Published by Peggy on 18 May 2011 at 04:38 am
Recently we met Rachel Kaplan, a WiserEarth member, who has become somewhat of an expert on many aspects of living sustainably. She recently wrote a book with K. Ruby Blume called Urban Homesteading – Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living, an A-Z ‘How-to’ guide. She agreed to answer some questions about her new book… WE hope you enjoy them!
Location: Petaluma, USA
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by the process of homesteading itself, and my sense that these homegrown strategies for reducing fossil fuel dependence, growing local economies, and deepening community structures are what we need as a culture to survive the potential catastrophes of peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I called my friend Ruby, who I have known for 25 years, and who also lives this lifestyle and asked her if she wanted to write a book with me about it. She said “No!” but she also said that she’d been approached by three publishers who were interested in her writing it (because she founded a successful folk school called The Institute for Urban Homesteading) so we decided to talk to the publishers and see if it made sense. Which it mostly did, and so we moved forward with the project. Over time, we broke down our tasks into what we were best suited for– me as the primary writer, and Ruby as the chief visual designer of the book, photographer and how-to specifics queen. Together, we were able to put together something that is comprehensive, inspiring and beautiful.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Yes – many! First, we want people to know that this lifestyle is accessible, affordable, pleasurable and joyful. The processes of homegrown sustainability connect us to our place, to the seasons, to the people and animals and creatures around us, to the process of recreating a local economy. All of this is productive and generative, and feels good to be part of. Ruby and I come from an art and activism background where we spent a lot of time expressing ourselves, and “fighting the power.” We had exciting times, but got burnt out on the energy of the fight. Now we have this way of living that gives us many daily opportunities for creativity, connectivity and expression. We both feel more grounded as people, more connected to others and to the place that we live, and more in the work of growing the future, rather than fighting the power. So this is available to everyone, not just us, and we want people to know that.
Also, the book makes a strong case for starting where you are, and starting small. Everyone can work on small pieces of this bigger puzzle, and the more of us who contribute, the more we are able to get done. It’s a “many hands make light work” kind of thing. We stress starting small so people can have the experience of success–can make a choice about something they want to change in their lives, and try it out, and succeed at it, which will inspire the to try something else. We encourage people as much as possible to do this work with other people, and not in isolation, and that a big part of the lifestyle is about growing these kind of community and neighborhood-based relationships.
I could go on–of course, we talk about organic gardening, soil building, seed saving, animal husbandry, medicine making, orchard planting, food preservation, water and waste and energy conservation, self-care, community throughout the book. But the larger point really is that these are a series of joyful daily practices that are available to us all, and taken all together, they really can make a difference in the big work of turning our behemoth of a culture away from the brink of destruction.
How did you put the book together?
We created an outline which included most of the elements that are now in the book and then I went out and researched and wrote and interviewed people and cut and pasted and cut and pasted again. Ruby read everything to make sure it made good sense and that the how-tos were articulated properly. We had some dialogue about the photos and the drawings and the maps, which were important to structuring the book. Some of the chapters were added later, like The Personal Sustainability Plan, after I saw that many chapters had in the beginning a section about how to make new choices about food or water or energy. I saw how these all fit together under the idea of making a plan for yourself on how to live more sustainably, so I made a whole new chapter out of it.
As with all books, it’s good to start with an outline and then see where the work itself takes you. The interviews we did with homesteaders were especially inspiring – talking to people already living this way and getting to see what they were doing at home was great fun and gave us great ideas about how to shape the book.
Give us some background on the title of the book.
We didn’t really want to call the book “Urban Homesteading.” We thought it was a bit over-done, that the phrase had made such a groove culturally already that it was boring. The publishers didn’t agree and they insisted. One thing I didn’t realize when I signed the contract with the publisher was that I had actually signed away my right to name my own book. So we lost that fight. We didn’t have any titles that were so super fantastic that we could fight for, so it wasn’t a huge deal but initially we were disappointed and didn’t think much of the title. There was a bit of a tussle at the end about the subtitle “Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living.” They wanted, in the 11th hour, to change it to “Practical Skills for Sustainable Living” and we thought that was so boring that we put our foot down. And that one they compromised on and left it as “heirloom skills” which we thought had a bit of poetry to it.
Ironically, the title chosen resulted in a trademark dispute over the phrase “urban homesteading” (which has been copyrighted by the Dervaes Institute, currently working on becoming the Monsanto of the Urban Homesteading world!) I am not going to go into the drama of this, but the trademark dispute made us an incredible number of friends, comrades, and media contacts, and has sold us a lot of books. So in the end, it has been a lucky title for us, and probably something that has more social mobility than we may have imagined.
For those interesting in the book, you can find it at www.Urban-Homesteading.org and also on Amazon.com.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Kaplan
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