The urban homesteading shelf at your local bookstore, thanks to the great recession, sure has gotten crowded in recent years. There are many fine volumes now alongside our two books with a great diversity of authors opining on chicken coops, homemade soap and composting. This is a good thing–we need as many voices as possible.
But there’s nothing new here. On a serendipitous trip to the library last week I stumbled across what must be the very first urban homesteading book, Cato and Varro’s De Agri Cultura (On Agriculture) written around 160 BC. Well, it’s really more of a rural homesteading manual, but much of the advice seems familiar.
|Looks like Cato the Elder forgot to use sunscreen.|
Cato holds the farmer in high esteem,
And when they would praise a worthy man their praise took this form: “good husbandman, good farmer”; one so praised was thought to have received the greatest commendation.
The tips on how to site your rural homestead is exactly as I would suggest:
It should have a good climate, not subject to storms; the soil should be good, and naturally strong. If possible, it should lie at the foot of a mountain and face south; the situation should be healthful, there should be a good supply of laborers, it should be well watered, and near it there should be a flourishing town, or the sea, or a navigable stream, or a good and much traveled road.
Varro’s directions for building a chicken coop and run are pretty much what I followed, complete with netting to keep the hawks out. But I never thought of building a caretaker’s residence into the coop:
In addition there should be a large room for the caretaker to live in, so built that the surrounding walls may be entirely filled with hens’ nests, either built in the wall or firmly attached; for movement is harmful to a sitting hen.
Maybe this will be a new trend in big cities where chickens are hip. Half off the rent in return for living with the chickens!
Should you need to know the exact prayer to Janus, the right point to read the entrails and the precise number of employees you’ll need to run a vineyard, you’ll get that here too. But the best advice is probably this simple and timeless statement: “Be a good neighbor.”