A Brief review of The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
By Chris Smith
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.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com