TV Turnoff week April 23 – 30, 2008

We don’t come from the sackcloth and ashes wing of the urban homestead movement. There’s no forced austerity around the Homegrown Evolution compound, no sufferfests, no “more-meek-than-thou” contests. It’s about pleasure not denial, after all. But, to use the “d” word, one thing we denied ourselves for many years was television. And during this TV Turnoff week, we thought we’d share our struggles with the tube.

Ten years ago, when we moved into our humble dump, we discovered that the cable tv company could not get past our neighbor’s bougainvillea, which fully ensnared the utility pole. The result–free cable. Unfortunately, that’s like leaving bowls of blow around Keith Richard’s party pad. Free cable meant many hours of channel surfing and, when Mr. Homegrown commandeered the remote, poor Mrs. Homegrown would be subjected to hours down in the video gutter viewing L.A.’s notorious public access (such as this – view at your own risk!).

At some point we decided to give up the TV cold turkey. For a week it seemed like a close friend had died, but soon all those evenings quickly filled with activities. We learned fencing, print making, bread baking and countless other skills. We never regretted exiling the TV to the garage.

Recently the tube’s come back into our lives with a certain DVD mail service, but we feel like we’ve tamed the beast and can heartily recommend living without TV (definitely without cable and broadcast). It’s become a shock to see cable or broadcast television when we visit relatives. It seems stupid, crass and violent, with the quick cutting particularly annoying, befitting a culture with no patience for the pleasures of the slow life. A friend of ours, who teaches at a Waldorf school, tells us that she can easily tell which kids live by the school’s no TV rule. In short, the TVless kids own their own imagination, rather than the entertainment industry. They’re better behaved, faster learners and more patient.

But with the explosion of the internets and gaming, TV Turnoff week has become a quaint reminder of the past, almost like opposing Selectric typewriters. The excesses of television, and the resulting consumer culture, seem fairly benign compared to a medium like the internet which allows governments and corporations to easily track our very move and target advertising on a deeply personal level. We’ve found that many of the hours we used to spend in front of the TV are now spent in front of the computer. While we heartily endorse TV turnoff week, it’s well past time for internet turnoff week.

How about we all turn the damn computer off for awhile, bake bread, make some beer, ride our bikes, or just go get into trouble?

In Praise of Disorder

Loose chickens in Houston

A neighborhood whose demographics fall somewhere between the extremes of the crack den and the country club presents just the right level of civic inattention to allow the urban homesteader to get away with many of the illegal projects profiled in this blog: greywater, backyard poultry, and front yard vegetable gardening, to mention just a few. Ideally you have a balance between order and disorder–neither gunfire nor the prying eyes of city inspectors. Where I’m staying in Houston, with its flocks of loose chickens, packs of feral dogs, and broken down bungalows seems just about right. Our neighborhood in Los Angeles is seeming less ideal with the news from Mrs. Homegrown Evolution, that we’ve earned our first citation, an indicator that our neighborhood is tilting dangerously towards the country club side of the demographic equation.

Nine years of dog ownership have gone by with no problems until this week, when a new neighbor decided to report our dog and several others in the neighborhood to animal control for barking. We have to buy a $100 dog license (while not a Ron Paulista, I tilt libertarian enough to not want any stinking licenses), and wait fifteen days to see if we need to go to a hearing, all for an elderly and well behaved Doberman who spends most of his time indoors, has no access to the front yard and goes promptly to sleep at 10:00 p.m.

Thanks to an alert teen just down the block, we know the identity of the uptight yuppie who ratted us out. Now the neighborly and gentlemanly thing to have done would have been to come over, knock on the door and have talk to us face to face. We’d be happy to work something out–keep the front window closed perhaps. Most of us on the block know each other and have never had any problems getting along. But it’s also Los Angeles, a car-centric city where people lead lives of isolation and rage, locked in metal and glass cages, braving hellish traffic on the way to twenty hour a day shifts churning out sitcoms and bad movies. Los Angeles has the community spirit of an anonymous internet chat room, with meaningful dialog replaced by never ending flame wars.

It’s also America, where the majority of the population is clinically depressed. And one of the indicator behaviors for depression is an irrational fixation on minor annoyances, like barking dogs, leaf litter, raccoons and group bicycle rides. Go to any neighborhood meeting, and you’ll see medicated NIMBYs lashing at all of life’s minor indignities.

Our homes and neighborhoods need the liberation that comes with a creative and healthy level of chaos. Visionary Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who passed away recently, conceived his life’s work when faced with the task of making safer streets in a small Dutch town that had run out of money. He fixed the problem with the radical idea of removing almost all the traffic lights, signs, curbs even the lane stripes, creating a concept known as “shared space.” Monderman asks, “Who has the right of way? I don’t care. People . . . have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains.”

When we have to think for ourselves, we cooperate, solve problems, and come up with creative solutions. A healthy dose of chaos is always the best place to start.

Homegrown REvolution

Due to a set of circumstances too ridiculous to describe, we’ve got to change the name of our website yet again. We’re dropping the “R” and the overused and no longer meaningful word “Revolution” to become Homegrown Evolution. In short we’re evolving and we feel this word better describes the gestalt of our eclectic activities and our desire to move things forward as best we can.

This humble blog began as a sort of diary, a way to keep track of and integrate many disparate activities that all together are what used to be called “home economics”. A publisher, the bold and creative Process Media, spotted us and asked us to write a book, The Urban Homestead, thus beginning an unexpected course, which has forced us to consider things such as branding and marketing.

Like all children of the late 20th century we’re inescapably linked to a “mediated” culture, to a world of appearances defined by mass media in all its many forms. In the midst of having to figure out a new name for ourselves, along with the incredibly frustrating task of finding a matching domain name not already being squatted on by speculators in Turkey, we discovered a remarkable book, Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita. Zengotita argues that the media surrounding us is oriented towards what he calls a “flattered self”, thus things like blogs, Facebook, even the weather channel are all ultimately all about “me”. Furthermore the sheer volume of media we are exposed to, compared with the past, changes the way we relate to each other and the world, resulting in a pervasive mediascape, which Zengotita refers to as the “blob”, that is impossible to escape. For us the lesson of Mediated is the inescapable nature of the “blob” was liberating rather than depressing. It’s our job to navigate, not try to escape, this post-modern house of mirrors.

In this spirit of blobby navigation, we present the new and improved homegrownevolution.com. The old url will still work, as will homegrownevolution.org (take that squatters!). We’ve added the Homegrown Evolution Store which will feature items we find useful. Purchases will help defray our mortgage. Please be patient as we make the changeover. And remember to update your links!

Stop Shopping

Photos by Fred Askew

For years now we’ve had a Christmas truce with the family–don’t shop for us and we won’t shop for you. So far the truce has held and we’ve been able to avoid Christmas shopping, as we’d rather be waterboarded than spend a second in a shopping mall.

We had planned to issue an anti-Christmas harangue, but this holiday season we’ll leave it to the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The Homegrown Revolution mailbox received its first plea for publicity this week with an invite to a preview screening of the Reverend Billy’s new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy. We’ll keep to talk of compost and chickens and leave the film criticism to the folks at Cahiers du Cinema, but we’ll make an exception for What Would Jesus Buy. We enjoyed this movie immensely for its anarchic stick-it-to the-Man attitude, and Reverend Billy’s tireless efforts to exorcise the demons of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Disney.

What Would Jesus Buy opens on November 21st in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5 theater. Check the What Would Jesus Buy website for listings in other cities and for a preview.

Now part of Reverend Billy’s message is about shopping locally so we’d be remiss by not highlighting our comrade Doug Harvey’s upcoming Christmas themed screening at the Echo Park Film Center on December 15th at 8 p.m. Doug will be showing experts from the suppressed and highly challenging Star Wars Holiday Special that will stop the shopping urges of even the most credit addicted shopaholic.

See Homegrown Revolution this Saturday!

Homegrown Revolution has never been to Burning Man, but we’re big fans of the movie The Wicker Man and we figure it’s probably similar, which is why we’re happy to announce that we’ll be doing a brief appearance at the Los Angeles Burning Man Decompression this Saturday October 13th in support of our book The Urban Homesteader, due out next May from Process Media. The Burning Man Decom will take place on Sante Fe between the 4th and 6th Street Bridges in the Artist District deep in the beating heart of downtown Los Angeles (map). We’ll be delivering a harangue sometime around 4 or 5 pm. Come out and see us and stay for the sacrifice!

Happy World Car Free Day

In honor of World Car Free Day celebrated every September 22nd Homegrown Revolution presents an open letter:

Dear middle-aged office lady who tried to run me down while I was walking my dog in a cross walk across a quiet residential street,

I know you’re in a hurry to get to your job to pay for the $40,000 behemoth you use to transport yourself. Let me extend a welcome to my neighborhood which you use as an alternative to the freeway. It’s not the first time me, my wife, friends and neighbors have been threatened by folks like yourself piloting 6,800 pound death machines. It’s snarky but I have to point out our weight differential. Me and the doberman weigh a combined 240 pounds. It looks like you alone weigh that much due to your sedentary lifestyle. Add that 240 pounds to your multi-ton choice of transportation and I hope you understand why we’re angry when you seem to forget that me and the dog are living beings as you accelerate towards us.

Perhaps you just dropped off your kids at school. Too bad they’ll be suffering from type two diabetes because of inactivity, probably because when you’re not cruising around solo you’re ferrying those kids everywhere in your car. But I suppose it’s not safe for them to walk or ride their bikes to school because of all the SUV drivers like you playing chicken with pedestrians to see who can beat each other across the intersection.

I could keep ranting, mentioning the things we all know, the childhood asthma rates of our polluted city, the melting polar ice caps and dying polar bears, the 39,000 traffic fatalities on American roads, and all those folks dying in Iraq to supply the oil that feeds your addiction.

So perhaps morning rush hour was not the appropriate time for my Tienanmen Square moment of blocking your forward progress by standing in front of your custom grill to scold you for nearly killing me and my dog. How amusing that you circled your finger around your ear and pointed to me indicating wordlessly that you thought I was crazy. We’ll let history be the judge of who’s insane (I’m not putting my money on the oil addicted). In the meantime let’s focus on that tricked-out grill you paid extra for to enhance the meanness of what the designers in Detroit have already managed to make plenty sinister. Do me a favor, step back and ask yourself why you and the car manufacturers have altered the anthropomorphic features of front grills to express homicidal rage.

Oh angry middle-aged driver, would you have behaved better if instead of a cranky middle-aged eco-blogger dressed like the Unabomber and walking a doberman you had encountered a little girl on a pink bicycle with a golden retriever puppy? Perhaps this is why friends and neighbors of mine have all had the same idea of constructing a dummy child and puppy that we could fling out in the street suddenly to slow you all down. Or, is your head so brainwashed by automobile advertising that our animatronic ruse would only be a minor speed bump on the way to the office.

But let’s not end on the negative. Middle-aged office lady (I’m going to call you sister from now on) it’s time to set yourself free! Remember the words of the Situationist muse Guy Debord, “Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things and of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.” Break those chains liberated sister and get out of that Yukon. Slow down and live the authentic life! Remember what Debord also said, “Traffic Circulation is the organization of universal isolation. In this regard it constitutes the major problem of modern cities. It is the opposite of encounter, it absorbs the energies that could otherwise be devoted to encounters or to any sort of participation.”

Someday sister you will liberate yourself from that metal glass and plastic cage you’ve locked yourself in.

Happy World Car Free Day,

Homegrown Revolution

We’ve taken the flowers out of our hair

Homegrown Revolution is back from San Francisco with a couple of random observations from our trip:

1. The picture above of a gas cap spotted in the Mission District demonstrates, that even in a bike and mass transit friendly city many folks take their cars a little too seriously. Let’s remember folks, we suspect that Jesus rides two wheels and takes the bus and does indeed look anguished every time we open the gas cap.

2. We took our bike with us and enjoyed the numbered bike routes that take you north-south and east-west. While not perfect (we would have preferred a few more signs to point the way) these routes help a cyclist navigate thought the city taking you down more bike friendly and less hilly streets. The San Francisco bike map (pdf) shows the routes in addition to signage on the streets.

3. Raising chickens made us appreciate San Francisco’s strident health food store, Rainbow Grocery which has a chart in their egg section to show how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. We meant to get a photo of this elaborate chart but unfortunately we forgot the camera. Posted on the refrigeration cabinet, the chart tells you which of the brands they carry clip beaks or wings and whether the chickens have access to pasture. Rainbow Grocery was the first San Francisco retailer to carry only cage free eggs.

4. Unfortunately we didn’t see this exhibit by photographer Douglas Gayeton at Petaluma’s Singer Gallery, but you can view images from his slow-food related photo essay about Tuscany here.

5. While Homegrown Revolution promises never again to get into celebrity gossip, we’ll note that we spotted gravelly voiced alt-rock singer Tom Waits gassing up his Lexus SUV at a filling station in Berkeley. More exciting to us was discovering that our base of operations in the Mission was a mere block from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army safe house where heiress Patty Hearst became urban guerrilla Tanya. We have a feeling we’ll see the return of revolutionary noms de guerre in the coming few years and when that happens we’ll see Tom ditch the SUV for two wheeled transit on Berkeley’s many bicycle boulevards.

So Wrong it’s Right

The internets are full of inaccurate and contradictory information, and we at Homegrown Revolution don’t want to contribute to the noise which is why we must post a few corrections this morning. Please note our corrected posts on making prickly pear cactus jelly and on our tomatoes.

Also, our poll results are in and you all want more info on growing your own food! We note with some dismay the low rating of the harangue, the popularity of which is a minority view not surprisingly expressed by two friends and professional harangists, one an attorney and the other LA bike activist extraordinaire SoapBoxLA.

Homegrown Revolution will be heading up to San Francisco for a week and we’re not sure the natives up there have internet access, so we may go dark until we get back. In the meantime in honor of the folks at Elon Schoenholz photography we’ll leave you with the image above and a link to instructions on how to turn an office chair and a kid’s bike into a recumbent bike capable of powering you to your aerospace engineering job. Rumour has it that SoapBoxLA is making one of these things with a Aeron chair and a titanium road bike to ride in the controversial Pasadena peloton.