Almost 25 years ago, K. Ruby Blume and Rachel Kaplan met in the Mission, and quickly found that their missions were the same — opening eyes to the need for sustainable solutions to modern problems, and providing the tools necessary to feed that need. In 2008, Blume founded the Institute for Urban Homesteading in Oakland, offering classes in urban gardening, animal husbandry, food preservation, brewcraft, herbal medicines, and more at private homes in Oakland, Berkeley, and elsewhere. Kaplan now lives in Petaluma, where she helps coordinate the Homegrown Guild, a tightly-knit group of households committed to the practices of sustainability, deep ecology, and permaculture.
From these homespun roots has bloomed a beautiful compendium called Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living. From chicken coops to composting toilets, beekeeping to greywater, and rammed-earth to unguents, Urban Homesteading has something for everyone, shining a light on sustainability through personal stories, detailed instructions, and a heaping helping of philosophy.
Kaplan explained that the book "is for people who understand there is a problem and want to be part of the solution; people who are just catching on to the idea that there is a problem and want to learn more about it; people who are already trying to live sustainably and want more ideas and ways of thinking about their projects. As it gets more and more clear that global climate change, nonrenewable resource depletion, and economic instability are all linked and long-term problems, we imagine that our 'ideal readership' will just get bigger and bigger."
Unsurprisingly, the book lends itself to the classroom: There's a course at the University of Massachusetts whose curriculum is based on it, and Blume and Kaplan "hope this is the beginning of a trend at middle schools, high schools, and universities around the country," Kaplan said. "The twelve-to-seventeen-year-old set can easily grasp the threats of climate change, peak oil, and economic instability, and are able and eager to learn many of the skills laid out in the book."
For the rest of us, the pair offers scads of opportunities in the coming months to nudge ourselves gently off the grid, leap into the lifestyle with both bare feet, or land somewhere in between. On Wednesday, September 28, Blume and Kaplan read from Urban Homesteading at the Oakland Public Library Main Branch (125 14th St.), sign copies, and present a slideshow (6:30 p.m., free; 510-238-3138 or OaklandLibrary.org). On Saturday, October 1, at Ploughshares Nursery (2701 Main St., Alameda), Kaplan presents what she calls an "intensive, day-long workshop in a variety of homesteading skills — food growing and preserving; water and waste management; urban homestead design; self-care and community building" (10 a.m.-4 p.m., $25-$70; 510-755-1102 or JBPrestwich@apcollaborative.org). And if you fall somewhere between the curious and the all-out, consider either a one-hour Urban Homesteading Design Lab talk at Magic Gardens (729 Heinz Ave., Berkeley) on Saturday, October 22 (10 a.m., free; 510-644-2351 or MagicGardens.com), or, on Saturday, October 29, a shorter workshop called "Practical Gardening: Sustainability From the Ground Up" at the Lakeside Park Garden Center (666 Bellevue Ave., Oakland), wherein Kaplan will "give beginning and experienced gardeners some ideas about how to effectively use the space they have, and to incorporate other elements into their garden design" (8:30 a.m.-3 p.m., $35; ACMG.ucdavis.edu or 510-639-1371).
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