a cistern, but that's likely a year or two off.

Household miscellany: I do our haircuts, we repair rather than replace when possible, use a clothesline, use a lot of homemade cleansers, make gifts or buy them from friends or other individuals that make neat things.

Seed Saving: With the exception of one Super Sweet 100 tomato I'm growing this year all of our seeds are open-pollinated. I love both the action and the idea of saving seed. As many of my friends know, I'm a seed hoarder. I'm trying to divest myself of this problem(?) but it's tricky. With all the horrible things that are going on in the mega-seed world, preserving open-pollinated varieties seems like an easy way to do some good deeds.

Helping others: Helping other folks that want to be more self-sufficient is one of the most important things an urban homesteader can do. You've got some skills or books you don't need anymore? Pass it on. Even if it's just taking the time to answer someones email questions. This year I feel lucky enough to have the ability to not only continue teaching chicken raising classes for the Valley Permaculture Alliance (formerly Phoenix Permaculture Guild) but to be recently added to their board of directors (It's unpaid, so don't get too excited about the possibility of the Tiny Farm adding acreage or anything). I was also able to host two seed swaps for Arizona Homegrown Solutions and donate about 700 packs of seeds (Remember that seed-hoarding thing?).

Our reasons for doing all of this are many-fold. Lessening our environmental impact is a big one. Another one is financial. My husband and myself are both self-employed freelancers, I'm a painter (art not houses) and he's an animator. As you can imagine, our income is sporadic and not huge. The relief of not having to worry about paying an electric bill is great. Due to saving rainwater, using many native-adapted plants and earthworks to use water most efficiently, our water bill is no higher than a house with a standard lawn. Our food tastes good, I know where it comes from and that it hasn't been genetically modified or covered in pesticides and our grocery bill is reduced. Finally, it's just a good feeling to live as self-sufficiently as possible, tens of thousands of people agree.


nicole Reeves said...

Wonderful Post Rachel. I enjoyed hearing about the all the different urban homesteading practices you employ at your Tiny Farm. I attended your quail class and learned quite a lot.

Sweet Life Garden said...

Wow, amazing and wonderful! Thankyou for sharing all of your gifts with us. What an example you are!

Chile said...

Rachel, I'm impressed with how much you do (and still manage to find time for your awesome painting) on a little city plot. We had done quite a few similar things and had plans to do just about everything on your list when we moved out to our one acre north of Tucson. Sadly, the bureaucracy of county zoning put a halt to our plans, as you'll be able to read about when I finish my post today.

Inspired, though, by all you folks doing so much in little yards, we now plan to carve out a piece of the dogs' yard to do some gardening and maybe even add chickens. I'm trying to convince my sweetie that the best use for the water wasteful big spa tub in the master bathroom (that I never use) would be an indoor aquaponics set up. hehe

Heidi said...

i love the link to your solar dehydrator. i'm wondering if i could make something like that work here in San Fran. maybe in the fall when it's really dry. summers are extremely foggy. great post.

Lylah Ledner said...

Lovely blog, the way your write...very glad i stopped going to go back and read your dehydrating post....

blessings on you! lylah

Little House in the Desert said...

Hey its Pauline from the seed swap a couple weeks ago! Finally paid a visit! Will have to look around! Very interested in your aquaponics set up--we are just in the starting process of that.

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Anonymous said...

Rachel, if you can connect with a lawyer who is offended by the trademarking as you are, he/she might be able to file a suit. Certainly the trademark should be rescinded given that it was a word in use before that couple co-opted it.

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