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I am an Urban Homesteader

Heated & whisked
Making HOMEmade chocolate syrup in my (urban) home(stead). Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I know what to do.

I know where the resources are.

I’ve written, somewhat extensively on the subject.

Today: I am an Urban Homesteader.

In 2008, I self-published my first of two books with Dr. Deborah Tolman. With her knowledge and know-how, my writing, editing, graphic design, and web skills – and with support from several other friends and colleagues, we self-published the Tolman Guide to Going Green. We published one for Portland, Oregon, where we both lived in 2008 and one for Asheville, North Carolina, where Deb has sustainable connections.

We took a systems approach to sustainability. How do you encompass natural processes at home? How do you make going green accessible in a way that the apartment dweller with the smallest income can still be green?

Also, in 2008, it was discussed by Kelly & Eric at Root Simple.

Shannon Hayes takes a feminist approach in Radical Homemaking.

It’s cliched and made fun of in Portlandia.

Cities, towns, neighborhoods all over the world are participating in Urban Homesteading.

What does this cheesy cliche even mean?

It means, take your home and make it green by thinking in full cycles, like homesteaders used to do.

Would you throw away that tin can if it would make a great Christmas Tree Ornament? No? Well, you just saved something from the landfill. Go green! You are an urban homesteader!

Would you mow over that grass or would you bag it and take it to the curb? What, your time is limited, and you don’t want to spend the extra money for the bag attachment (or you don’t have a bag attachment because you’re using a Reel Mower)? Well – congratulations! You have just participated in grass-cycling! You are an urban homesteader!

You (attempt) to grow your own greens all around your small urban plot or your apartment? You are really keeping it local! Go green! Congratulations you are an urban homesteader!

What, you make your own laundry soap because it costs less than a penny per load and your family must be frugal with those limited dollars coming in? Congratulations! You are an urban homesteader!

I suppose our cultural ideas of Intellectual Property say it’s okay to trademark words. But, I think it’s a terrible idea. Trademarking ideas in this day and age of collective consciousness is simply another way to make a game out of doing good. Sure, a part of me agrees that rules can force us into creativity and better answers to our world’s problems, but sometimes it’s just gone too far. Trying to trademark a name for something that was already published as a book? Can this even be done? Wouldn’t the copyright law on the book trump the trademarking of the concept? And, how close are we to Big Brother when we try to enforce this collective consciousness? Seriously? In this economy? Don’t we have better things to do?

So, today, sponsored by Take Back Urban Homesteading and Crunchy Chicken, is a day of Action. It’s a day to Take Back Urban Homesteading. Write about what makes you an Urban Homesteader in the hopes we’ll jam the blogosphere with our collective consciousness.

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ICF v. Cob

Dogon cob houses in Mali.
Image via Wikipedia

This will be a sort of series describing the differences between ICF construction and Cob(b) construction. When I started my new job, I quipped the basic difference between my husband and me is that he’s ICF and I’m Cob housing. My husband likes to insist that when we build our dream house it should be ICF, especially if it lines up next to some State Game Area somewhere. I have many sustainable desires, and I want our dream house to be formed from the (local) ground in a thoughtful, heat tolerant (slow to cool and slow to heat) manner.

One of the gal’s I now work with, a gal on our Sustainability Team, is building an ICF house as her dream house.

Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.

November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally i...
November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally in the Eastland Mall) -- A safe room wall section is shown here. The insulated concrete form is cut away to show reinforcing steel. The cavity is filled with concrete. Photo by Kent Baxter/ FEMA News Photo. Image via Wikipedia

So, I’m going to explore it in this series. The goal is to examine differences in a post at some regularity, weekly or monthly, the difference between ICF and Cob(b) to come up with at least guidelines I’m comfortable with or arguments why ICF won’t work. That is, I’m either going to convince myself it’s sustainable or have a list of cons why we shouldn’t pursue this form of building when we get to the time build our dream house.

You’ll be able to find these posts in the menu under “ICF v. Cob” and through the many sustainability tags.

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Thanksgiving Menu

The ideal would be the sustainable/local menu.  But that’s not what we have as in doing that the economic side of the budget would tip over.  Our goal is to have a plentiful garden, and then my goal is to have a true harvest dinner for Thanksgiving.  Or as close as we’ll get with our city-garden and lack of farm animals.

Continue reading Thanksgiving Menu

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Open Source

John Willoner's Eco-House at Findhorn. Turf ro...
Image via Wikipedia

Many of the things I write about detail sustainability and sustainable living.  I’d like to take this post to discuss sustainability on a technological level.  Previous posts have described my frustration with computers and the next new thing.  Clearly, constantly eliminating technology in replace of newer hardware where the old hardware is simply thrown out isn’t sustainable.  But, what would an alternative be?  Open Source software that works with hardware of many ages is one such option.  Open Source software also speaks to a philosophy of shared knowledge, which in many circles is an underlying aspect to sustainability. Continue reading Open Source

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I’ve wanted to learn to can vegetables for quite some time.  I’ve grown tomatoes for three years (not consecutive), and my husband and I are slowly working out our routines.  We have been to the u-pick farms more this year and have had a greater variety of fruits, although I don’t believe we’ve yielded the same quantity as last year.  Regardless, we are slowly learning, and slowly we are working our budget down and eating more home-prepared foods. Continue reading Canning

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Disposable Work

Year’s ago, I saw a comic that highlighted the plight of the temporary employee.

Series of images highlighting how we treat employees as a society.
Series of images highlighting how we treat employees as a society.

The original image I saw simply had a man sitting awkwardly in a trash can, as if he’d just been thrown away.

When I began temping, that was my only job.  I felt great joy in finally doing something that required a little more thought and skill.  But, I felt very disheartened by being used for such short assignments.  Thank the Lord, I was always able to pay rent – but not without help from my mother.  Finally, after temping for over a year, I was able to secure a full time placement.

Continue reading Disposable Work

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Frugal Food Prep

With the advent of social networking, I’ve been able to keep in touch with some high school friends.  One friend, Mackenna, wanted to contribute some ideas to the frugal side of life.  Here are some tried-and-true tips she uses or has gathered from the wisdom of her parents and grandparents.  Visit her blog at

  • Buy meat from local farmers.  You can get half a cow, etc. this way and many farms are organic nowadays.
  • When you have a turkey roast or ham roast or whole chicken, use the remainder of meat by making soup or stew with it.  I use the ham-bone and 4-6 red potatoes and a little milk, garlic, salt, pepper, minced onion and parsley (along with a few dashes of flour) to make a mean pot of ham & potato cream soup that will feed my family for 2 more meals than just tossing the bone. When I’m done with that I take the bone and give it to the dog. I do the same with chicken and add some egg noodles and canned carrots if I am out of fresh.  I make turkey soup with whatever veggies I have lying around or in the freezer (frozen veggies are great for soup).  Well, all of it but give to the dog. They can’t have poultry bones.
  • If you make dinner from 1.5 pounds of burger and only need >1 lb, cook up the rest separately, mark and freeze it, and use it later for a fast dinner.  Saves you on prep time when you only need enough meat for spaghetti sauce, etc.
  • Enter into a ‘food trade’ with friends or family occasionally.  You know that stuff that is in your pantry but seldom used?  I will clean it out every 3 months or so and swap food items with my mom.  “We just haven’t been eating x,y or z thing lately… want to trade it for anything you aren’t eating there?”
  • Use dried beans, legumes and barley to compliment your soups.  They cook up fresh and go a long way in filling up your family, so you can get farther for your buck.  Even adding 1 cup of dry barley into my soup makes it go so much farther.
  • Stir fries are a great way to throw everything into a pot and go.  You have lots of misc. leftover little baggies of frozen veggies, you can combine them all this way.
  • Create a list of every single thing you can cook that your family likes.  Then, make a menu plan for 2 weeks based on how frugal you need to be (some times are more strained than others), what you have in the house, what you have for coupons, etc.   I fed my entire family (WELL) for the last 2 weeks and I only spent $140 at the grocery store.  That included 2 cans of formula, a huge box of diapers, wipes, and baby food (I tried making my own but  my kid won’t eat most of it, so I have to supplement it with store-bought).  That included making a dish to pass at a family event and lunch and dinner on both sets of weekend days.
  • Make your own French fries with oil and potatoes.  If you can grow your potatoes, it’s even cheaper, but I can buy a huge bag of potatoes for $2.50.  I plan for them in my meals and separate them out over the 2 weeks and usually have some leftover at the end.  This time I made soup, fries, baked potatoes and still have 4 left.  I make my own French fries in a frying pan with a thin layer of oil and a dash of salt.  My family likes them better than the Ore-Ida kind anyway.
  • As I said before, canning is a limitless opportunity to save money.  While I haven’t’ canned in some time, I am going to get on that bandwagon this year without a doubt.  It means 3 busy weeks in the fall, but an entire year of lovingly cooked food for my family and a huge cost savings.
  • Refill your water bottles [use something sturdier than #1 plastic from the store for health reasons].  Many people buy distilled water jugs at the store.  The stores will let you refill them.  It costs less and it is more environmentally sound.  Also, with little to go bottles, do the same.  Refill them from your tap.  It’s just water – it’s not like you’re going to get Ecol-i from it or anything if you re-use them.  We can make a case of 12 waters last a month or more by just refilling them.

Check out my green guide for the next two weeks to see a day-at-a-time installment of some green cleaning tips, also from Mackenna.

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FREE Fix-It Fair

We just got this brochure in the mail for the office of Planning and Sustainability,

On Saturday, February 7th from 8:30am until 2pm, at George Middle School (10000 N Burr Ave, Portland, OR), the City of Portland will host an event where folks can learn to save money and “connect with resources.”

They will have exhibits of the following:

  • weatherization
  • health & nutrition
  • water & energy saving tips
  • recycling
  • yard & garden care
  • community resources

They will also be host to workshop on improving your home, 45 minutes long, offered hourly.

AND, they will have FREE lunch, lead testing, and on-site professional childcare.  Even door prizes on the hour.

This is a terrific service to get informed and get free useful stuff for your home, like energy efficient light bulbs.

Get in, and get in early.  It looks like it will be jam packed with a lot of workshops covering many facets of the home.  Bring a friend and tag team the workshops!