Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm for ___ ?

I was at the bookstore the other day, and I noticed a display devoted to urban homesteading. This term has really taken off recently, and it's everywhere. I love the ideas promoted by the urban homesteading movement: self-sufficiency, eating locally, sustainability, recycling, handmade vs mass produced, energy conservation, and enjoying the pleasures of a more simple life.

But, I have to say, I really dislike this term "urban homesteading." We live in a very different time from those who actually lived on homesteads. We have modern conveniences and amenities that they didn't. Let's face it. We're homestead-lite. We're just playacting at roughing it. It's the equivalent of going camping beside a hotel. If we are ever sick of sleeping in the tent, we can always get a room.

More troubling, the term "homesteading" recalls the kind of pioneering rhetoric that justified westward expansion and the clearing of Native Americans from their land. Urban homesteading romanticizes the past and erases the fact that the Homestead Act of 1862 was brutal to Native tribes. It essentially took Indian lands and gave them to settlers of European descent.

I recognize that "urban homesteading" is awfully catchy, and all movements--if they are to move people--must capture their imagination and speak to their aspirations. But do we have to resurrect a term that has left such a destructive legacy?

Why not come up with a new phrase, one that reflects our historical moment and its particular contradictions and ironies, such as my blogging about "getting back to the earth"? And I'm not the only one. (See, "The Art of Self-Reliance")

I like the term, "homegrown evolution," the blog name of a couple who are, ironically, the authors of a book titled, The Urban Homestead.

Another possibility is the term "urban farming," which has also become very popular. However, to call what we are doing in our 40'x 40' back yard "farming" might be an insult to farmers.

So, if you had to capture this growing shift in attitude towards our food- and eco-systems, what would you call it?


  1. I like "homegrown evolution" too. I love coming up with names so here are a few ideas:
    "sustainable urbanism"
    "home farm" (to be more inclusive, encouraging to non-urban areas)
    "backyard farming"

  2. Ooh, I really like "sustainable urbanism."