life shift: tips for frugal living from an urban homesteader

urban homesteading

Eric Michael Johnson for The New York Times

As we were writing about Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 Percent, Cara de Silva sent us a compelling and very timely story she spotted in the New York Times. “Back to the Land, Reluctantly” by Susan Gregory Thomas, is about how the 42 year-old Brooklyn mother of three, having found herself divorced, flat-broke, with a dwindling livelihood, figured out how to “live off the land” from her urban garden and kitchen. “Luckily, my late father hammered into me that grit was more important than talent…I figured, if peasants in 11th-century Sicily did all this, how hard could it be?”

It was survival, not any particular love of artisan cheese or the notion of self-sufficiency, that motivated her to learn how to raise chickens, grow vegetables and herbs, make her own granola, bread, perfume and cleaning products,  harvest edible weeds, and stretch a single piece of cheap meat into a week’s worth of dinners, until she discovered she could and her family could live on $100 a week.

IT is a lot of work. You have to be organized and able to improvise on your feet. But, frankly, it’s awesome. Before we embarked on this Waldenesque life, the only thing I had ever used my hands for was picking up a book or typing on my keyboard; today, my family and I are living our own scrappy take on President Obama’s promise of “Yes, we can!”

Even if things turn around financially, I don’t think I could stomach going to Whole Foods (except maybe for olive oil) because my biggest revelation in terms of self-sufficiency is this: It is no big deal. You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it. And you do not need to reconstruct your worldview or take issue with others.

You just need to be hungry.

We especially love the sidebar of Tips for Frugal Living, which include such useful bits as Infinite Pesto (made with just about any green you have on hand); What To Keep In Your Pantry;  How to Make Beans Last Three Days; Lovely Scents; and What To Splurge On.

Thanks, Cara!

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One Response to life shift: tips for frugal living from an urban homesteader

  1. ChrisJ 07.29.2013 at 11:11am #

    This was interesting. It’s also interesting to note that despite some of the self-loathing I might feel for myself and all the well-to-do middle/upper middle classers who talk lovingly about their pastured chicken eggs, artisanal breads, or coffee raised in a socially conscious environment in Costa Rica somewhere, all supportive of these healthier and more socially conscious alternatives which…truly…cost a #%&@load more money than commercial and effectively leave out many folks who can’t afford such who might be college students or live in urban ‘food deserts’, their interest and their (our) conceit is actually proving…I like to think…to be a forerunner of social change and cultural change.

    Urban gardening, vertical gardening, and growing your own is seemingly starting to filter out into the main masses of the poorer and less mobile folks. People are questioning the value of a food pyramid dominated by two or three massive multinationals who claim that GMO products aren’t dangerous.

    So thank you middle class self-actualizing and/or bored housewives and middle class drones who have changed their careers to reflect their personal interests in health and food choices. Your cowgirl artisanal cheeses and your pastured eggs and homegrown organic kale may be too expensive for many, but ultimately, as more folks enter the fray of the marketplace with their small business models, we all hope that your prices will come down. Evidence of this is already happening in the Philippines where small, nearly poverty-level locals are producing organic items using modern vertical gardening methods and otherwise. Inner city folks in this country are doing the same and are charging less than you, or soon will be.

    If this comes across as anti-middle class, there is a truth there…and I’m part of it. I see ‘artisanal’ items priced much higher than commercial (which is understandable given scale) and my only recourse to paying those prices on any regular basis is to make it myself. I had better stop now. I could go on forever, but I’m starting to rant.

    Gotta bake some bread tonight.

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