Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.

Musings from an urban homesteader

In which Harriet introduces her blog

October 17, 2007

I am a latter-day homemaker, an urban homesteader if you please. I use these words not knowing exactly what they mean but understanding what I think they can. The journey between where I am today — a semi-retired backyard food, gardening, and preservation advocate — to full-bore maven of everything related to home stewardship is where this blog will get its material.

My willingness to publicly navigate this investigation is no great surprise. I have had a public persona for most of my working years. As an on-and-off Portland restaurant owner during the last three decades, I have encouraged public discourse on everything from why my latest boyfriend was such a prick to issues around water privatization.

You see, I am a born-and-bred Bronx girl and the child of a Holocaust survivor, which is my way of explaining some leanings towards attitude and angst. I’m also a teenager of the 1960s who, at 16, hitchhiked to Woodstock and declared the world outside the norm “good.” I could not explain then, not in its essence or expression, what that “good” was, but I have a clue today.

This essence is what I am trying to regain in form and function on this journey — this blog, my life — on which I am embarking.

But here are the limitations: I’m 54, with skin less inclined to snap back when goosed (as if). Which is another way to say that I’m not as young as my heart and spirit, but young enough to fool myself into thinking so. This presents a limitation only when, after a full day of turning soil, composting, planting, weeding, and pruning, I sit with a heating pad around my neck while blogging.

That aside, I love hanging out with 20-somethings because they are young enough to sniff out the opportunities in the global madness of our world. They will be part of these musings, a big part I’m sure, as I learn a lot from their hunger for alternatives.

Another limitation, if I am to call it that, is my love of fashion and all things within my well-honed aesthetic realm of being. It took me many years to develop my personal aesthetics and they stem from great food to remarkable art to appreciating how the light falls on the garden in the hours before the world has risen. They are all part of the same instinct, but now I have had to mitigate how I express my sense of aesthetics because some of them are connected to things and ways of living I no longer respect. Still, these desires are in my blood, and as I like to say, “silk feels better on skin than burlap.”

I doubt I am being elitist to acknowledge this; rather, it is ridiculous to ignore it. It makes me judgmental and fussy and apt to relapse at the mall. The challenge of forgoing some of the shiny things in search of The Seamless (that non-delineated world between the soil and its steward), will be part of this blog. But shining a light on the challenges of getting from here to there can be funny — it has to be funny. After all, laughing at challenges while taking them on can be liberating.

At the moment, these are the only limitations I foresee in this new endeavor, writing a blog about urban homesteading; but me being me, I’m sure I will come up with others. As for the opportunities, there are tons. Today, and with you, I take the uncharted journey from Jewish middle-class, middle-age angst and hipster queen to becoming the child of Noam Chomsky, Wendell Berry, and Martha Stewart. Go figure.

And don’t forget the recipes. There will be recipes because in the midst of it all I will cook and cook and cook. It might be Fried Green Tomato Parmigiana, as it was the other day when addressing the boatload of green tomatoes staring down the hubris of my gardening zeal, or any other ingredient that comes from my garden, the neighborhood, farmers’ markets, or the many urban farms that are emerging. There will be stories on cheesemakers, grain growers, beekeepers, and dyed-in-the-wool homesteaders and farmers whose families have lived and survived in Oregon way before someone like me ever thought to turn the word “homesteading” into a fashion statement.


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1. by anonymous on Mar 25, 2009 at 2:38 AM PDT


I walked by your house and saw the website and curious, I looked it up. I’m so glad I did because it led me to this blog.

Thanks for detailing the contradictions that we all live with and for acknowledging them with humility and humor. I am definitely prone to “relapsing at the mall” and being distracted by shiny things, but I am also inspired and committed to finding a way to live ethically and peaceably.

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