A New Reality


We received an email from a casting agency searching for talent for a reality show where the participants will live on a remote farm, grow their own food and come up with their own method of governance.  The series will make use of the usual reality show plot device of having participants vote each other off the show. The agency wanted us to put out a casting call.

We won’t do that. I’m tired of stories that sow discord and hold up our lifestyle as something impossible to accomplish. The underlying message? Stay on that couch, don’t try to change the world, just buy the crap our advertisers sell. These type of realty shows are also a rigged version of the prisoner’s dilemma in which the cooperative option (what most people tend to choose in stressful situations) is not allowed.

We need to tell a different story. Bloggers in the urban homesteading movement can join together to cross-promote each other’s efforts. We can continue to offer an alternative through our writing, video, live webinars and, of course, face to face meetings.

I need to step up to the plate too. Years ago I worked as a video editor and cameraman at a university television station and at a PBS affiliate. I need to put everything aside and shoot some video! We don’t need the big networks and the “reality” they churn out. We can tell our own stories. Our narrative will be about people cooperating and sharing knowledge in order to make the world a better place.

If you blog and/or make videos about similar topics please leave a link in the comments.

And for some inspiration take a look at the videos in Kirsten Dirksen’s YouTube channel.

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  1. Sheesh!! Don’t scare me like that! I read the first line and panicked and almost choked on my coffee. After hearing for years from my husband about the ridiculous manipulations that “reality” shows perform to sow discord and wreak havoc among their on-screen “talent” I can’t imagine why anyone would actually have anything to do with reality production. I’m so relieved you’re not going that route – whew!

    But why not a Root Simple PBS show? I sure wish Huell was still around – he would have been a great resource. It IS time for a wider exposure for real values. The problem I see with the blogosphere is that, to me, it feels like preaching to the choir. Some sort of PBS exposure would be huge. I know I would watch a documentary, or short series, about simple living and a return of common sense. It would be a refreshing alternative to “reality”.

    • It would be nice to extend the message beyond the choir. I keep hoping that someday the television and film industry will think beyond the box they’ve put themselves in. I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Good for you!

    I’ve never liked or watched “Reality TV”. Just seeing the advertisements for same was enough to convince me there was nothing “Real” involved.

    Of course, these days I don’t watch any TV, frankly, it’s a lot more fun to watch the chickens. 😉

    • Amen. Except for the occasional Netflix movie or doc, I don’t watch TV either.

  3. Unfortunately, even PBS entered the reality show genre with shows like “Pioneer House,” and “Manor House,” where drama took center stage over education. I am glad to hear you decided not to enter that world, whether on PBS, cable or regular broadcast television; reality television has a habit of taking important issues and turning them into soap-operas, complete with tears, tantrums and evil villains…all scripted. Nothing realistic about them. Luckily, I feel the homesteading world is alive and well on YouTube, as people show others how to can, raise livestock and revive all the old home arts.

    • I remember being disappointed by Pioneer House (seriously, all the cheating that happened by the one family?) and some of the other versions. If I remember right, 1940s House didn’t have quite as much drama – maybe it was one of the first PBS did?

      Also, if I remember correctly, Pioneer Quest was a little more like what you’re looking for. Filmed by a Canadian outfit, I seem to recall it being a little more cooperative and less full of unnecessary drama.

      FWIW: https://www.youtube.com/show/pioneerquest

    • PBS is a mixed bag–some good, some bad. I’m sad to report a bad work environment too, from my experience and from what I’ve heard from others.

    • I watched Pioneer Quest and really enjoyed it… but it wasn’t really a competition, just two couples trying to make a go of living a pioneer lifestyle for a year. That said, good choice on not going on reality tv, though I’m sure there will be lots of people willing to do it.

  4. Hey Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown,

    Thanks for the shout-out for blogs–I write about our Small and Delicious Life (plus sustainability and behaviour change) at
    a Small and Delicious Life — Common Sense for the New Times

    I have been busy curing meat, so coming soon will be major posts on salami, and revolutions in sauerkraut.

    I haven’t done video yet, though I have been thinking about a short vid on shaving with a safety razor. There is nothing as close and smooth as a nice wet shave with a safety.



  5. Thanks for refusing to participate in the sham of reality TV! In the past I’ve enjoyed certain home/design shows, but I’ve been disappointed lately that they seem to be going towards more competition and less learning. Tried watching a new one, and stopped when I realized that by “voting off” a member of the team each week the show is just turning talented designers into backstabbers instead of collaborators.

    Just received my copy of The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook last night. Thanks again! My husband said I should take a picture of all the packaging it came in…box far too large for the book so it was then stuffed with paper to prevent the book from sliding around. Packaging or no, I look forward to trying out the recipes!

  6. As a friend of Mr and Mrs Homegrown and a fan of Root Simple, I am thrilled by the idea of some Root Simple video!

  7. Thank you for not buying into the reality television world. The producers cast the shows with an eye to fomenting discord. It’s stacked from the start. I can no longer watch cooking shows. I can’t abide the competitiveness.
    I was once approached by TV producers pitching a show about crazy chicken people. I explained that you can have chickens and not be bonkers. They were uninterested in a sane relationship with animals that we care for. Thank goodness that show never got on the air.

    • I hate the way people who keep chickens are portrayed as eccentrics or worse, as backwards immigrants or country folks. Thankfully we have you to set a good example and explain how these beautiful and noble creatures can be a part of our lives.

  8. Are you guys interested in producing our own reality show?

    “Squash from Hell!” How one man’s obsession with Squash Baby ended up a tragic FBI ( Food Bureau Investigators ) missing persons squash-napping caper.

  9. I’ll enter the chorus of Root Simple readers who are happy you’ve decided to take a pass on being part of yet another non-reality reality show. I find the “how do you feel about X” and the noble/sad/inspiring life story parts of these shows their most tedious, narcissistic elements. Even the PBS-produced “reality” shows fell into this trap.

    By the way, thanks for the link a few weeks ago to the BBC living-in-the-past shows which do not wallow in this kind of obnoxious and annoying self-examination. We bought, and thoroughly enjoyed, the “Edwardian Farm” and we’ve ordered the Victorian-era programs, which we could only find in Region 2 format (for U.K. and European DVD players). Fortunately, we have a player that will accommodate foreign DVDs. Call us old-fashioned, but we’d rather watch them on a TV screen than crowd around a computer.

  10. Timely post. I just started taping a show for Public Access in Long Beach – PADNet.tv. It’s a show about gardening, cooking, crafts and home maintenance in Southern Cal. The shows will be posted to my YoutTube channel after they air on PADnet.

    • Send me a link to the shows once you get them on YouTube. Looking forward to seeing them.

  11. One summer when I could barely put weight on my foot because of a badly torn meniscus, every night I watched reality shows and loved them, labeling them “brilliant.” I finally had surgery at the end of the summer. The next late-spring, I was rhapsodizing about all the shows I could not wait to watch. When they finally aired, I sat in disbelief. They were stupid and boring, every last one. Hey, even John Wayne got hooked on soap operas when he was hospitalized. After all I have read about producers manipulation of the action, setting up drama, I just cannot watch them now.

    Were they going to provide you with the remote farm?

    • The same thing happens to me and movies while flying. I remember a long flight where I almost cried watching The Wedding Planner. It must have something to do with a lack of oxygen.

  12. Amen to that! It does no service to the cause to have homesteady, self sufficiency seekers portrayed as niche outcasts. Not to mention the ads for weed killers and home depot that would undoubtedly be interspersed. Thanks for not getting stars in your eyes!

    We blog (intermittently) at http://www.MellishFieldsWest.com, and have videos of building projects, greenhouse, chicken coop, house, bicycle-powered washing machine, ect. I like the thought of an independent, user-driven spot this kind of material. And of course some how-tos from you two.

  13. Completely love Kirsten Dirksen’s stuff. Also, for farm related items, my go to (not urban necessarily), is the Cornell Small Farm series on YouTube. Nice. Informative. Realistic.

  14. Agreed!

    We are growin’ veggies, fruits, chickens, and bees in Wilkinsburg and Braddock, PA….www.grow-grow.blogspot.com

  15. Righteous!

    (Slang. absolutely genuine or wonderful: some righteous playing by a jazz great.)

  16. I am glad you will be doing videos! I bought your latest book and try to do projects that don’t require a lot of space, since I blog about preparedness and taking steps to self-reliance while living in an apartment (http://apartmentprepper.com). It’s a challenge for us city dwellers, especially with small spaces, but we do what we can. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  17. Homesteading seems such a grand term for what we do. I simply consider myself a gardener that raises chickens, composts and lives simply. It’s so second nature that I assume everyone lives this way – growing at least some of what they eat. My co-workers are in awe of the veggies that I share and hold them and look at them as if they are moon rocks. You put so much energy and good information in your blog. It’s an inspiration. Congratulations on the big “NO”.

  18. Although I’ve always been of the mindset, I just started blogging about it a few months ago. I’m excited to be spotlighting small batch food artisans, sustainable lifestyles and recipes based on farmers market finds for us like minded people. 🙂 http://farmtotablela.com

  19. good lord. did you respond to the email or just trash it?
    i blog, as a beginner in all things gardening etc…
    PS – re: doing videos. yes please 🙂

    • I didn’t respond, though I was tempted. I didn’t want to add stress to a person who is probably already stressed out working in “the industry.”

  20. Hey! For the past few years I’ve done radio shorts for our NPR affiliate about interesting food/garden/art/etc happenings in neighborhoods – mostly where I live, but in other places in our area, too. Here’s where the audio lives:


    It’s never been about homesteading, because the listening audience isn’t there yet – this is very simple DIY or “let’s think about this”. Radio is still happening, at least through the end of this calendar year.

    We’ve now moved into video for our PBS affiliate (we also received an equipment grant from PBS Digital Studios, which spurred the project along), but it’s created for a digital audience – these shorts would only appear on TV as unscheduled, interstitial material, which I am totally OK with. Here’s our debut video:


    We have several more slated for this year, including a small farm sheep-shearing demo, a batik artist whose designs are informed by food culture and neighborhood get-togethers, etc.

    Good luck, if you make the move – you’d be great!

  21. I completely agree and have found some amazing resources and some of my most treasured friends through blogging and the information sharing that goes along with all that we do each day. Working together is key to our survival and ability to actually thrive during these challenging times (and any that may lie ahead).

    I blog at http://evergrowingfarm.com/

    Thanks for doing what you do. Oh, and yes, please do shoot some videos!

  22. I feel we have plenty of drama just trying to grow our own food and do things more naturally. If we could document how deer can jump a 6 foot fence to get at the garden, or running out to take cloth diapers off the clothesline in the rain (been there), or a dismal attempt at straw bale gardening (did not work for me!)…that’s the drama I’m talking about!

  23. YES to an all deer cast.

    And thank you for not encouraging more people to think of us as freaks 🙂 Sheesh, I have a hard enough time explaining what I do…

    Thanks to pioneers like you and Kelly, I felt confident enough to make homesteading both my lifestyle and career. I blog about small-scale suburban permaculture homesteading at http://www.TenthAcreFarm.com. Topics range from gardening, permaculture design, nature connection, home economics, responsible consumerism, to community gardening, etc.

    Thank you for your inspiration!

  24. I must admit that I enjoy some aspects of reality television, and find quite instructive parts that I do not. Yes, any ratings driven show will seek to squeeze drama from the banal, and yes, they are stacked from the start to steer the lives depicted toward the crazy and the sacrosanct 3 act structure. But the subjects of such shows are not without agency in shaping what airs on screen, and what messages audiences receive.

    A show like “Extreme Cheapskates,” for instance, communicates a good deal about everyday environmental practice through its depiction of characters ostensibly eccentric for the measures they take to save money. A mother and her children pick wild greens for a family salad in one episode, and purchase and eat expired food from a market without consequence. A cyclist in Maryland (who admittedly searches in odd ways for spare change and cooks a goat-head meal during a week long spending “fast”) talks at length about how much money he has saved over 20 years by not having a car. Nicolas Kristoff recently wrote a column (and he’s not my favorite generally) on how “16 and Pregnant” on MTV has had a measurable impact in increasing rates of contraceptive use amongst teenagers (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/opinion/kristof-tv-lowers-birthrate-seriously.html?_r=0). And I personally like the way the show Pawn Stars enfolds American cultural history into the narrative of the haggle, even if the owner of the shop is fed the information he communicates on camera. I don’t judge he or the other characters on the show negatively for participating in this way.

    To dismiss reality TV and daytime talk shows as crass, misleading, melodramatic, opiate-like, etc. is to effectively rule out a key means of communicating with many, many people who may not read blogs, think they have political/cultural overlaps with environmentalists, or know how to realize a way of living outside of pressing job and family commitments. So perhaps I’d like to know more about that show you mention if they’re still looking for candidates…

    I am a documentary filmmaker and communication PhD teaching media production for social change to undergraduates at UCLA. My current course focuses on stories about commuting to UCLA, and students have been assigned readings from this blog.

    • Hi Andy–I’ve been meaning to take a look at Extreme Cheapskates–thanks for the reminder.

      I’m worried about a number of things with this particular project, specifically setting people up for failure. Both farming and leadership are skills that take a lifetime or perhaps several lifetimes to master. To throw a bunch of neophytes into a situation where they will need both skills without adequate preparation sends the wrong message, in my opinion. In fairness, the series has not been made yet so I hope to be proven wrong.

      But I wish that the genre was of a higher quality overall. I think D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Kings of Pastry is a good example of what could be done. In that movie you see people in a stressful situation cooperating and commiserating with each other. Another good doc–Jiro Dreams of Sushi. With both films there is good intent and respect for their subjects.

      I went to UCLA as an undergrad. Your course in stories about commuting to UCLA is pure genius. Sometimes I remember the way I got to UCLA (bus and, later, carpool) more than I do the classes. It says a lot about the challenges of this city to take a look at the way we travel. A rich subject.

      And we’re honored to have been assigned! Best of luck with your PhD!

  25. I’ve been working to expand permaculture concepts especially around social permaculture. I’ve been both writing articles with a friend in CO on using integral theory to expand how we can expand our awareness of social systems and developing a video process with some local friends to capture the social permaculture that is going on in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI.


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