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Book Review: Urban Homesteading

Want to grow food and live the sustainable lifestyle but lack the space? Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living, by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume, a glossy bible for self-sufficiency in the city, will have you tearing out your driveway to sow a garden, and diverting gray water to irrigate it. The book’s beautifully presented and amply illustrated projects are all geared toward typical city-sized lots, and interspersed with case studies of actual homesteads and working urban farms, like the two-acre rooftop farm in Brooklyn, where greens grow amid rooftop vents.

Local food is central to this vision of urban sustainability, and the authors cover a lot of ground. They explain methods for growing, storing, preserving, and gleaning. Medicinal herbs, solar cooking, and even raising and butchering animals are described. Projects for house-bound harvesters, including lesser-known foodie ventures like raising rabbits, cultivating mushrooms, and lacto-fermentation, make this not just a practical guide for homestead DIYers, but entertaining for armchair homesteaders too. 

While producing food locally is arguably the best way to live lighter on the Earth and limit dependence on a flawed global economy, it’s not the limit of Kaplan and Blume’s appetites.They also provide advice about storing rainwater and using gray water, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, designing for passive heating and cooling, building with cob, and reducing garbage production.

The book provides, not just the how-tos, but the why-tos for living an ecological lifestyle. Readers are urged to start building community and local economies where they are, with whatever projects they find interesting. The aim isn’t solitary self-sufficiency, but working with neighbors to create a more fulfilling life. 

The authors are brimming with enthusiasm for transforming their environment, and at times this leads to a prose style some readers will find too dependent on buzzwords, as in the introduction: “This book tells the story of this grassroots do-it-yourself cultural explosion rooted in the urban earth, a homegrown guild of people generating resilient, local culture.”

Most of the time that enthusiasm is a good thing—it’s hard to read Urban Homesteading without feeling the itch to grab a sledgehammer and replace some pavement with parsnips.

Oliver LazenbyOliver Lazenby wrote this article for The YES! Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Oliver is a former YES! intern, a freelance writer, and a farm laborer.

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