Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Community building and the Rule of Three

No doubt, anyone who is vaguely interested in the concept of urban homesteading has already heard about the dramatics surrounding the Dervaes family of Pasadena, California and their attempt to copyright a list generic terms including: urban homestead, urban homesteading, and several more. I first heard about it on Jack Spirko’s fantastic “Survival Podcast” this past Friday, and then Autonomy Acres sent me a link to Sharon Astyk’s article. I’m really disappointed to have to write this post, but I think it’s important to stand up your principles. When I first became interested in the concept self-sufficiency within the urban context, the Dervaes family and their Path to Freedom website were huge inspirations for me (and in theory, they still are). Their level of media exposure and high degree of agricultural success of such a tiny area has in many ways made them the face of the urban homesteading movement. That has only served to make this recent turn of events all the more bizarre.

It’s been pretty awesome to see how quickly and loudly the urban homestead/self-sufficiency community has repudiated the validity of the Dervaes’ claims. This movement is all about trying to build community, both where live and virtually through the web. The whole concept of community is based on sharing, giving and receiving, and building each other up. Does that mean they don’t have the right to trademark their own work and profit from it? Of course not, but the Dervaes have gone so far beyond that as to be laughable. They are, in effect, attempting to claim ownership to the whole movement. The irony here, is that while their actions are operating in direct opposition to the idea of community building, the reaction from UH/SS bloggers has been intensely communal. People have come together to say that one person (or family) doesn’t have the right to tell everyone else what they can and can’t say about walking their own path to freedom. This movement belongs to all of us.

At this point, the Dervaes family has made some wishy-washy statements about this being a hoax and that people have misunderstood them…and yet they haven’t come out and officially, unequivocally rejected the claims that they feel are erroneous. To be honest, I think they were surprised at how quickly this came back to bite them. Also, the bottom of their blog still contain the following:

COPYRIGHT © 1998-2011 Dervaes Institute. All rights reserved. 
Photos and content cannot be reprinted or reproduced in any form without prior written consent. 
Path to Freedom, Urban Homestead, Urban Homesteading, Grow the Future, Homegrown Revolution (and trowel/fist logo) are registered ® trademarks of Dervaes Institute.

I like what this family has done in the past, but I can’t condone what appears to be nothing more than a selfish, short-sighted money grab on their part. What you put out into the world comes back to you times three. Assuming there are no dramatic turn arounds here, the Dervaes deserve everything they have coming to them. I’m joining others, and removing their link from New Growth. I’ll also continue to use many of their allegedly trademarked terms, and if Jules doesn’t like it, he can kiss my urban homesteading ass.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DIY Soil Block maker

Ever since I read Eliot Coleman's "New Organic Grower", I've been interested in the concept of using soil blocks to start my seeds. Soil blocks are exactly what they sound like. Instead of filling plastic seed trays with potting mix, you mix up a variety of things, and then use a glorified Play-Doh tool to make little square blocks out of the soil. These blockers will usually press a little divot in the top of the block to place your seed in. They're not terribly expensive, and you can buy them online at a few different places. One of the main advantages that they have over seed trays is that the seedlings roots will naturally prune them self at the edge of the block, rather than circling the inside of the tray and becoming potbound. This makes potting on easier and reduces root shock when you transplant to the garden. Sounds good so far. Besides, if it's good enough for Eliot Coleman and the Dervaes family, it's worth a shot...right?
The cost of a block maker that produces 2" cubes ranges from $35 to $100+. My German heritage didn't take long to kick in and say "That's highway robbery, surely you can make one yourself for next to nothing". So I cobbled together so random things that were laying around my classroom.

The lid fit snugly inside the plastic jar. I drilled a hole in the middle of both of them.

I put the bolt through the holes.

I fastened the lid to the bolt in between two nuts and a washer.

I can now pull the handle back, fill the jar with soil, and push it out. The nut on the bottom creates a divot for the seed. The commercial block makers can make 2, 4, or 6 square blocks at a time. This contraption knocks out 1 round block a shot. We'll see if they are worth the trouble.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

They say it's your birthday...

One year (+ one day) ago, I started writing this blog. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, and I was chomping at the bit for Spring to get here. 366 days later, things are exactly the same. I'm not really sure what prompted me to start doing this. Mostly I suppose that I like being able to look back and see what I've accomplished. Conversely, I can also look back and see what I've managed to successfully put off (cough*rain water tank* cough). In any case, I'm certainly not trying to get famous considering that my "following" amounts to my brother, Autonomy Acres, and some Muslim guy who apparently subscribed to my blog by accident. Whatever.
I think the best thing that I've gotten out of doing this page is that it's given me the opportunity to check out a lot of other homesteading blogs. It's nice to see that there are other people out there who are interested in doing the same sort of things that I am. Through our collective successes and failures, we can help each other figure out how to live more self sufficiently. I need to be more intentional about helping to build that community. Along with adding a links section (something that I can't believe I've neglected to add for a whole year), I'll try to highlight a cool homesteading blog once a month or so.
The weather is frigid, and growing things seems a long way off at this point. In just a few short weeks, however, I'll be planting seeds and laying the ground work for the early spring garden. From there it's off and running for another year. Here's to 12 more months of trying to decrease my family's dependency and increase our self-reliance.