Urban Homestead on Craigslist. Act Now!

I’ve always been uneasy with the moniker “urban homestead.” It’s the title of our book (what else could we have called it?), but it’ not really accurate. The activities we describe are also practiced by suburbanites and people in rural places. And “homestead” is not technically accurate–all the readers of our book, I’m fairly certain, either own or rent their property. The term is also loaded with some not so nice cultural baggage as this blog post points out.

The earliest reference I can find to an “urban homestead” is a 1976 article in Mother Earth News describing Berkeley California’s Integral Urban House.

I’m fairly certain the term has caught on and is here to stay after discovering a Craigslist real estate listing in Livingston Montana using the term:

$269500 / 4br – Urban Homestead (524 S. 10th,)
It’s the best of both worlds…you can be self-reliant and live in town. Inside, this home features 3+ bedrooms, 2 baths, an office or hobby room, reading area, and large family room, plus cold-storage for canned goods. Outside, there are raised organic garden beds, a chicken coop, a koi pond and apple, cherry and plum trees for sustainable food production. There is an efficient furnace and a low-emissions woodstove for auxillary [sic] heat. This wonderful home is located across from the city water works park and just 2 blocks from schools, the clinic, Sacajawea Park and the Yellowstone River. This property is perfectly set up for those with a green thumb or those who wish to live a greener lifestyle! For more photos and a downloadable pdf brochure go to http://www.ecorealestatesource.com/urbanhomestead.pdf. Call Mary 406-599-9889 or Dixie 406-223-1225 to preview. MLS#168742 ”

Does the sofa double as a composting toilet?

O.K., I see a microwave, but where the hell is the pickle crock?

Can we keep the Buddha if we eat the koi?

If any of you buy it, I’ll throw in a free copy of our book but you gotta take down that Thomas Kinkade print.

Kidding aside, it’s kind of amazing to see a real estate agent touting a chicken coop rather than demanding it to be removed in order to sell the house. Maybe things have changed.

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  1. Hi- Thanks for the link to my post. It is pretty complex isn’t it?

    I do think it is likely here to stay as well, but am also hoping to raise consciousness about what the term could mean for others.

    Take down the Thomas Kincade! Love it! And love that houses are being touted for their coops & organic beds!

    BTW- I think your book is great & has had good information for us in our lil’ urban farm-let. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Hey Mr. Homestead, there’s a typo! My mind was boggling that a modest home in Livingston Montana (koi pond or no) would sell for 2.7 million. I know we live in LA, so our sense of appropriate real estate pricing is a little screwy–but still, take off a zero so we don’t scare the readers.

  3. OK- this was interesting to me on two counts- I’ve been to both the Integral Urban House in Berkeley (in either ’76 or ’77- I was in high school and persuaded my parents to take me up to Berkeley to take a look at it and I think they were impressed, but not enough to change their lifestyle) and Livingston, MT, at around the same time. Livingston was memorable on two counts- one was that I had a really good trout dinner there, and the other was a lawyer’s shingle that I espied; his name was Swindler.

    I’ve actually considered the social baggage that comes with the word ‘homestead’, because we aren’t really part of the Homestead Act, and we’re not really trying to land grab here. I don’t know about you, but my bank doesn’t really care whether my pickles turn out or not- they wanna get paid every month. I don’t know what else to call it- hacienda-ing? Clumsy, and I’m not sure that it was any better.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever become completely self-sufficient, but I’m sure trying to be more self-reliant….which is probably the closest description that works for me. Self-reliancy.

  4. I’m laughing that the chicken coop was mentioned also. I actually dread the day that my neighbors on one side leave, because the parade of people who view the house, and the parade of real estate agents, will probably not be pleased to see that I have one. The likelihood that eccentrics like myself will buy that property is fairly low. Hopefully by then the fence will be taller and more insulated by berry bushes on my side…

  5. I was just introduced to the writings of Ralph Borsodi, who wrote “This Ugly Civilization” in 1929. In it, he has a chapter called “The Factors in the Quest of Comfort: The Homestead” where he encourages people to find a home with some land and become self-sufficient. He would probably have been unable to understand the concept of an urban homestead, as he would have thought it too much of an oxymoron. But he did specify in an interview he did in Mother Earth News in 1974 that by “homesteading” he did not mean what was done under the Homestead Act, but instead was using it as a way to describe the “pattern of life” he was espousing, which was to leave behind the factory system and begin an “adventure in home production.”

  6. Hi- I think it is true that most people using the term ‘homesteading’ do not in any way mean what was done under the Homestead Act or genocide.

    The thing is that words matter. Terms matter. What we call things matter. And the term ‘homestead’ is incredibly loaded with historical trauma that can not be just erased by new usage. It is a way that racism gets re-enacted. It is a way that excludes whole communities from an otherwise really incredible movement.

    I’m calling for a keeping of the activities with a change in terminology.

  7. Oh Anne, I am very focused on the activities at the core (did you read my post?).
    It isn’t known by the the youth…but it should. We should not forget the genocide and the atrocities that were perpetrated in this country. No one should.

    You say “very very few currently even make the leap to past injustices.” What is this based on? Have you discussed the impact on the term homesteading with people of color? Particularly indigineous and/or black folks? The word does have historical trauma associated with it. And, as a white person, I am in NO position to decide whether a we should reclaim the term and give it new meaning. I’ve not meet 1 person of color calling what they are doing homesteading. It is a white used term. It is loaded with historical trauma and racism.
    It is not something that people are focusing on and stagnating. It is real.
    And since there is no shortage of words- I am asking people to be conscious of how the words people use might affect others. How they might exclude others.
    Again, words matter. Terms matter. Love the movement and hate the term.
    It is easy for white folks to say “oh that was in the past and this is different and people should just see past it to all the good stuff”. Because it didn’t happen to the white people.
    I know this pisses a lot of people off. Well, pisses white people off. (for the record, I am white). Most white folks don’t like to think that something they are doing could be a racist microaggression. But it doesn’t change the fact that is a term that is painful to so many.
    I am asking people to lose their attachement to using a word that is so alienating.

  8. Yes, I read your post. Yes, I see the term incorrectly used primarily by intense backyard gardeners in an attempt to give a quaint and romantic spin to what they are doing.
    In fact I have mentioned the practice and discussed the concepts with a range of people. Where Americans view gardening as a hobby, in many cultures it is a necessity/ tradition/ survival. The draw was healthier food, satisfaction in consuming what was grown, health impacts on themselves and their families, trying to be aware of the ecological impact of daily choices.
    The term only has as much negative/ positive impact as the people who use it imply.
    Your response implies that we (my family and I) are only white. My skin color may be, but our family and genealogy is not just “white”. My family is very diverse. What genetic traits end up being displayed is the luck of the draw over the generations. No one has a choice what color/ culture/ etc. they are born into. I would be chasing my tail paying penance to myself for what my various European ancestors did to my Aboriginal ancestors. (not to mention my half sisters and nieces, brother-in-laws, first cousins which would further cover nearly every “color” in contension.)
    My dislike for the word “homesteading” is not based on “racist microaggression” .. it is based on incorrect terminology.

  9. Hi Anne- I totally agree that it is incorrect and romanticized terminology.
    I don’t think a term “only has as much negative/positive impact as the people who use it imply.”
    I so wish that were true. I really do. And I wish that historical traumas could be erased and power equalized. But it is, unfortunately, not the case.
    I am not saying that we are “only white.” Each of us carries multiple identites and are complex beings.
    My point about being white is that, as a white person & an ally), I am not in a position to decide a term that is so loaded can be used and that it is basically up to them to decide how to interpret it or decide to erase family stories/history/etc.
    It is not about paying penance- it is about not inflicting further pain.
    The point is that the term is alienating, painful, unnecessary, exclusive and loaded with historical trauma. Trauma that we, as white people, don’t get the ‘choice’ to reclaim or take up.

    I realize this is a sensitive and difficult issue.

  10. Not sensitive or difficult for me at least… more like great fun to casually debate the point of view on a topic.
    In essence we agree the terminology is inaccurate.
    Where you come into contact with people who become inflamed by the term, I am on the opposite side of the spectrum where I have yet to encounter anyone who pays attention to the word over the concept.
    Most likely the difference may lie in the presentation or course of discussion in which it is brought up.
    Finding a suitable replacement is the hard part if you hope to successfully relabel the movement for a more universal appeal. As it is there are many names for it.

  11. I meant that racism and historical trauma is sensitive and difficult.
    You might not have encountered anyone who pays attention to the word/term (that you know of). I haven’t had anyone get ‘inflamed’ over the term either. I am, however, passionate about social justice.
    And, the term DOES have historically horrific conotations, whether or not you have encountered anyone that has told you as such.

    The power/privilige structure in place in this country is what ‘allows’ people to decide to take up a term and decide that it needn’t hurt someone else.

    I don’t have any suggestions of other names…it is all too varied. The reasons behind engagement are different. Food safety? Sustainability? Community? Local/seasonal eating? Necessity? Enjoyment?

    My engagement is linked to resistance (& enjoyment).

  12. The Homestead Act was racist and furthered genocide in the United States.

    As people interested and committed to sustainability, environmentalism, food justice, learning and sharing skills, why don’t we use new words to define ourselves?

    To build a just and anti-racist world, we need to simultaneously learn about and acknowledge our histories and privileges while fighting against current day manifestations of white supremacy, like gentrification.

    We all have responsibility in creating the world where we want to live. Choosing our words carefully is one step in the process.

  13. This is the silliest post I have ever read except for the correct defintion of homestead as defined in the dictionary. Do you think monikers such as Homestead Furnture is racist and only for a certain class of people? Get real!

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