Urban Homesteading Here in Oakland

I fantasize about living on 20 or 30 acres where an old farm pushes up against the edges of a forest complete with running stream and old barn-turned-art-studio and farmhouse with woodstove and hardwood floors and perfectly restored tin ceilings. But in my current life I live in a very cozy one bedroom apartment on a bustling street of Oakland. Sure, it has the dreamy hardwood floors and high ceilings but our outdoor space is closer to 120 or 130 square feet than 20 or 30 acres.

Urban homesteading. I'm a believer. I'm an advocate. I love the notion that any eager homesteader can garden, forage, can, jam, make furniture, sew quilts, and otherwise homestead on any size parcel of land. We lived in our last apartment for 5+ years and we lovingly (and painfully) transformed an abandoned corner of the lot into a full-scale vegetable garden. The sad truth for urban renters is leaving behind any parcel of land you might have reclaimed anytime you sign a new lease. Ugh! Our garden kept us in our old apartment long after we had outgrown the indoor space. Afterall, it was our own garden.

Fast-forward to our current apartment and we are met with a much younger, messier, and adolescent plot that is still finding her footing. The front steps are lined with potted herbs--lavender, rosemary, basil, peppermint, spearmint, marjoram, sage, and cilantro. The backyard boasts two beautiful vegetable beds that my husband built within months of moving.

We've grown favas, lettuce, tomatoes, radish, peas, garlic, shallots, and chard. There is a fig tree and an apple tree that we are slowly digging out from the overgrown blackberry, jasmine, and forgotten palms. There is a place to sit in the shade and hold our little one to our laps and let him explore small sticks and rocks and freshly harvested produce. But, it is hardly competition to our old beloved garden.

But! I am changing my tune. Yes, I am. Because as much as I long for a sprawling rural homestead I also fully and completely admit my love for urban dwelling. And I am grateful. I am grateful for the recognition of the urban homestead movement. Of the urban gardeners insisting on growing food in just a few feet of patio, roof, or garden. Years ago when I lived in Brooklyn I pined for a garden in any configuration. I looked out our kitchen window into the inaccessible yards below and I daydreamed about all the plants I would grow if only I had the space.

So I am grateful for our 120 or 130 square feet of shared yard and also for our front steps lined with herbs. I am grateful for a bit of space to grow tomatoes in the backyard and to let the little one play with sticks and rocks and to get his hands dirty among the lettuce. I am beginning to accept that gardens do not grow over night but instead they take time. Yes, they take time.

And maybe one day I will have that barn full of art studios and I will look out over the fields and into the woods and I will long for an urban life where I can walk just a few blocks to a coffee shop and a bookstore with a decent section of poetry. Yes, I imagine I will. So for now I am happy to claim my little plot among the urban homesteaders, keep our herbs watered when the temperature rises, and watch the tomatoes grow plump on the vine. For now, this will just have to do just fine.



  1. Your 'for now' looks just wonderful to me. xolj

  2. Looks like absolute perfection!! Your pretty darn lucky to have a fig and an apple tree in the city, what a rarity. And you know, you are always welcome to come for a little garden fix in Sonoma, it's not that 30 acres we both dream about but it's enough to keep one busy! Definitely, this summer!

  3. I suppose both have there benefits. It seems you are doing better than fine at present and I have no doubt you'd find happiness on that old farm.

  4. Echoing Louise, your 'for now' looks pretty good to me too. Thanks, also, for the little hit of summer and all that blooms in the sun... and for your instagram comment earlier today. At this time of year, I am in a little office assessing student paintings and drawing up pages and pages of feedback for each. My prose gets quite flowery as the afternoon approaches. I rabbit on and on and on...

  5. I love this, thanks for posting.

  6. louise: yes, you have a point. it is not the former garden of goodness but it is wonderful for now. xoxo.

    kathryn: not perfection! but possibility! i'd love to visit your lush garden. love.

    denise: yes, both have their benefits i agree. and i like knowing that you think i'd find happiness at either end. thank you...

    gracia: thank you. and you are more than welcome for some IG cheers. i remember the end-of-semester moments when teaching in grad school. it's looong.

    kevin: aw, thank you very much. xoxo.

  7. You took the words right out of my mouth! I share the exact same dream and I also value the small outdoor space I have to work with now, and we live in a mid-size town in an old neighborhood. This was beautifully written. And yes, isn't that the constant question: what should be sacrificed? What generates the most value? Living amidst people and shops or enjoying the tranquility and calm that comes with the country? I can see the value in both.


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.