Thursday, March 31, 2011

True Confessions of An Urban Homesteader

Lately I've been feeling a bit less than in the urban homesteading department.  We've had rain for almost a month solid, and aside from the 17 things we have planted not much is going on around the urban homestead yet this spring.  We don't really get to have fun in the garden here until around April due to our lengthy Northern Coast rainy season.  So today as I was feeling somewhat like an urban homesteading loser I came across this awesome post by Half Acre Homestead titled "At What Point Am I Real?"  Her post pretty much sums up the conundrum we as urban homesteaders can face when surrounded by the multitude of urban homesteaders, all trying to live self sufficiently.  It can be overwhelming, let's face it!  Being the main admin for the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) page I'm inundated by hundreds if not thousands of incredible urban homesteaders every day on line through blogs, web pages, articles, etc. and it's both amazing and terrifying at times.  While I love all of the new ideas and information I'm amassing I have to be careful not to end up on "urban homestead overload."

This is our second season here on the homestead, and even though Ron has worked in horticulture since high school and has a green thumb the size of New York we're still figuring out what grows well here, how to grow it, what not to grow, and on and on.  We just got chickens, so we're obviously newbie urban homesteaders.  I'm finally coming to the revelation that urban homesteading is not a race, but a slow steady individual process.  Changing a person's lifestyle takes time, especially if you're going to do it right.  Some people take to it quickly and within a few months are transformed into urban homesteading super heros gardening, canning, raising chickens and spinning their own organic threads and fibers over night, while others, (like us), take a few years adding slowly to our urban homesteading repitoire over time.


I think one of the important things to consider when doing urban homesteading is priorities.  For us growing our own greens was at the top of the list, so we started our garden as soon as possible.  We live close to the bay and our soil was sandy and extremely nutrient deficient.  Last year our garden was the main focus, so any extra time we had went there.  This year it's chickens, and between building the coop and raising 6 little hens we have our hands full.  Some of our future goals include:  bee keeping, aqua culture, water catchment system, soap making, fiber spinning and the list goes on!  Since there are so many possibilities I think it's a good idea to make up a "urban homesteading planning" list.  If you prioritize your interests from "must haves" to "can wait" the process becomes a lot less daunting and you can actually get something done.  You should buy the books, find your favorite blogs and websites, and see them as resources for your individual lifestyle, but don't feel like you have to do everything at once.  If you start to feel too overwhelmed take a step back and look at what is the most important to you, then focus on that.

Here is my long and short lists of our urban homesteading priorities, and the "have done" "in process" and "to do's."

pallet compost bins (2)
raised beds (9)
compost rich soil for raised beds
veggies growing/planted (14)
fruit trees (3)
blue berry bushes (5)
herb garden
chickens (6)
bunny (1)
frogs (imported to our pond)
wild birds (new to our property
since we planted flowers)

bread making
cooking with veggies/herbs

In Process Now:
chicken coop
green house

To Do This Spring/Summer:
fruit trees (2-3)
rain catchment & irrigation system

soap/shampoo making/bath salts

To Do (Future):
aqua culture
bat box

dying fabric

So what are your top urban homesteading priorities?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Kids Reap

When we first talked about having our own garden the main benefits we saw were sustainability, health, cost saving, etc.  Though these have definitely been major benefits we've reaped from having an urban homestead one of the things I didn't realize would be such an amazing plus is the experience our kids would have.  From the first time we planted our kids have been observing the process, absorbing everything, and loving every minute of it.  Urban homesteading has become a life style for the entire family.  It's been a great way for us to spend quality family time together on weekends.  Our week days are full of school, commuting, dance lessons, and the typically too full American work week.  But when the rains subside and we're all home we head out to the garden together and unwind from the busyness of it all.  There is nothing like working together as a family to complete a task, especially when the result is beneficial to everyone.

Our daughter loves the animals and is our little "mother hen" to the chicks  When I get up in the morning she is holding one on her lap, then when she gets home from school or dance class she heads straight to the chick's box and picks up Henrietta.  She makes sure the chicks, bunny, cats, and wild birds are all fed and watered every day.  It's teaching her responsibility and consistency, and she's learning to reap the rewards of her labors, which is so important for kids.  I think she's most happy when she's with the animals which is truly a wonderful thing.

Our little guy loves being in the garden, even when it's freezing cold and raining.  He loves watering, always has.  Yesterday he was using rainwater to water his strawberry plants and he asked me to take pictures of him.  He knows which veggies are sprouting, which have been planted, and where everything is in the garden.  He's also learning to help dad build things out on the homestead.  Yesterday he and Ron were working on the coop, yes, we're still not done with it.  We got him his own shovel, tool box and gardening tools so he can get plenty of things done out there.  He's always asking what he can do to help, and whatever he does is executed with much boy gusto!

The other day I made mention of getting a goat and my daughter said, "Mom, do we really need more animals out in the yard?!"  I know at times a 12 year old can't help but wonder why her parents are so crazy about gardening and livestock, but at least when she grows up she will be able to grow her own garden and understand what sustainable living is in a tangible way.

So how have your kids benefited from having an urban homestead? 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Humboldt County Seed and Plant Exchange

Today we headed out into the rainy weather for the annual Humboldt County Seed and Plant Exchange.  What is more fun for an urban homesteader than loads of people, seeds, plants, and Blue Grass?  We showed up for the last 45 minutes and people were still pouring in, grabbing seeds and plants and having a grand time.  There were educational tables, food and books as well.  I love this kind of community event, education, and sharing.

There were loads of bean and herb seeds.


There were so many people it was hard to squeeze into a spot for seeds, and this was right at the end!

A guy had a huge book table on topics from gardening to veganism.  Good thing I didn't have any money...I would have bought out the farm!

Dread lock blue grass and plants, only in Humboldt!

Some graduate students were giving away Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, and other heirloom seeds as part of their senior project.  We are supposed to bring back the seeds the plants produce for the next seed cool is that?!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Urban Homesteader's Action Day

Tomorrow is our third urban homesteader's action day.  We're attempting to finish signing a petition to the Dervaes Institute to cancel the trademarks on the words Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading.  We have 1829 signatures and need 2000, so if you haven't done so yet please head on over and sign!  Let's show the world that we are more than just a handful of bloggers upset about the trademarks.  We are a large community of urban homesteaders who will continue to fight for what is rightfully ours.  Go urban homesteaders!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the Kitchen Table

The other day I realized our reading material is urban homestead/farm/sustainable living focused these days.  We ordered The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City  a few weeks back after the whole urban homestead TM controversy came out.  It's a great read and I'd recommend it to beginning through advanced urban homesteaders.  It's the go to "hand book" for urban homesteading.  I've been getting Real Simple for months now and it's a fabulous sustainable living resource as well as chocked full of organizational advice which any mom can benefit from.  Whenever I feel like I'm in need of some organization I grab a Real Simple.  We've been drooling over the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds magazine Ron picked up at work the other day.  Their website touts them as "America's top source for pure heirloom seeds."  Spring is around the corner and with the arrival of the chicks I thought this repro Little Golden Book Baby Farm Animals would be perfect for our little guy.  The illustrations are delightful and it's a good beginning reader.  

So what urban homesteading reads are on your kitchen table?

Happy St. Patrick's Day Garden Style

In honor of St. Patty's Day I snapped some green themed garden pics.  As an artist I find beauty in the garden all year long, even in the midst of frigid rainy weather.  This time of year the flowers are starting to peek up through the earth and I'm seeing splashes of color here and there.  The starts are growing and some of the seeds are sprouting in the garden.  Spring is right around the corner finally even though it's grey, cold, and wet out.  I hope you enjoy this "green" tour through my mid March garden.  Happy St. Patty's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chick Update

Lately the big happening on our urban homestead is the arrival of our chicks.  Yes we have things sprouting up and Ron's been out getting the garden ready for spring, building the coop, (when it isn't raining which has been a rare day), and trimming the trees, but these chicks are stealing the lime light big time.  When the kids get home from school both of them immediately grab one and it seems that one of them is always holding one.  I had no idea how much fun they would have with the chicks.  It makes me happy to no end seeing them with these little pets.  My daughter is gentle and very motherly with them, and the little guy is gentle with them too, although at times a bit unpredictable so I have to watch him like a hawk.  As you can see in the pic below this is one very happy little boy.

The larger chicks are two weeks old now and they look huge!  They're a bit less easy to hold now, but the kids still find a way.  Ron put a bunch of dirt and sticks in the bottom of their box and they're very happy little chicks in there.  They scratch and peck non stop and make happy little sounds.  Ron says, "They feel like real chickens now."  I'm wondering how long they will let the kids hold them.  Time will tell how long they will put up with being grabbed day in and day out.  It seems like the Cuckoo Marans are more tame than the Buff Orpingtons at this point.    

Last weekend we picked up two new additions, aren't they adorable?!  The one on the right is a Ameraucano and she is super tame and mellow.  We're all in love with her, putting it mildly.  The other one is a Black Orpinton and isn't quite as tame.  She's incredibly loud and the kids have named her "Peeper."  

The chicks had an outing last week to pre-school.  The teachers set up this little barn yard fence for them, talk about adorable.  The kids loved them and I plan to bring one back once they're bigger.  So, that's the update here on the Alexander urban homestead!  What's going on over at your place?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Thrifting Finds

Many of you know me as an urban homesteader, but I'm also very much into sustainable living as well.  I've always loved thrifting from the time I was a kid mainly because my Grandma did most of her shopping at thrift stores, garage sales, and junk stores.  She taught me how to spot a deal and educated me about vintage and antique pieces.  Her farmhouse was filled to the brim with antiques, most of which she got in thrift stores.  I remember when we could get vintage Fiesta plates for a few dollars; those were the days!  She had many other thrifty tricks up her sleeve, probably gained by living through the Great Depression.  I remember her getting free cans from grocery stores because the labels had fallen off.  It was my job to shake the cans and figure out what was inside.  Grandpa scavenged bucket loads of free past date old produce from the grocery store and would feed the chickens and cows with it.  Some of the produce was in perfect shape so it ended up on the dinner table.  Now that's what I call sustainable living!

I love collecting vintage things, and most of the antiques and vintage items in my home are from thrift stores, garage sales, Craig's List, or were inherited.  I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the items that I bought at an antique store.  Most of the time I pick up things from the 30's through 70's era, but once in a while I do happen upon a real antique.  The great thing about thrifting is you never know what you're going to find, and chances are you won't walk out of the store having spent a ton.  When I get tired of looking at things I just donate them back.  Another benefit of thrifting is that I'm not helping out the huge corporations, and that gives me great satisfaction.  I admit I do shop at Target sometimes, mainly for the kids because they like new, but I'm working on educating them about the benefits of thrifting I can promise you.

Today I took a trip over the the thrift store while my daughter was in ballet class.  I scored some awesome stuff, and the grand total was only $8!!

So what was your latest thrifting score?    

Spring is coming and you can never have enough vases for flowers.  I got these beautiful emerald green vintage vases for a grand total of $4.  I'm starting a green vase collection, and I think I have 4 now.

My daughter just started ballet pointe classes and she loves little knick knacks, so this ballerina figurine was perfect for her.  The vintage soap dish was made in Japan and is in perfect condition.

I have a thing for plates, especially those with a blue motif.  This winter farm scene is so charming.  The cost? 50 cents.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Story of a Housewife That Started an Epic Facebook Page

Three weeks ago yesterday I started the facebook page Take Back Urban Home-steading(s).  The day started out pretty much like any other day, then events both on the web and in my life began to take unexpected and surprising turns.  Some of it's a blur to me, but to my best recollection this page was started the day my uncle Phil passed away.  Two days prior another person had passed away in our family, Moochie, the grandmother figure to our family.  Just as we were starting to recover from her death the unexpected and tragic death of my uncle Phil hit us sending us reeling into further shock and grief.  Two deaths in two days seems unimaginable, but it happened, and we continue to work through the shock, disbelief and grief.  Whether it was a way to deal with my grief, a distraction, or merely coincidence, this page came into being.

That day as I went through my usual facebook routine I came across a post by the Dervaes family which read, "We're getting death threats now."  I quickly went to their page to investigate what was going on.  People were asking questions left and right, and no answers were being given.  Then Deanna Duke of  The Crunchy Chicken  posted a link to her blog post:  Urban Homesteader's Cease and Desist.  It turns out that the Dervaes family of "The Path to Freedom" had trademarked the words "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading."  The urban homesteading community was outraged, putting it mildly.  We began to express our anger and frustration about what they had done, one thing led to another, and I knew I had to do something.  "What if we started our own facebook page to take our words back?" I posted.  People were in full support, so I did it.  I knew I couldn't use the words urban homestead or urban homesteading because several pages had been pulled with these words including the Denver Urban Homesteading and an Oakland bay area group called the Institute of Urban Homesteading who wrote the book Urban Homesteading, (whos publishers have also been sent informal cease and desist letters from the Dervaes.)  Those college grammar classes finally came in handy and I threw a dash into the word homestead and added an "s" in parenthesis at the end.  Then I went back to the Dervaes page to share the link but the page had disappeared.  I panicked thinking we had lost our chance.  I remembered some of the names of the people I had been chatting with luckily, Deanna being one of them. I quickly friended them, sent them a link to our page "Take Back Urban Home-steading(s)", and the rest is history.  Deanna put our link on her blog, (thank you Deanna!), and people began to spread our page like wild fire all over facebook.  "I'll send your link to my 1000 fans" one guy said, and others made similar comments.  Within 24 hours we had 2000 likes and counting, and we had started a twitter account that was tweeting away, (thank you Michele!)  Before we knew it we were on Boing Boing, OC Weekly, LA Weekly, Blogher, and numerous blogs and on line news sources.

My friend and fellow urban homestead blogger and reporter Melody Stone of  It's All Happening contacted me and said, "April, this is truly epic!"  Her husband Luke was actually the person who submitted our page to Boing Boing, which has statistically brought the most traffic to our page.  "The internet has turned on these people and created a movement", (paraphrased), they told me.  "So what do I do now?"  I asked, completely clueless as to what an internet movement was, or even how this had happened.  "I just started a page though!" I said.  Melody's advice was to let it do its thing and sit back and watch.  So that's what I've been doing for the past three weeks and as we near 6000 likes I continue to be astounded and proud to be part of such a thriving, giving, organic and impassioned community.

Recently the Dervaes have accused our movement of "spreading false reports that have led to a smear campaign against members of our family."  This is from their web site, and I won't post a link to increase their page hits.  If you really want to see it go to their Path to Freedom site and it's there.  They have also accused bloggers of false reporting.  Let's set the record straight once and for all.  It all started when the Dervaes sent out informal cease and desist letters to bloggers, specifically the Urban Homestead Experiment, publishers of homesteading books including: Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume, and The Urban Homestead - Your Guide to Self Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, public libraries, and web sites including Denver Urban Homesteading.  They also had facebook shut down pages which included the terms in them, including the Denver Urban Homesteading who relied on the page for their business, The Urban Homestead Experiment, and The New Institute of Urban Homesteading, which is an educational project, with NO notice whatsoever.  They're claiming that they are the ones who have coined modern urban homesteading.  Urban homesteading ideals have actually been published by Mother Earth News in the articles: "The Integral Urban House (1976) and Live Country in the City (1979) and books on urban homesteading were also published in various books prior to the turn of the century.  The idea has been around a long time and the Dervaes didn't invent it.  They are attempting to trademark a lifestyle, one which abhors commercialism in any sense, and one which won't back down until we re-gain the words that define who we are.

I've been blogging for several years now and was planning to start my own urban homesteading blog right around the time this controversy started up.  I think it's the main reason I created the page;  what the Dervaes has done directly affects me and my right to free speech.  Now they claim that it's ok for bloggers to use the term, (thanks for the permission), but haven't rescinded the letters they sent or restored the facebook pages they had pulled.  So how are we fighting back?  The Electronic Frontier Foundation decided to take up the case for Process Media, the publishers for The Urban Homestead due to the huge outcry from the urban homesteading community.  We're raising funds via our page to help the Denver Urban Homesteading file a petition to cancel the trademarks.  We started an online petition to cancel the trademarks, and have had several action days in which we use the words and spread information about our cause, first through a blogging day of action and last week through a Youtube day of action.

Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) has become far more than an urban homesteaders activism hub through all of this.  Despite the battle we face we have become a cohesive organic community for urban and suburban homesteaders and we share advice, encourage one another, provide resources and networking, share blogs, and create a positive venue for people to share free information with one another.  We refuse to be trademarked by two words and we continue to spread the truth in an ethical non biased way.  We are not a smear campaign, and we are willing to take a hard look at what who we are and what we represent.  I am proud of this community who has banned together and created a thriving hopeful community.  We live in the land of opportunity, and when we saw our community being threatened we stood up and took action.  Go urban homesteaders!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Chickens Are Here!

We've been talking about getting chickens for over a year now and I felt like the day would never come.  Well, last Saturday it did and we have our chicks now at long last!  We loaded up in the car early in the morning and drove over to A&L Feed which was built before the turn of the century and is one of those wonderful old fashioned feeling feed stores.  I haven't seen the kids this excited since Christmas, seriously!  I think raising chickens is going to be a good experience for the whole family, especially the kids.  It will most likely become one of their fondest childhood memories, and I'm grateful to be part of it.

I guess now we feel like "real urban homesteaders" finally. (As of starting an urban homesteading page of nearly 6000 wasn't enough!)  There is something about raising chickens that makes you feel bonified, if that makes sense.  People are already asking to come over in the spring when our garden is pretty and the chickens are living the good life in their coop, and we will.  We already have egg orders flooding in and these chicks aren't even a month old!  It's going to be fun, and it already is.  

I had to take a pic of the feed store, it's that cool.

That is one excited little boy!

Here is one of our Buff Orpingtons.

One of the two Cucko Marrans and a very happy little one.  Can't wait for those chocolate colored eggs!

Sarah has become "mommy" to the chicks.  She cleans their box twice a day and is quite protective of them.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Urban Homesteader's Day of Action via Youtube

Today is our second urban homesteader's day of action!  We're posting videos on Youtube about urban homesteading and you can find them here on the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) discussion page

This was my first video attempt on my new camera, so somehow I ended up with the largest possible file, oh well.  It took all night to upload on Youtube, and you can view it here on  Youtube. Ron is harvesting some beets and discusses what urban homesteading means to us.  Funnily enough he forgot to mention that I was the creator of the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) page.  He also says that I'm the one who discovered the controversy which is partly true.  I was one of the first ones to find out about it, but for the record I wasn't the first!  Anyway, enjoy watching urban homesteaders across the country showing off their urban homesteads and talking about why they do what they do!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Urban Homesteader's Day of Action

Monday is the second day of action for urban homesteaders!  This time we plan to upload videos via Youtube about who we are and discuss the current battle we wage to regain the words that define our movement.  So far about 40 people have signed up to either help spread the word or make a video and post it on Youtube.  We're going to post under a common link on the
YouTube page here 

I can't wait to see all of the urban homesteads across the country and around the world.  I'm hoping to upload a video myself even if we have rain tomorrow as expected.  So be sure to spread the news far and wide - this day will be legendary!  Hope to "see" you on Monday.                     

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Victory Garden of Tomorrow Etsy Site

I found the most amazing etsy site through my urban home-steading(s) fb page:  The Victory Garden of Tomorrow.  They have beautiful hip screen printed posters and t-shirts for urban homesteaders.  I have my eyes on a few posters and I already know where they will hang on the wall.  I've inquired about garden signs and was told they have considered making them.  I would just love the chicken print for my new coop!

I sure hope they make this one into a garden sign! 

I think Ron needs this t-shirt!

I want all of these - aren't they the best?!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where it all began...

I was just up in Oregon for the memorial service in honor of my uncle, a wonderful artist and creative soul.  I stayed with my aunt and uncle who live on the family farm which was where my grandparents lived for years and where I would spend many of my summers as a child.  I loved the five acre farm and would spend hours playing in the fields, spying on the chickens and grabbing their eggs, running in the bog and listening to the sounds of nature.  Grandma taught me how to cook, bake, sew, embroider, crochet, and she even taught me how to behead a chicken though I never used that skill.   Much has changed on the farm over the years, but the landscape remains mostly the same, and the spirit of country living remains.

Being back on the farm this past week reminded me of how the country never left my soul and now that I'm an urban homesteader that country spirit lives on in all I do.  In a way I feel like I have my own mini farm where I use the same skills I did then, only differently.  It's as close to country as I can get and I love that.

How about you - where are your beginnings, your roots?  Where did your desire to urban homestead begin?  

The apple orchard.  I used to water these trees when they were mere babes. 

Sheep on the farm.

Llama and "Buster" the alpaca.

 My daughter swinging on the same rope swing I used as a kid.

Justin loved running along the creek near the bog which used to be a working cranberry bog.