Homesteading, sweet homesteading

Petaluma urban homesteader and author Rachel Kaplan comes to Chico for three-day visit

Rachel Kaplan, author of <i>Urban Homesteading</i>, holds a bunch of parsnips in the back yard of her urban homestead in Petaluma. photo courtesy of rachel kaplan

Rachel Kaplan, author of Urban Homesteading, holds a bunch of parsnips in the back yard of her urban homestead in Petaluma. photo courtesy of rachel kaplan

Photo by Christine G.K. LaPado

Homesteading lessons:
Rachel Kaplan will appear at Lyon Books (121 W. Fifth St.) in support of her new book, Urban Homesteading, on Oct. 13, from 7:30-9 p.m. See for more info.
Kaplan will be teaching three sections of Chico State professor Mark Stemen’s Environmental Issues class on Friday, Oct. 14, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., in Plumas Hall, Room 102. Open to community members as well (free).
On Oct. 15, Kaplan will conduct an Urban Homestead Design lab at GRUB (1525 Dayton Road) from 2-4 p.m. Cost: $15 (but no one will be turned away for lack of funds). See

“This book is dedicated to the children who follow after us. May they inherit a fertile and abundant world filled with people who honor the diversity of life teeming around us: from the tiniest microbe, to the wondrous chicken, to the beauty of the human community.”

—Rachel Kaplan, Urban Homesteading

Rachel Kaplan is an urban homesteader—one of that decreasingly rare breed of people devoted to turning as many square inches as possible of their home and land into a haven of eco-friendly, homegrown sustainability that will provide healthful sustenance and help ensure a healthier planet for those yet to come.

For her part, Kaplan homesteads on the rented 55-by-100-foot property (“with a small house”) she shares with her partner and daughter. She makes more than good use of her relatively small piece of land—it includes a front-yard vegetable garden, a side-yard garden, “water-catchment all over,” bees, rabbits, chickens, mushroom cultivation, gray-water systems, a compost area and “a small urban orchard” of 15 trees both in the ground and in pots.

Kaplan started writing a book in late 2009—Urban Homesteading—because she wanted to share with others what she had learned from her own experiences.

“I just felt that the way we were living was important,” Kaplan said. “I wanted to share the good news. These are home-scale solutions to global-sized problems.”

Kaplan will be in Chico this weekend—Oct. 13-15—for an appearance at Lyon Books, to teach three environmental-studies courses at Chico State and to conduct a two-hour workshop at the GRUB Cooperative on urban homesteading.

“I’m talking to young people, old people—anybody interested in the issues,” said Kaplan recently, by telephone from her home in Petaluma. Kaplan, who is also a licensed somatic therapist specializing in marriage and family issues, has been traveling of late throughout California—she was recently in Santa Cruz and is planning to visit Eureka soon—in support of the book, which she co-created with Oakland urban-homesteader K. Ruby Blume, founder of Oakland’s Institute for Urban Homesteading.

A therapist who specializes in somatics, Kaplan “focuses on the role of the body in healing. We don’t ignore the signals from the body.”

Similarly, Kaplan-as-homesteader does not ignore the signals from the planet on which we live: “I think the work we do to heal ourselves and the work we do to heal the earth is the same, really. The way we live also needs repair. Inside-life, outside-life—they’re not separate; they’re the same.

“In a way, what I’m talking about on the deeper levels is a shift in consciousness.”

Urban Homesteading is jam-packed with detailed, how-to information for anyone from the beginning do-it-yourselfer wanting to learn, say, how to install a water-saving gray-water system to the more experienced homesteader wanting to add some more tricks to her or his self-sufficiency bag—such as how to butcher a rabbit or make a “cob” (a clay-and-straw building material) structure.

Kaplan said that when she and Blume started interviewing other urban homesteaders for their book, “it really became clear to us this was a movement, not just us farming in our back yards in the city. It’s happening everywhere across the country—in Chico-sized cities, Oakland-sized cities. There is a big movement toward localization. People are trying to turn their attention to the essentials of life—food, water, energy.”

The main reasons for the increased focus on local sustainability, Kaplan pointed out, is “climate change, economic instability, resource depletion, dysfunctional government. People aren’t being taken care of the way they should be, so people are starting to do it for themselves.”

Also, she said, people “are understanding the relationship between fossil fuel, toxic food and ill health.” The raising of one’s own food is, as Kaplan put it, “the way into this revolution. Food is the gateway to a sustainable lifestyle.”

Stemen is excited about Kaplan’s visit to his environmental-studies classes. She will be “talking about the book and talking to young people about how this fits into their lives,” he said.

Stemen sees Kaplan’s book as useful for people who want to change the way they are currently functioning to a more sustainable method of doing things.

“I like this book—there are a couple of things already that I can take to my house and implement, like the gray-water system,” said Stemen, whose washing machine is currently hooked up to the city sewer system. “I can dump the gray-water on my fruit trees.

“There’s a whole other audience,” he added, referring to young college students who have yet to settle down, buy a house, raise a family, etc. “They can go directly into this—they don’t have to unhook and retrofit.

“The students have been already exposed to peak oil and other problems, and now they’re looking for solutions—and this is going to be perfect for them. It’s a great opportunity to bring the students’ learning into their daily lives. It’s often hard for them to make those leaps, and [Kaplan] does it in very practical ways.”

Kaplan stressed that the urban-homesteading movement is not just about self-sufficiency. “Nobody can do it all by themselves,” she offered. “What it’s about is community relationships and community resilience. This is really about how to build community with your neighbors. You could be a great tomato grower, I could be a great gray-water installer, and we could share.

“I mostly just want to share the good news with people and inspire them to join us,” she added. “It’s a growing movement.”