Homesteading used to simply be a term for the pioneers who took on a piece of land, turned it around and made it produce goods of some sort—and, in return, earned a portion of ownership.
Today it means a lot of things: chickens in the city, urban beekeeping (click here for more on that), pickling various veggies, candle-making, canning, cheese-churning, wine and beer crafting and even gourd painting (I could do without the latter). Ultimately, it means taking on a simpler life by doing more yourself. Seems way less simple, and yet more intrinsically good.
Portland, Ore., has a brand-new homestead supply store in the heart of hipster town. But we've always had a homestead supply store, or at least since 1972 we have: City Farmers (4832 Home Ave. in City Heights). I've written about it many times before, because it truly is one of my most favorite stores in this whole damn county. Besides having fruit trees and stone statues of bunnies and a rusty ol' swing set that's loads of fun, it also carries a rich supply of canning equipment, tons of supplies for all your bee-keeping needs, composting tools and more. It also also sells Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons, too. That's chicken-speak for you lay people (as in, you guessed it—breeds of chickens). For some time now, City Farmers has been holding classes that teach things like canning and preserving, dehydration, solar cooking and, yes, beekeeping. Meet other homesteaders, pick up a cute chick or three (the birds, ahem) and have a lovely day in City Heights.
The local nonprofit Slow Food Urban San Diego is getting in on the homesteading action—which makes sense, because canning and fermenting are the ultimate slow food—with a Thursday, May 10, workshop on fermenting. It's a hands-on class—as in, smush that cabbage into that salt and get your hands dirty making kraut. Go to slowfoodurbansandiego.org for details. The class costs $20 ($15 for Slow Food members), and proceeds will be donated to Seeds at City of City College. Bring extra jars and you can take extra pickles with you.
And if you're looking for jars, check your cupboards first. If none reside there, you can hit up City Farmers, the Container Store and even Home Goods—the weird, over-crowded mega stores that abound on the outskirts of San Diego. They've got loads of 'em. I recommend Weck jars, which you can order online from weckjars.com.
You know it's hit the upscale market when Williams-Sonoma dedicates a section to it. They don't call it homesteading though; they call it Agrarian, but it's all the same stuff, minus any hippie vibe and with a heftier price tag. Its fancy chicken runs (basically, a chicken cage) top out at more than $800. Not for the average homesteader, huh? Still, its jars sure are pretty. And it has kits that go beyond your basic "Make Beer" variety. I'm talking shitake mushroom kits and kombucha kits and goat cheese kits and gorgeous vinegar pots that will look mighty nice on your kitchen counter while things ferment inside.
And the homesteading fever is spreading: There are several meet-up groups on various topics like chicken-raising and composting—just check out MeetUp.com. And Austin Durant, newly crowned Sunset magazine star, has meetings of his Fermenters Club (the original!) at various slow-food-restaurant locales. And, this summer, UCSD Extension is offering a class in sustainable food.
I can't help but think that Laura Ashley dresses and bonnets will be the next big thing. Better start hitting the thrift stores now, before the rush.