Thursday, December 11, 2008
I want to start a farm at my house: a book review
The Urban Homestead: your guide to self-sufficient living in the heart of the city by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
I'm usually really irritated by poorly-edited books full of typos and errors, but this book is so jam-packed with great information, not to mention a healthy sense of humor, that I was able to overlook its minor faults. Urban Homestead is an all-around guide and reference source for making your household more efficient, self-sufficient, and environmentally friendly.
The book includes chapters on gardening, composting, urban foraging, livestock, canning and preserving, water and power, and transportation. Some chapters include detailed instructions for various projects and some are more general overviews, but all have specific suggestions and recommended resources for more information and instructions. There is also an extensive appendix of online and print resources at the end of the book. Helpfully, the authors also take into consideration that some readers may rent rather than own and they offer alternative suggestions accordingly.
Sometimes the two authors (who share a home) have different opinions on a particular subject so the text breaks for a little "she says/he says" portion, which I rather enjoyed. For instance, in the bike-centric transportation chapter, Kelly expresses her terror at biking in the city, and then Erik counters with an assertion that biking is safer than driving (but I have to side with Kelly on this one!) They similarly disagree over a couple of other issues, which nicely illustrates that living self-sufficiently is not black and white and often involves trade-offs of one kind or another.
There are some suggestions I found to be more trouble than they're worth, or simply impractical for my climate. For example, you will not see me hanging laundry on a clothesline, especially in a New England winter, and I am not desperately poor enough to dumpster dive for food. I think my only actual disagreement, however, is over compact fluorescent light bulbs, which they tout as a no-brainer, but I cannot get on that bandwagon.* (I was also a little surprised to learn that for all their talk of efficiency, their own house isn't insulated, but I've been very focused on insulation recently so I'm probably biased.)
Most importantly though, this book has given me some great project ideas. First is composting, which I've been wanting to do for quite some time, sighing and harrumphing over every bit of vegetable matter that goes into the trash. Thanks to this book's clear explanations, you can be sure I will be starting a worm bin in my basement as soon as I clear a space and buy the materials. In addition, the book's instructions for self-watering garden containers are very simple and may just be the answer to my unfortunate black thumb. I will most likely also use some of their recipes for cheap, non-toxic household cleaners and I'm hoping to utilize a lot of their suggestions for gardening next year (to use all that compost I plan to produce!)
My library copy was almost a week overdue, but I didn't want to return it. I'll certainly be getting my own copy to have around the house. I would recommend this book to anyone in an urban area who wants to be a little more independent and kinder to the environment. Also, definitely check out the authors' blog, Homegrown Evolution. I think they will convince you to look at your city and your home a little differently.
*Compact fluorescent bulbs may save energy, but the mercury content is dangerous and bad for the environment. Also, in my city the only way to dispose of them is by bringing them to a hazardous waste location that is not accessible by public transportation, and is only open one Saturday a month from April to November.