Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland
Posted in DIY / Garden Maven / Good Ideas / Places / San Francisco Bay Area | 4 Comments |
A few days ago I had a lovely conversation with K. Ruby Blume. I sat at her kitchen table in front of a handmade bowl full of local walnuts and a hive she had extracted from one of the bees’ nests in her backyard. As she brewed the coffee I couldn’t help but notice all the beautiful details around me – things that were collected or re-used or handmade. The windowsill had been mosaic-ed with her own tile work and outside the sun shone on her garden; in view was a trellis where hops would soon climb up her roof and several large basins where blood oranges and satsumas were ripening.
Ruby is the founder of the Institute for Urban Homesteading in Oakland, a school that exists within the many homesteads that dot the East Bay. She comes from three generations of teachers and has a deep respect for the tradition of passing on vital information, so with her school she handpicks teachers who not only have expert information in their field but also share this vision that all people are dynamic and capable of creating so much for themselves.
As Ruby says, “The process of learning is a process that thankfully never ends…the keystones of learning are the ability to ask good questions, the skill to track down information, the confidence to try something you have never done before and the willingness to fail and learn from your mistakes.” Classes range from rooftop beekeeping to animal husbandry skills to coaxing your own sprouts, and there’s a long and rather complete list of courses that can enable one to really become a new breed of renaissance man or woman.
Urban Homesteading is a concept that has great potential to reverse some of the unhealthy patterns that affect our food, energy and water systems. It’s something that is happening in backyards and on windowsills all over the country, all over the world. In the East Bay, Ruby is becoming an important part of that message — it’s all about sharing skills and ideas and being more connected with the things you eat and use in your daily life.
I woke yesterday to a story in the LA Weekly (here’s an update from yesterday) about one family of urban homesteaders who seem to think that they can own this concept. They’ve bought a slew of trademarks and have even gone so far as to have Facebook remove pages that use the term “urban homestead” or “urban homesteading”. In short, it’s the opposite of what this movement is about: sharing good information. What Ruby is doing is truly unique, and I’m sure what this LA family has done is also unique, but they don’t stand alone. At least Ruby, (and so many other urban homesteaders in Oakland, Wisconsin, Brooklyn, and beyond), sees her contribution as a part of a greater movement; after all, her school’s motto is “Agitate, Educate, Pollinate!”
I talked to her again after this trademark story broke: although though her Facebook page had been taken down (she’s made a new one which you can join here), and she may have to change the title of her upcoming book, she still expressed concern for this LA family. It turns out the family has had some internal turmoil and may not be in the best of places. We wish them the best, and hope that the term can be taken back for public use, as it is a movement that has been going on for generations, not a title to be owned. If you agree, join the cause by liking this page. You can also sign a petition to have the trademarks cancelled here.
(On a side note, another term this family trademarked was “freedom garden”, which is eerily reminiscent of the movement of victory gardens during the depression…)
Ruby’s own homestead is, like the jazz standard, “lush life”. She has a swampy area at one end that attracts “good” insects and also provides one of her cats, Baker, with a living playground. She’s training stone fruit trees to espalier along her fence so she can use more space for vegetable beds. The yard is a quilt of these beds, one with chard and other leafy greens, another scattered with lettuce varieties like deer tongue, another covered with medicinal herbs like valerian. There are a pair of rabbit cages at the far end with ample space for the bunnies to frolic. She’s bred them carefully for a special gene that makes the coats of common New Zealand rabbit much softer. There are bees and an area where she keeps quail, and the whole space is infused with her artistic touch. Clay sculptures, mosaic tables to sit and enjoy the garden, and where the fences are bare, she’s placed found objects to create whimsical dioramas.
When you sign up for a class – and there’s and exciting and full calendar that she just posted on her website – you’ll learn from the experts in their own homesteading space. These are skills that don’t require lots of special equipment or industrial spaces. More often than not, they are practical, doable things that you can integrate with what you are already doing in your kitchen and around the house.
Audio interview with Ruby to follow shortly…
Learn something new every day. Take a class. Try your hand at something new. Maybe you’re turn out to be an epic canner. Maybe you’ll go bonkers growing sprouts on your windowsill. Maybe you’ll finally be able to take up your friend’s offer of a beehive, you know the one they found in their old barn and don’t know what to do with?
The classes at the Institute of Urban Homesteading either take place at the teachers own homestead or a nearby farm of their choosing. There is an amazing array of subjects to learn something about. It’s the kind of stuff that makes your small decisions count towards the greater good in a meaningful way.
Institute of Urban Homeseading, sign-up for spring and summer classes online today before they fill up.