catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 5 :: 2009.02.27 — 2009.03.13


Renewal in the city

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published with the Englewood Review of Books, a collection of reviews connected to Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Readers who are familiar with the new monasticism will recognize that urban neighborhoods represent many of the “abandoned places of Empire.”  The new monastics are marked by their call to such abandoned places and in settling there, they prayerfully seek the transformative wisdom of God that will redeem these presumed wastelands.  Although the language of new monasticism is probably foreign to the authors of the new book, The Urban Homestead, what they offer in this excellent work is a similar vision of the holistic redemption of urban wastelands.  The authors, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, describe their vision in terms of:

  • Growing your own food
  • Urban Foraging
  • Raising Livestock
  • Revolutionary Home Economics (Preserving and Preparing Food)
  • Water and Power for the Homestead
  • The Transportation Triangle (Walking, Biking, Mass Transit)

Using a rich, earthy tone (which may occasionally border on what some readers might consider crude), the authors provide all kinds of creative ideas and tips related to each of these six areas.  They spend the most time – about a third of the book – addressing the growing of food.  This section doesn’t offer a whole lot for the seasoned gardener, but it is great for someone just starting out and it is also refreshing in that their advice is directed specifically toward an urban setting.  The content in this section on growing food in the city is presented within the framework of the authors’ philosophy of urban agriculture, which is summed up in the following seven “guiding principles”:

  1. Grow only useful things
  2. [Geographical] Region Matters. A lot.
  3. Build Your Soil.
  4. Water deeply and less frequently.
  5. Work makes work.
  6. Failure is part of the game.
  7. Pay attention and keep notes.

Having done a bit of urban agriculture myself, I found that these principles resonated with my own experiences.

The section on urban foraging is excellent, though I wish it would have been more detailed.  I suspect the authors chose a minimalist approach here, following their own advice that as a far as foraging goes: “a good book is a great place to start, but a live teacher is invaluable.”  The chapter on raising livestock focuses on birds (chickens, ducks, quail and even pigeons!), but also addresses rabbits and bees.  The remaining chapters offer a glorious barrage of ideas that will serve well to seed the imagination of the urban reader.  With imaginations duly seeded, readers will do well to scour the book’s appendix, which is chock full of print and Internet resources that explore the topics introduced in the book in much greater detail. You will also want to check out the authors’ blog, which has all kinds of related stories and links to many of the internet resources given in the appendix.

The Urban Homestead should be read cover-to-cover by anyone seeking to live lightly and redemptively in an urban place.  Afterwards, I suspect that it will also become an excellent reference book that will find frequent use in the urban home or church community.

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