Chicago Western Suburbs Edition

City Homesteading

Creating Sustainable Urban Living

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Homesteading is a broad field. “Along with planting produce, we encourage people to compost, change how they use water, learn about biochar—a long-term soil amendment that returns carbon to the earth—and employ creative economics, including bartering and food-sharing systems,” says K. Ruby Blume, of Grants Pass, Oregon, who founded the Institute of Urban Homesteading, in Oakland, California, a decade ago. She’s also co-author of Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living.

Blume was recently engaged to invite speakers and coordinate presentation content for the three-day online Gardening and Homesteading Skills Summit hosted by The Shift Network. Last October, 20 leading farmers, master gardeners, homesteaders and other experts shared innovative, environmentally friendly advice for providing food and adopting eco-friendly practices.

Blume, who grows fruit and vegetables and raises chickens, sheep and bees on 22 acres, plans to launch her Fantastic Farm Store this month,  and will offer spring classes at her institute, as well as at the Rogue River Community Center, in southern Oregon. “Everyone should grow their favorite vegetable from seed; think about the animal if eating meat; and take a nature field study class. These all connect us to nature and our world,” advises Blume.

Food as Medicine

David Crow, teacher, author of In Search of the Medicine Buddha and founder of Floracopeia Aromatic Treasures, is a leader in research and development of growing herbs for medicine, working from Grass Valley, California. He extols the importance of gardens of all types—backyards, schools, neighborhoods and public spaces. “They can strengthen communities, beautify life and reduce crime,” he says. In his home state, he helped launch The Learning Garden, at Venice High School, in 2001. “It’s an eye-opener for youngsters, and they take pride in ownership.” People without a garden plot can place a pot inside or on a balcony or find a community garden.

“Medicinal plants don’t have to be a luxury of the wealthy. You can spend a fraction of the $30 for a drug prescription in growing most of them, and then trade for others with neighbors,” says Crow. He particularly values oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavender and basil.

To increase yields, home gardeners may consider daily drip irrigation—a system of tubes positioned just above the soil, with tiny holes spaced at regular intervals. It can conveniently work on a timer with an automatic shutoff during rain. Other benefits include water conservation and better soil structure by avoiding puddles from manual watering.

“Drip irrigation can be especially helpful during dry spells, which can run two to four weeks in many climates,” says Robert Kourik, landscape consultant, horticultural researcher and author of Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and Climate, and last year’s Understanding Roots. “It can be effective for virtually any fruit or vegetable, except water crops like rice and cranberries.”

Green Living

Carol Venolia, author, speaker and architect in Santa Rosa, California, has designed homes of straw, earth and sustainably sourced and reclaimed wood throughout the West. She consults on greening schools, healing centers, camps and eco-villages, and stresses the benefits of sunlight as in her new e-book, Get Back to Nature Without Leaving Home. She says, “Sunlight’s many wavelengths, shifting directions and intensities render biological effects that keep us functioning well. Watch how it enters your home; changes occur daily and seasonally.”

It’s easy to move furniture to align with sunshine. In warmer climates, attach plant trellises or fabric awnings outside windows to filter or direct reflected light. “Add a potted plant to a window and a picture of a natural scene on a wall. Take the time to get out into woodlands,” advises Venolia.

She commends Marc Rosenbaum, of South Mountain Company, in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as a green building leader who “brings a soulful approach, as well as engineering, data and technology efficiencies, to a project.” Along with green building goals like zero net energy, Rosenbaum strives to create homes that are healthy, comfortable, resource-efficient, durable and adaptable by the people that inhabit them.

Along with being part of the slow food movement and do-it-yourself trends, Blume believes, “Homesteading gives people the feeling they are making a positive difference by making sustainable changes in their lifestyle and home.”


For summit recordings or transcripts and notices of upcoming events like the online annual Plant Medicine Telesummit in March, visit TheShiftNetwork.com.


Randy Kambic, an Estero, FL, freelance editor and writer, regularly contributes to Natural Awakenings.


This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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