There is a new movement afoot. “Urban Homesteading”. Instead of making a pilgrimage “back to the land” as some of our hippie parents did, we proud city-dwellers are staying put and converting the land back to a primal state. We are returning the land to itself. A concept abundant with possibilities.
Though us apartment-renters may not have any land to transform, we need not be left out. This blog follows my quest to figure out how many farm-like activities I can do in my one-bedroom apartment. I can’t milk a cow, but I may be able to churn butter, I think. I’ll also be exploring what “Living Off the Land” means in the 21st century. What is the closest approximation of this us city-folk can hope to achieve?
Just to clear up any misconceptions, I am a total horticultural innocent. Gardening, is really more of an abstract idea for me. I can probably hold in one plant pot the amount of soil that has passed through my fingers. Two summers ago, my then fiance and I raised an heirloom tomato plant I got as a gift. After minimal research, I learned that tomatoes need full sun and water every day. It soon became a ritual. Each day, one of us would piously fill up a bottle the color of the Aegean Sea and walk downstairs to the back patio to nourish our new plant friend which we named “Mateo”. The terra cotta pot was positioned in a place where the sun shone the brightest. And Mateo flourished.
When the first tomatoes started growing, about three weeks later, I was absolutely flabbergasted. It seemed like a miracle that actual food was growing. From a plant! Food we could eat! That’s how removed I am from gardening. That summer, Mateo gave us maybe 12 of the best heirlooms I have ever had in my life. Compared to 5$ a pound at the farmer’s market, my husband and I savored our homegrown delicacy.
I am really more of a cook. I can think of few things more worthy than taking a vegetable, baffling and intimidating to so many, and converting it into a dish. There is nothing more calming than the simple equation: Time plus Energy = Food. I love knowing that at the end of a period of work, I have made something (and sometimes it’s even delicious).
My husband and I are both writers, and often we live in a nebulous world of ideas that either seem ever-expanding or evaporate all together. Finishing a piece of writing takes a long time. But with cooking, the results are plain, tangible, concrete, necessary. Cooking and gathering food is never a waste of time, which I suppose appeals to my Germanic practicality.
My mother’s side of the family are all German farmers. Well maybe not farmers technically but “country people” for sure. Every summer, I’d leave my well-to-do suburb of Los Angeles and strike out for the wild beauty of Southwestern Montana. The fresh air, the dirt roads, the home-grown vegetables, the mountains, all awakened in me – a reserved, contemplative kid – a sense of adventure and freedom, of unknown possibilities. It was summertime, a fresh start, a time to play.
My grandfather had an enormous garden stretching from the back yard all the way to the front lawn. Rows and rows of strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, currents, cherries, apples – my mind boggles now thinking back on it. He was a hard-working man, and would start working in the back row in the early morning, slowly making his way forward, finishing up several hours later. Every once in awhile he’d stomp into the house with his dirty work boots and leave plastic buckets of vegetables for my grandma to cook for dinner. After sweeping up his tracks, she’d begin washing the soil off veggies and start chopping.
Maybe that’s why now, when I’m chopping the ends off green beans or peeling the aubergine skin off an eggplant, or figuring out what to do with all the squash, it just feels right. Like I am playing into the natural rhythms of life and getting in touch with my roots.
But it also feels rebellious. I grew up with a mother and step-mother who were both the products of the white middle-class feminist movement of the 70s. My mother was given to bitter “man-hating” rants, while my step-mother was more of a “I-can-bring-home-the-bacon-and- fry-it-up-in-a-pan” type. Though they both took away different lessons, I got one clear message from both of them: Be independent and never, ever get sucked into traditional female roles (i.e. motherhood and wifedom) that offer no compensation or means of independent support.
Consequently, I was never taught to cook. In fact, I was discouraged from making my own food. And so being a total homebody, and cooking for my husband, feels to me rather strong and independant and maybe even a little bit naughty. Thanks to my freelance writing career, I am able to support myself and also spend loads of time in the forbidden zone of the “home arts.” I’ve learned to ignore the guilt caused by the echoes of my mothers’ stern feminist warnings and embrace my enthusiasm for the kitchen. I believe this has led me to find a balance that eluded both of them.
For me, food is the essential element that creates a feeling of home. It evokes a sense of abundance, of shelter, of safety and self-sufficiency. Cooking creates a rhythm to the day, and to life. The more I accept this aspect of myself, the stronger my desire to be connected to my food becomes.
- Evangeline Heath Rubin, 2009