The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City


The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, is a delightfully readable and very useful guide to front- and back-yard vegetable gardening, food foraging, food preserving, chicken keeping, and other useful skills for anyone interested in taking a more active role in growing and preparing the food they eat. I learned a great deal about composting, self-watering containers, mulching, raised bed gardens, vermiculture (worm composting), and raising chickens by reading this info-dense book.

Unlike many self-sufficiency books, this one isn't preachy, unrealistic, or dogmatic. Instead, it's honest and often humorous. Kelly and Erik (who run the Homegrown Evolution blog) are wonderfully lucid and accessible writers. They also walk the walk -- I visited their Los Angeles home and spent a wonder couple of hours touring their abundant vegetable gardens and henhouse filled with clownlishly entertaining chickens.

If you live in LA, you can meet Erik and Kelly at the Homegrown Evolution Book Signing and Lecture. It's this Thursday, June 26th at 7:30pm at the Los Angeles Eco-Village, 117 Bimini Place, LA 90004.



  1. I loved that show. The first time I went to the UK, I asked my host if we could go visit Surbiton, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I guess it’s like someone coming to visit San Francisco, and asking if they could visit Hayward.

  2. A good resource companion comes from a little further north. Deb Tolman’s The Tolman Guide to Green Living in Portland, available online or as a free 3MB .pdf from the Portland State University Geography Department. Not much narrative, but lots of links. Despite the name, it is not limited to local Portland resources.

  3. I’ve noticed that gardening has really been making a come back in the last few years. For me it was something my family always did, going back generations. Perhaps its all the apprehensions about the state of world these days, but a lot seem to be treating gardening like it’s a political activity – guerrilla gardening.

  4. It’s about doing it when you own a house with a garden, isn’t it?

    That’s a no-brainer. I’m still waiting for a good guide to do this in an apartment with no balcony.

  5. Cefeida – if you have roof access, you can always go beekeeper: – city honey is supposed to be more delicious than rural honey because cities actually supply a greater variety of plants (all they grow out in the country these days is rape, sunflower and corn and that doesn’t amount to much in terms of tasty honey. If that sounds like too much work, try a vertical garden like the one the Casa Camper hotel has in Barcelona:

  6. I like how the guy on the cover is at the front, his rake erect and the women is behind him, looking up in wonder.

  7. To my fellow apartment dwellers I recommend home brewing. It doesn’t require much space and can really provide you with that distinct retro-lab feel.

    You can always barter with your house-and-garden enabled vegetable growing friends.

  8. @Eustace, buying property is one tool that can help the process, but not mandatory. L.A. EcoVillage, where the signing will be held Thursday, includes renters as well as co-owners, collaborating together for sustainable community.

    I believe that greater long-term success in this realm lies down the path of interdependence rather than “self-sufficiency”, sharing skills and resources and time to build greater community resiliency and foster our individual independence from external needs. That’s what the cohousing, EcoVillages, and Intentional Communities movements are all about.

    (full disclosure: I’m a volunteer boardmember for the latter linked org, and a retired consultant/boardmember for the 2d-to-last)

  9. I’ve got to get this book. I’ve been studying this sort of thing for about a year now, with the realization that I’m about to finish law school and will hopefully within a few years be able to buy some land for a house and garden(s).

    Personally, I’ve been looking into greenhouses and solar panels so I can grow non-Texas fruits year-round without needing power from The Grid.

    SO WHEN PEAK OIL HITS!!! hehehe ;)

  10. Well, I’ve been reading about this more and more recently. I must say that the idea appeals to me, especially having lived next to a Victory Garden in Washington, DC that is still in full operation some 60 years after it started.

    I read that some 40 percent of USA veggies were home grown during WWII, so if the poop really hits the fan (with Peak Oil?), I think we can adjust somewhat. I too also think the benefits here are related to recreating a sense of shared garden/shared community, but at the same time, I have not read any real discussion of the downsides of this type of urban gardening, namely looted gardens and urban foragers ransacking an open garden plot. If people really are farming in their backyards because food becomes pricey/scarce, I think a lot of people will also just gank that free food from others doing all the toil.

  11. 1. have $500,000+ to buy an urban property
    2. ????
    3 Profit! (in fruits, vegetables and chickens)

    I’m not knocking them, but the house and yard part is a big step.

  12. If you live in an apartment or other housing without gardening access, check out whether your town has public gardening plots for residents in your situation. In Portland these are scattered around the city, usually on the edge of the local park; you can sign up for a plot and plant fruit and vegetables or flowers as you please, for your own use. If your town doesn’t have this program, you could start one.

    If you just want an excuse to justify not doing anything, any excuse will do.

    Of course, this is also one of those TAB privilege problems: people who are temporarily able-bodied have a huge advantage in growing their own food.

  13. *Really not wanting to kick off a huge debate*

    That’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase TAB, so I did a lot of googling. Turns out I don’t really like it, it just seems like semantic begrudgery.

    Who ever said being able-bodied was permanent? Nobody. It is a current state of being, not a free-ticket for life. Do we need to be reminded that something could go horribly wrong? I think we are all well enough aware of that.

    As I say, these just the initial reactions to some new information I have, not an attack on anything.

  14. “Do we need to be reminded that something could go horribly wrong? I think we are all well enough aware of that.”

    Actually, I have to admit that upon reading the phrase “temporarily able-bodied” (which was also new to me), and parsing out its meaning, I did pause for a moment and consider the reality of me becoming disabled in the future – something I don’t often contemplate.

  15. This book was a great read with a bunch of useful tips….until it told me to poop in a bucket. That crossed the self-reliant|Ted Kaczynski barrier.

    Also, I’m a fan of the design of the Self-reliance Series books. But light-green backgrounds with white type? Come on. Some pages are barely readable.

  16. Arkizzle @ 20: Do we need to be reminded that something could go horribly wrong? I think we are all well enough aware of that.

    Having been temporarily disabled for several months during this past year, I can say that the answer to your question is yes, we do need to be reminded.

    In my experience, able-bodied people who’ve never had to deal with a severe injury or a chronic illness have no clue about and little to no sympathy for the challenges faced by anybody who’s not fully mobile.

  17. I see a fair number of comments along the lines of, “What kind of lazy losers would use a chair with wheels?”

  18. when I’m wheelchair bound I use it shamelessly and bully mercilessly. Having seen both sides of the fence (with the good luck to not be committed to not having the use of my legs) I make damned sure that all and sundry know that I fucking well have rights of access etc. There are laws where I live.
    Regarding growing things in the city: raised beds.
    I’ll repeat that: raised beds. Trust me, I’ve done different methods and raised beds is it. You can also raise them to a height that a wheelchair user finds comfortable.

  19. Lexica, I just think it makes a point out of no point..

    My original point was the T in TAB is redundant, because being able-bodied is already a current state of being, rather than a permanent state of being. Able-bodied already implies the possiblity of being not able-bodied.. we all wear out.

    But to include the “temporarily” specifically, reads a little sinister. As it basically says “you are disabled.. just not yet”. Should I call people with no chance of recovery “Permanently Dis-Able Bodied” to make the similar point? Of course not.

    The actual point of the phrase, as referenced by ZikZak above, is to remind us all that as we go through life, some sort of disabling event will occur to most of us (permanetly or not). For that to be true you have to include cancers and diseases that are dibilitating, but which we don’t necessarily associate with being “disabled”, and also include all the trials of getting old and having things stop working.

    But at that point we are just saying, “watch out, people get sick, and old, and hurt themselves” and if that isn’t what everybody is avoiding most of the time, then I dunno what we’re doing. Frankly I think we get enough reminders from the media, every day, that everything can go horribly wrong.

    We will all die. Should I refer to every living person as “Temporarily Alive”?

    We are also “Temporarily Not Old”, “Temporarily Employed”, “Temporarily Unthreatened by Terrorists”, “Temporarily Married/Parents/Children”. Do you need to be reminded (by a stranger) that you can be-divorced/die/lose-your-job at any moment? No, but those things (in different wording) will all happen to each of us eventually, by death. Everything we do is temporary if we take it to the same lengths as TAB.

    For me the phrase seems redundant, and pointed. And as I said, I don’t like it.

    Antinous, is that @ me?
    I’m not sure of your point or it’s context.

  20. I wasn’t referring to you. There’s a general trend to diss motorized gadgets when they actually make life livable for some people. The young and whole tend to forget that they won’t stay that way.

  21. Phew! I didn’t know what to make of it :)

    When I’m at university, I live in Bournemouth, a seaside town known for its old folk.. Kinda like Florida is (was?)

    We have gangs of oldies going around in motorized chairs, and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. It’s like watching a motor-cycle-gang movie from the 50’s these day; they all look so harmless with their neat hair and clean clothes, but watch out! :)

  22. Hey folks,

    Just to let you know, it’s possible to raise an enormous amount of vegetables in a very small backyard without pooping into a bucket.

    I’ve got a 50′ X 100′, mostly taken up by house, and I’m still able to able to feed a family of four (two horrible teens at that!) with the veggies from my backyard. I’ve done this for years, work 58 hours a week at my job, and still have time to deal with the garden. It’s busy, but very doable.

    Raised beds are the thing (in most years[expect 10 degrees higher or more in a raised bed, and yes, you can dry out or kill a seedling with that heat]) and all I grow is organic. You really can’t believe what you can get out of a backyard garden until you’ve done it (and had a successful year).

    I live in Western Ma, so it ain’t about a long season either. Every year you can’t believe the weather in April (May, June, July…etc.) or in September, yet you still load the freezer with food. Just buy a decent upright freezer and you never have to buy vegetables again, save for lettuce or cabbage, which don’t freeze so good.

    It’s really within the reach of 99% of homeowners, so no whining, just do it.

  23. Hahaha! I’m sure my landlord would love a bunch of people putting beehives on the roof of our building.

  24. bees don’t bug anyone who leaves them be. If you just buzz off instead of behaving like some drone, they are as sweet as honey and just want to be workers for you.

  25. This is ridiculous.

    Middleclass people pretending they are doing what exactly? Saving the world? Being self reliant? (yeah sure, and all the implements, seeds, feed, whatever came for the vaccum in their gardens…)

    This is one book more that offers psychological paliatives to the well heeled while avoiding the bleeding obvious: a big house with garden is one of the most ecologically wasteful ways to live, and saving a couple of hundred dollars a year may sooth your soul but is not making you self reliant, more like self delussional.

    Want self reliance? Just stop or reduc your consumption of red meat and meat in any form in general. This is worth suppoting, since the transfer of caloric content from veggies to meat is too wasteful.

    That would be authentic self reliance with a socio-political conscience….

  26. what’s wrong with guerrilla gardening and tearing up lawns and planting food? this book is for apartment renters and people who live in a house as well.

    you hate middle class people? You don’t have long to wait until the entire class is devastated….

  27. Wow, this post opened *two* cans of worms. All the better to use for vermiculture!

    But really, TZCTLP, no one’s claiming that the urban gardeners are becoming totally self-sufficient. Obviously the seeds come from a mail order catalog, the rake (or hoe!) from a military owned factory in China, etc. etc. The point is that some sort of gardening/urban homesteading/whatever is an *improvement* over the status quo. It makes people slightly more self sufficient. Slightly more engaged with the environment. And gets people away from the computer long enough to keep them from posting bilious comments about terrible, “delussional” bougie gardeners.

  28. TZCLTP, I don’t understand your militant veggie point of view. How can you support your argument?

    In the winter, I can kill and eat the animals I feed in the summer with my apple, pawpaw, persimmon and nut trees. My teeth have been optimized by evolution for this purpose – I have veggie-grinding teeth for summer, and ripping and cutting teeth for meat in winter.

    Without human predation (which is principally supplied by incompetent drivers) a fairly large number of deer would starve to death in my little valley. That’s why there were wolves here 250 years ago, because the environment needs predators and is not ecologically stable without them.

    I could, at least locally, commit genocide against the deer, groundhogs, raccoons and squirrels that share my land. It’s doable, except maybe the squirrels. Then I could devote all my land to raising crops, and burn fuel to process them into storable forms, and support so many children that I could breed an army of humans to replace all the other species that will not be necessary since they will all be vegetarians… wait, which part of converting my land to vegetable production was supposed to be “ecologically and sociopolitically sound?”


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