It was just over a year ago that I finished Shannon Hayes' Radical Homemakers. Blessed with a large, sunny yard and a life based in and around my home caring for my young child, I had already begun working towards this sort of lifestyle before picking up the book. Hayes' accounts of radical homemakers across the country ranged from sprawling family farms to tiny Los Angeles back yards, and though they were all admittedly from relatively privileged backgrounds, there was value to be found in their stories, which excited me in a very specific way. They offered a way to move forward with my life that didn't feel futile in the face of the challenges our nation and our globe face; returning the household to a means of production, rather than consumption.
The phrase "urban homesteading" has passed in and out of my vocabulary and my self-identification in recent years, but always with a tinge of not-right-ness. To me, "homesteading" clearly conjures the days when white colonists were offered the chance to "settle" land that already belonged to the indigenous peoples of North America. In modern use, homesteading also conjures for me a feeling to isolation; a need to cut off from the world in order to save ourselves. This is why I choose to identify as a homemaker, radical or otherwise, rather than a homesteader.
When people find out about my lifestyle, one of two assumptions frequently come forward.
1) Oh, okay, she doesn't work.
2) Someone will ask "Oh, what do you grow?" assuming I have a full-fledged farm.
Obviously, neither of these quite fit the bill. To me, being a homemaker means creating value with the work I do within my home. Some of that value is monetary, like renovating our home with my own labor, and providing childcare for friends. Some of that value comes in the form of healthy food produced for my family; raising laying hens, preserving food, growing herbs, and baking bread.
Some of that value comes in money saved; time to carefully thrift shop, time to hand wash & dry laundry and extend the lives of those items, time to raise day old chicks rather than buying full grown hens, time to make household cleaning supplies, time to cook a nice meal instead of take-out, time to care for our child instead of child care.
Much of the value I offer falls under the category I like to think of as community value. What do I mean by community value? Free walk-in hair cuts for friends and family; availability to help people talk through interpersonal issues, or edit their written communications for effectiveness; time for people to pick my brain about their home projects; time to get to know our neighbors; time to cook a big dinner and invite friends to come and share; to me, these things are all a major part of my work as a homemaker.
As Hayes' said in her book; "Homemaking is not something that stands in the way of our deeper fulfillment; it becomes the ground that feeds it." My greatest wish for this time in my life is that my home become the ground that feeds not just my family, but an ever-widening circle of our community.