Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Urban Homestead: A Book Review

This past week I had a few minutes to myself and finally got to finish reading The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.  I was really excited to read it because the authors live in Los Angeles, which is somewhat near to where I live. Oftentimes I read books on homesteading or gardening and they are either set in a rural location or in a city where public transportation is much easier to utilize, and the like, thus rendering the books inspirational, but not applicable. With Coyne and Knutzen practically my neighbors, I felt more of a "hey, maybe I can do this in Southern California" sense than with a lot of other books on the subject.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Urban Homestead, largely because of the friendly and honest tone with which the authors approach their audience.They manage to strike a tone that very rarely wanders into the self-aggrandizing one that other notable homesteading authors use. I never felt preached to, or that if I didn't do EVERYTHING the way they did it, I was an abject failure and a blight on the planet.

To me, the tone is casual and friendly-- almost as though I was sitting down with some urban homesteading friends over coffee. My favorite part was in the chapter on transportation where Coyne speaks about her reluctance to convert to bicycling as her primary source of transportation out of fear of the drivers around her. I think that kind of honesty helps lend credibility to them. It isn't all going to be sunshine and roses and not everything is going to work for everyone.

One of the best parts of this book was that Coyne and Knutzen focused on making changes as you are able. It largely features achievable tasks and really emphasizes taking steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle, rather than presenting it as if one day you can just wake up and *poof* you're an urban homesteader with chickens and goats in the backyard and a wheat field in the front. 

That being said, there were a couple of things that I did not like about this book.  I felt that while it is a great starter guide for what is required to become an urban homesteader, it lacked a lot of in-depth information. I realize that had The Urban Homestead covered everything in-depth, it could easily have become an 800 page tome, but a bit more information in some areas would be helpful. On that same note, however, I did like that they often included the links to where to find more information on many of the topics discussed.

The other issue I had with this book was that the chapter on transportation talks about biking, but never mentions how one might go about switching to bike as primary transportation in an urban/suburban area when you have children. Yes, yes, I know I can get a trailer, but a lot of the coverage on safety talks about single riders, not rider with trailer of precious cargo. Also, the logistics change when you are trying to get around with kids and no car. A little more information on that would've been nice.

Overall, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Urban Homestead if you are at all interested in becoming more self-sufficient. I think Coyne and Knutsen have done a nice job of outlining a fair amount of information for those who are just starting out (or even just starting to toy with the idea) on a journey to becoming an urban homesteader. I know I walked away from reading the book with a giant list of ideas for around the house (including a solar heater for the bedrooms!).

You can check out more about Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen and their homesteading/self-sufficiency projects over at Root Simple.

**This is a 100% unpaid and unsponsored review of this book, in case you were wondering. In fact, I don't even own the book, but instead I checked it out of the library, thus proving I am in no way, shape, or form, in cahoots with the authors (but this information does prove that I'm frugal and awesome for supporting the local library system). If I was in cahoots with the authors, I'd be all "woo hoo... I got a free book from the authors and it is awesome!" (though I'd still give it a fair assessment anyways, so it would be more like "woo hoo... I got a free book from the authors and it just so happens that this book is MOSTLY awesome!"<-- Please read that last part as though I was Billy Crystal as Miracle Max in The Princess Bride)**


  1. Interesting review. I will have to look for that if only to read about the solar heater for the bedrooms! :0)

    1. In the book they state "In most places a solar air heater won't completely replace your conventional heating, but it can help augment it, and greatly reduce your power bills." I'm guessing for a house in the midwest, this would just help out & not completely get rid of the heaters. For us here in Southern CA, where we maybe drop into the 40s at night, I'm thinking one in each bedroom would be all we would really need. The boys' room gets hit with sun pretty much all day (though the master bedroom has the easier location for setting one up).
      I think you should check out the book, but since you are interested in the heater, the link provided for detailed instructions is The book also discusses a solar air heater you can put into the wall between the studs of the house, as well.

  2. If you must go for livestock, please be a nicer neighbors than mine and make sure you are privacy-fenced. I am not anti-chicken. I am just anti-chickens in suburbia when I can see them (and their process of becoming dinner!) Neighbors plucking chickens when you have KFC is just awkward :P

    1. Well, our city has regulations for raising chickens, and home slaughtering is against the law. Honestly, we'd only raise egg chickens if/when we get to that point-- D is still lukewarm on the whole thing, though at the rate he eats eggs, you'd think it'd be an easier battle.
      I think if I were your neighbors, I'd be more mindful of little kids/neighbors being around, but I also think it is great that they're raising their own food. While *I* couldn't slaughter my own poultry, I do think the general squeamishness many of us have about killing animals for food shows how disconnected we have become from our food. Back in the day, if you didn't kill for your food, you didn't eat. Now we are more than happy to eat the dead animal as long as we don't have to actually acknowledge it is a dead animal.

    2. Oh, the raising is fine. The eating is fine. My dad grew up on a poultry farm, my grandparents had it I was in high school. No issues there. NOTHING better than homemade chicken noodle soup with homemade chickens :)
      I just choose to live in suburbia. I shouldn't have chickens 10-20 feet from me. And if you can legally have them, whatever, but the chicken people should have to pay for the privacy fencing so the rest of us suburbanites can ignore them!!


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