The Empire Has No Clothes

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The following is excerpted from Urban Homesteading: Heirloom
Skills for Sustainable
Living, by
Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume,
available here.

Grow it
Local

Re-structuring
local economies to
protect the earth and evolve our culture is central to
the homesteading path.
We are currently enmeshed in what has been called the
extractive economy, where
corporate wealth is regarded as the foundation for
economic health; where
mining our earth's resources and exploiting our citizens
and international
neighbors is accepted as the cost of doing business. The
urban homesteading way
seeks a local life-serving economy that creates, as
David Korten artfully said,
"a living for all, rather than a killing for a few."
These practices protect
our common inheritance of clean water, breathable air,
and a life of joy and
meaning for our families.[1]

The
best way to participate in
changing the world is to change our own personal
practices, including how we
live, how we eat, how we travel, and how we relate to
others. Re-inventing our
relationship to the places we call home can
significantly impact change. The
home has been moved from the center of culture by the
force of the marketplace.
This devolutionary move has robbed us of the means of
production, and the
ability to care in simple, basic ways for ourselves, our
families, our
communities and the earth. Bringing the home back to the
center of culture
where it belongs will create a meaningful path toward a
regenerative future.

One of
the central ethics of
homesteading is a sense of bioregionalism, our awareness
of, and commitment to,
the place where we live. Bioregionalism teaches us about
the specific
ecological and cultural relationships happening around
us, engaging a process
of asking simple questions about moonrise and moonset,
about soil, about air
and wind, about where our water comes from and where our
waste goes. This way
of becoming native to place, of living within nature's
limits and gifts, is a
way of creating a life that can be shared by all and
passed on to future
generations. As Paul Hawken said, "We must know our
place in a biological and
cultural sense, and reclaim our role as engaged agents
of our continued
existence…Concern for the wellbeing of others is bred in
the bone. We became
human by working together and helping one another, and
what it takes to arrest
our descent into chaos is one person after another
remembering who and where
they really are."[2]

Bioregionalism
values home above all
else because home is where values and behaviors are
learned before they move
out into the world. In the home, alternatives can root
and flourish and become
deeply embedded in our way of being. The word ecology
points us in this direction: oikos, the
Greek root of "eco," means home. Hearth and home provide
the theater of our human ecology, the place where we can
relearn how to think
with our hearts, to embody what we know to be true: that
tending to our
environment is the same as tending to ourselves, and we
ignore this true work
at our peril.

 

The
Homegrown Guild

One of
the great losses to
culture in the last sixty years has been the ability of
people to be even
modestly self-sufficient at home. Homesteading in the city
is a
land-based, action-oriented Yes to
the possibility of remaking culture with people and planet
in mind, bringing
back some of this lost power of doing it ourselves. We
make no claims toward
self-sufficiency: we can bake our own bread, but we cannot
grow the wheat. But
self-sufficiency, like independence, isn't a true goal.
Our greatest need at
this time is to learn to work together, to form guilds of
differently-abled
farmers, blacksmiths, renegade plumbers, solar installers,
beekeepers,
mycologists, fermenting fetishists, somatic healers,
technology wizards,
performance artists, alternative educators, and herbal
potion-brewers to remake
our cities.

A guild
is an alliance of craftspeople or artisans from a
more traditional time. An early form of the union, its
primary benefit was
camaraderie and support for best practices, as well as a
source for learning
more skills and expanding support for the profession.
Guilds also had the
conservative function of slowing down the processes of
innovation generated by
industrialization that often resulted in a loss of quality
and right
livelihood. We
need homegrown guilds today, as we relearn skills we have
forgotten and
redesign our cities toward sustainability.

Here's
an example of what that can look like. In 2009, six
households in Petaluma, CA produced more than 3,000 pounds
of food; foraged
another ton of local fruit; harvested more than 4,000
pounds of urban waste to
be composted and mulched; planted more than 185 fruit
trees and hundreds of
varieties of edible and habitat plants; installed five
greywater and rainwater
catchment systems that saved and recycled tens of
thousands of gallons of
water; tended to bees, chickens, quail, ducks, and
rabbits; and worked toward
reducing energy use and enhancing commuting and
transportation goals. All this
from six
households! Imagine a city
where a majority of people tended to many of their daily
needs in this way-the
amount of food and water and energy and waste that could
be managed sustainably
is incredible.[3]

Our
small daily actions toward the things that nourish us
have an enormous impact. We have to shake off the trance
that tells us this is
not so. Now is the time to experiment, maybe fail, but
always learn some
more. We cannot remake
the world in whole, only in part. We have at hand old and
new
technologies we can harness in remaking the world.
Resourceful participation in the big work of
re-positioning ourselves in a swiftly changing world,
learning skills we can
use at home, is the way of the future. We offer these
technologies as spiritual
practices in an incredibly challenging time and are here
to report that in many
ways that are good for planet and people, they work.

Urban
farming is nothing new; in many parts of the world,
it's a way of life. Cuba has an active urban farming
movement, initiated when
the USSR collapsed and precipitously stopped oil exports
to the country. In
Shanghai, residents produce 85 percent of their vegetables
within city limits.
The government of Tanzania encourages the cultivation of
every piece of land in
Dar es Salaam. Homesteaders around this country are
engaged with the differing
realities that their watersheds, climates, and history
demand. Austin,
Philadelphia, Newark, Brooklyn, Oakland, Portland, Los
Angeles, and Detroit are
all centers of rapid agricultural growth and production,
each with their own
place-based expression and local, evolving economies.

Some of
the central urban
homesteading practices are the same as homesteading
practices
everywhere-growing and preserving food, caring for and
harvesting animals,
foraging, making medicine, tending to the resources of
water and waste and
energy. But a city's unique and abundant resource is human
energy-the
intelligence, creativity, needs, hurts, history and
futures of a city's people
converging in exciting and sometimes destructive ways.
Learning to harvest this
energy and direct it toward community projects is a
central survival strategy
of the twenty-first century. The land frontiers have been
conquered. The final
frontier is learning how to live in harmony with one
another and the world around
us. Rebuilding a network of relationships between the
earth and its inhabitants
will be key to human evolution and survival.

 

Do-It-Yourself
(DIY) Culture

DIY is
an
alternative culture strategy that helps us thrive outside
the confines of the
capitalist machine. It is an ethic of curiosity,
exploration, and empowerment
that can be applied to many aspects of our lives-growing
food, sewing clothes,
creating homegrown entertainment, writing books,
fermenting vegetables,
educating children. It feels good to do it yourself. This
is a sane way to
reorient our living toward a more just and equitable
distribution of limited
natural resources, and it supports the goal of
sustainability through a maximum
reduction in consumption and an expansion of creativity,
and personal and
community empowerment.

It's
important for each of us to
have a physical skill that is satisfying as well as
sustaining-knitting or
sewing or blacksmithing or canning or gardening. A "can
do" attitude about all
the activities people mastered as a matter of course in
the past is required.
It's important to remember how to be resourceful and
figure out how to do
something yourself. Collapsing at the mere thought of
failure is no longer an
option. Standing up and doing it yourself is a core
homesteading way, something
to relearn in our buy-it-yourself culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]
Hayes, Shannon, Radical
Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer
Culture
,
New York: Left to Write Press, 2010.

[2]
Hawken, Paul, Blessed
Unrest: How the Largest Social Movemetn in History
is
Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World
.
New York: Penguin Books,
2007.

[3]
Tracking this
regenerative action was a project of the Homegrown
Guild, the permaculture-in-action
arm of non-profit educational organization Daily Acts
based in Petaluma.

 

Teaser image by northbaywanderer, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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