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.
“I don’t care what it’s called, I just want to learn skills,” she said. It was a forceful statement. It took me aback. I questioned my agenda in organizing the first tentatively dubbed Urban Homesteading meeting at my home.
Evidently, for the 20 or so folks crammed into my tiny living room, the sentiment was mostly the same. This was not political; this was about skills.
Clearly, my desire to participate in a distinctly defined movement that would gain momentum and create cultural shock waves and alternatives to the political and economic inertia of our time would have to wait. We were just getting to know each other. We still wanted to talk about soap.
Not that I don’t love soap or learning how to make it, or sausage, or spinning wool, or herbal tinctures or cheese or any of the other skills we offered up for trade. I do. Goodness knows I do. It’s just not exactly an either-or situation for me.
The fact that I have embraced this burgeoning concept of self-reliance within the city (a.k.a. urban homesteading) with an eye towards equitable economic and environmental systems is not to say I can keep it simple. Well, I guess I can’t keep anything simple, given my brain waves and natural proclivity for tangential logic, but do I really have to?
My question is, aren’t there others out there nearly choking on the smut of corporate logic? Aren’t there others who are raising chickens or making cheese or wine or soap in response to the breakdown of a system of food production and distribution that has gone to the dogs?
Aren’t there others who see this effort as a distinctly political and social movement and who want to define it as such? Aren’t there others with their panties in a bunch over cloned foods making their way into the marketplace without consumer notification? About lead in toys, mercury in food, E. coli in spinach, prions in beef, slavery in factories?
Aren’t there others mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore and so, in a hopeful gentle effort, canning their own tomatoes instead?
OK, that felt good. I needed that. You see, I am all about sitting at the table with others interested in defining this movement as a clear position of alternative economics. I understand others may not want to, and that for many, creating clearly articulated alternatives is a somewhat daunting task.
It’s true that you must first sniff out the fallout of the traditional model. Some do it through an academic search, reading books, going to lectures and taking clear and decisive stabs at the economic status quo. Others face off with the fallout through the allergies their children are plagued with or the paycheck that will not make ends meet, or the jobs that are downsized or the food that is recalled, or the health issues borne of fast food and the medical coverage that will not cover it.
Not that I don’t like tomatoes or growing food or putting them by for the winter. It’s just that I’m outraged by the wildly unregulated, unsupervised, mismanaged, misappropriated, backroom-dealing, lobbyist-manipulated, corporate-greedy, agriculturally-subsidized, fat-cat, Wall Street, trickle-nowhere global economy with all the tricks and trade of an administration and culture that has long forgotten the responsibility of caring for the environment, and whose systems of management are nothing more than support for their reckless indifference to a world outside their comfort zone.
What’s in a name? Not that I want to compare this proposed urban-homesteading effort to other great movements of our time, but the women’s-suffrage movement started around kitchen tables, the civil-rights movement started in churches and in the streets, and the anti-war movements percolated among students and citizens disturbed by the status quo of empire.
And so it is that movements are defined, that movements gain momentum, and that movements seek to shift a consciousness and way of living that is in specific opposition to a world we previously considered reasonable.
So I say we call it something. I know I am calling it something. For me, urban homesteading is about living in distinct opposition to the status quo of mainstream economics. I am declaring my opposition by creating different systems within my home and hoping that in joining forces with others, we can speak as a movement against reckless corporate policy and painfully dysfunctional global economic systems.
And if anyone wants to join me at the table to discuss the hows or whys or anything else, I’ll be at home, canning tomatoes (well, at least in summer). I welcome the opportunity, because in the end, the personal is always political.
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