Blume isn’t the only one with an urban farm. More city dwellers are using their backyards to raise and grow their own food. Some are so successful at it that they’re teaching themselves how to preserve the harvest.
“The level of appreciation for nature and life when you slaughter your own meat creates a kind of ethic that I think is what we need to save the world,” Blume explained after a tour around her home. “That’s why I do this – I want to live with a deep gratefulness and appreciation for what the world provides for me.”
The urbanites who embrace do-it-yourself practices, such as beekeeping, animal husbandry, gardening and food preservation, have been dubbed urban homesteaders.
After Blume became the envy of friends, who regularly tapped her for urban farming tips, she decided to open the Institute of Urban Homesteading in 2008 and offer classes.
Interest in urban homesteading has increased so much, in fact, that several other organizations have popped up in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, covering subjects such as gray water and rainwater reclamation, fermenting foods and keeping backyard chickens.
During the past three years of teaching composting and gardening classes at the Garden for the Environment in San Francisco, director Blair Randall has noticed that people’s level of interest now goes beyond questions of technique to questions about how their household choices affect the Earth. “People are really connecting what they can do at home to what they can do with the environment at large,” Randall said.
And then there’s the fact that it’s just fun; think about the simple joy that comes from eating a piece of toast slathered with jam or honey that you’ve harvested yourself.
Below is a sampling of classes around the Bay Area. Be sure to check with your city’s planning and building department for zoning regulations before you start keeping bees, raising livestock or installing gray water systems.
Bay Area groups help urban farmers with gardening, watering and beekeeping. (page E6 in the paper)
In the kitchen …
Many urban homesteaders get their start in the kitchen before their enthusiasm spurs them to get beehives and chicken coops. Several organizations around town offer classes in the arts of the kitchen. Class fees usually include supplies for the foods you take home from the class.
18 Reasons. Pig and lamb butchery, cheese making, fermenting sauerkraut and kimchi, and more. Free-$60. 593 Guerrero St. (near 18th Street), San Francisco. www.18reasons.org
Fatted Calf. Pig butchery and sausage making. $125. 644 First St. (at the Oxbow Market), Napa. (707) 256-3684, www.fattedcalf.com
Happy Girl. Pickling, fermentation, jamming and canning. $120. Classes take place at an Oakland home. www.happygirlkitchen.com
Urban Kitchen. Kombucha, sourdough, jamming, homemade pet food. $42-$98. Several San Francisco locations. www.urbankitchensf.com
… and elsewhere
Biofuel Oasis. Home-brewing biodiesel, backyard chickens and beekeeping. $25-$90. 1441 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. (510) 665-5509, www.biofueloasis.com
Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper. Beekeeping, mead and soap making. 3520 20th St., San Francisco. (415) 744-1465, www.hmsbeekeeper.com
Merritt College. Permaculture, pruning and other gardening. 12500 Campus Drive, Oakland. (510) 436-2418, www.merrittlandhort.com
With water use high and California’s reservoirs undersupplied, one way to conserve is using gray water – the wastewater from washing machines, sinks and showers – to water plants and flush toilets. For 10 years, Laura Allen and the Greywater Guerrillas have been teaching people throughout the Bay Area how to install do-it-yourself gray water systems cheaply and safely. California gray water regulations were rewritten Aug. 4 to make it easier for homeowners to build their own systems. Contact your city’s building department for zoning regulations and more information.
Mission: Educate and empower people to build sustainable water culture and infrastructure.
The classes: A five-hour introduction to gray water covers all the basics, including health and safety guidelines, such as which soaps to use and how plants can safely be irrigated, followed by a hands-on lesson on how to install a three-way valve for a washing machine, which creates a gray water system to irrigate a yard or garden.
The teachers: A collaborative group of educators, designers, builders and artists. Allen and her fellow Greywater Guerrillas are the authors of “Dam Nation” (Soft Skull Press, 2007), a book on the politics of water consumption.
The goods: Students confident in their home-repair skills will gain information on how to build a washing-machine gray water system for $200 in materials.
Vitals: Classes take place at homes throughout the Bay Area. Go to www.greywaterguerrillas.com to sign up. Fees are $30-$100, sliding scale; work/trade opportunities are also offered.
Amateur beekeepers Doug and Katia Vincent opened Beekind in Sebastopol five years ago to serve Sonoma County beekeepers. Their clientele has expanded to include urbanites who want to learn to keep their own bees.
Mission: To supply, educate and connect beekeepers.
The classes: Beekeeping 101 is offered for free several times a year and includes information on acquiring and placing hives. Further explorations include hands-on sessions on hive inspections, honey extraction, wintertime hive management and installing a new hive.
The teachers: Owner Doug Vincent teaches Introduction to Beekeeping 101 and the Package Bee Installation classes. Local beekeeping experts such as Serge Labesque, who teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College, and Emery Dann, the president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association, give more advanced, supervised instruction on inspecting and maintaining beehives.
The goods: Students receive resource materials for each class and gain skills for backyard beehive management. Members of the honey extraction class get a jar of honey that they helped extract.
Vitals: Free-$45, 921 Gravenstein Hwy. South (Highway 116), Sebastopol; (707) 824-2905, www.beekind.com. E-mail newsletter subscribers can sign up for bee classes a week in advance.
Garden for the Environment
San Francisco’s nonprofit Garden for the Environment is a 1-acre outdoor classroom for gardening in an urban setting.
Mission: To offer low-cost education on small-scale urban ecological food production, organic gardening and low-water-use landscaping.
The classes: Year-round classes teach skills for successful gardening in San Francisco’s maritime climate. The backbone of the organization’s offerings is a composting class offered the first Saturday of every month. Other classes cover seasonal garden chores, from a fruit tree pruning series to saving seeds for the next year’s harvest; raising backyard chickens; rainwater and gray water reclamation; container gardening; water-smart irrigation; integrated pest management, and medicinal herbs and first aid.
The teachers: Director Blair Randall and program manager Suzi Palladino teach the garden’s regular offerings, such as composting; other courses are taught by local experts, such as Kevin Bayuk from the San Francisco Permaculture Guild and Matthew Sutton from Orchard Keepers in Santa Cruz.
The goods: Classes emphasize hands-on instruction. In the medicinal herbs and first aid class, you can take home a tonic or a salve.
Extra: On Sept. 19, Garden for the Environment will host a homesteading film festival with short films about food, gardening and urban homesteading. A $10 donation is requested.
Vitals: Free-$125. Garden for the Environment, Seventh Avenue and Lawton Street, San Francisco; (415) 731-5627, www.gardenfortheenvironment.org
Institute for Urban Homesteading
Founder and headmistress K. Ruby Blume’s school revives the arts of the self-reliant home.
Mission: To offer affordable homesteading classes in an urban environment and promote self-reliance.
The classes: Low-cost workshops include urban animal husbandry (chicken, goats and rabbits), organic gardening, beekeeping, do-it-yourself health and beauty, and even hands-on classes on how to incorporate natural building materials into urban dwellings. The Urban Farm Kitchen series offers primers on making mold-ripened cheeses, canning, lacto-fermentation and home brewing.
The teachers: Blume teaches many of the classes in her Oakland backyard. Most of the other instructors are also self-taught homesteaders, such as Jim Montgomery, Jeannie McKenizie and Frankie Morrow, all of whom keep livestock at their homes.
The goods: Most classes start with a lecture followed by hands-on practice in beehive management, gardening, making honey wine and more.
Vitals: Classes take place at private homes all over the Bay Area. Go to www.sparkybeegirl.com/iuh.html to sign up. $25-$85, sliding scale.