Monday, September 3, 2012
:: Start An Urban Homesteading Club :: Part One ::
As some of you know, I started a group for like-minded people in my area, because frankly (my dear) I was feeling lonely and isolated. I had friends, I had colleagues, I had family, but I longed for some other locals to discuss the stuff I was into, like growing your own organic produce, keeping chooks, preserving, making your own dishcloths, and generally, 'urban homesteading'. I wanted to find other people who were doing in their backyards, what my husband and I were doing in ours. This (and Part Two) are the stories of how I did it, the amazing and supportive people I met along the way, and how the group is going now, 12 months on. Please know, I did put in a lot of effort at the start (and before that, even) but I set the group concept up to be 'self sustaining' and whilst I still do some behind the scenes work, it is the active members of this group that have made it so successful. I am not posting about this to take credit for everything, or to claim I invented some amazing concept, but to perhaps share and inspire others who might be feeling lonely and isolated. Who might be like I was, and think, "If I want it, I might just have to create it for myself."
Four years ago, The Bowhunter and I moved to Canberra with our two kids. We had already started on our 'eco' journey, and as we became more aware about environmental issues, it became important to us to be prepared for an uncertain future, and to prepare our children. Our motto came from something that Molly once told me, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and enjoy each day like the blessing it is!” We became passionate about 'being prepared' for both short term and longer term situations. Creating an urban homestead is one way that we are trying to be prepared, to be able to provide for our family in tough times, and because we love it. Some who find themselves with this awareness, might panic and freak out, coming to the conclusion, "Oh my goodness, we need to become self-sufficient to survive!" (Believe me, we've had that thought many a time, and still do, with little off-grid cabin-in-the-woods fantasies playing out in our overactive imaginations).
Of course, we quickly came to realise that moving to the country (gonna eat alot of peaches) was not realistic for us. Also, we worried that a life like that could be quite isolating, for us and our children. Instead of moving somewhere rural and going off-grid, we needed to adapt in place (and grow them peaches in our own backyard). We need to find our place within our community, as that connection, that interaction, and the support that comes from being part of a community are so important. We want to help build resilience and a better future too. We also wanted to make like-minded friends, and have our kids play with other kids whose parents were into the same thing. Kids who knew what compost was, who got served weird vege’s for dinner, who think worms are awesome!
It wasn't an easy, or instantaneous, process. In the last few years, I have been a part of so many groups, trying many on for size, and not finding the right fit. I started my own playgroup with another like-minded mum, in early 2010, Playdates for the Planet. I also attended Sustainability Network Meetings, which were a networking gig for people in eco-groups. In May 2010, spurred on by wanting to learn some old lady skills, I started the first version of The Urban Homesteaders Club, which unfortunately failed. I think the hard-core concept of ‘skill-sharing’ and reciprocal hosting was too much, and whilst there was a lot of interest, there was not enough commitment! I then tried joining a local group, SEE-Change, did a volunteer Admin role for PermaBlitz for about 6 months, then tried to help start a new SEE-Change group too. I just became disappointed and frustrated that nothing seemed to be working out. However, I did learn something everytime I was involved in one of these groups, especially with PermaBlitz. I did such a lot of work for that group, which had a very diverse membership. I sure do have a lot of stories to tell about the characters I met, and the often frustrating experiences I had, but I also learnt many things about myself too.
In July of 2011, a local woman (we'll call her M, shall we... so original!) contacted me to say she had read about 'The Urban Homesteaders Club' on my local Canberra blog, and was interested in being involved. For a moment, my previous frustrations over trying to be involved in, or start/ run groups, almost caused me to decline. Deep down (not even that deep) the desire to connect and build community bonds was still there. I was glad for the chance to try reviving such a great concept, and here was someone willing to be a part of such a group, and even offering to host the first event! This gave me faith that this idea could work, that there are people willing to put themselves out there. I put all my years of local networking and blogging to good use, to let people know about the group restarting. I emailed people, left messages on blogs and forums, posted on Facebook pages, and wrote articles about the group. I probably ‘stalked’ the first 10 people into joining the group!
We had nine people come along to the first get together a year ago. M, the woman who get the ball rolling again by contacting me and showing such enthusiasm, was brave enough to let a bunch of strangers come to her house. Everyone else joined along the way, and whilst I am happy to see the group growing (90 members at the moment, with a core group of about 30 active 'regular' members), with more and more people interested in joining, what really gets me isn’t the numbers, but the quality. We have such a great group of like-minded people, who interact with each other, who respect each other, and who have really bonded. At the monthly get togethers, we generally eat and drink, check out the swap table (if we have one set up) and have some diverse and interesting conversations! We share books, tools, knowledge and advice. We swap skills, produce, seeds and resources. I am always so happy to see how welcoming people are to new members of the group.
The online interaction has been such a great way to learn, share, show off and show support. When your family think what you’re doing is nuts, your friends are sick of hearing about your heirloom vegetables, your colleagues laugh at your obsession with chicken poo, and your neighboursare sick of you palming zucchini off on them… The Urban Homesteading Club is there! What our group accomplishes goes beyond growing food, raising chooks, preserving our harvests, all in our own backyards… we are all pioneers for a sustainable and satisfying way of living in cities in the future! It means so much to me to know that my family are helping to build community resilience and create bonds with like-minded people, but just as much to have a warm group of friends, who (generally) get what we are about.
In the next post, I cover some advice and practical stuff as to how the group was created. Check it out here, Part Two.