Homestead Acts

Illustration by Kirsten Harper

When I got serious about growing our own food four years ago, I had no idea how much it would affect how my wife and I lived and managed our lives and our home. We had already made a conscious decision to shop, cook, and eat as locally and seasonally as possible. So, it made sense that one of the ways to accomplish this would be growing at least some of our own food, and to work on becoming urban homesteaders.

The principles of urban homesteading, a term coined in 2001 by California urban farmer Jules Dervaes, are fairly straightforward, although they represent considerable challenges. The first principle is to grow your own food on your own city lot, with many urban homesteaders setting a goal to produce about 50 percent of what is eaten, frozen and canned.

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Off the Grid

Community members work on what will be Philadelphia’s first Earthship.

In West Philadelphia, organizers use tires and earth to create an ambitious and energy-passive home

At a glance, the open-air lot at the corner of 41st and Lancaster appears to be littered with garbage—tires piled up in the northwest corner, mounds of dirt and cement mixed in with empty bottles and cans. But these familiar objects are not strewn about randomly; they have been intentionally collected to build the first urban Earthship. When it’s completed, it could be the most sustainable building in Philadelphia.

An Earthship is a passive solar house made from both natural and recycled materials (such as earth-filled tires), which makes it much more affordable to build than a conventional home. The design is the brainchild of New Mexico based iconoclast architect Michael Reynolds. Five years ago, Philadelphia resident Rashida Ali-Campbell watched Garbage Warrior, a documentary about Reynolds, and her life was changed. “Explosions went off in my head,” Ali-Campbell says. “Why haven’t we seen that here already?”

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Second Shift

Kathleen Harple says volunteering at Greensgrow gives her a break from the “craziness of life.” | Photo by Stephen Dyer

North Philadelphia nurse heals herself in the nursery

Three years ago, Kathleen Harple and her dog, Fenway, went for a walk around Kensington and discovered the bustling Greensgrow Farms. At first, she was just a customer, but she soon saw the farm as “an anchor in the neighborhood” and wanted to a volunteer. A full-time nurse, Harple, credits volunteering at Greensgrow as a break from the “hustle of the city and the craziness of life.”

“My blood pressure goes down 10 points when I walk through the gate,” she says. “The people at the farm are some of the best people with whom I’ve worked in my life. I learn from them, laugh with them, and I’ve even cried with them.”

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A Family Gift

Dove Song Dairy farmer Lena Schaeffer says she encountered some resistance to being in charge of the farm, but that’s changed: “Now no one thinks twice about talking to the boss, which is me.” | Photos by Daryl Peveto

At Dove Song Dairy, raising goats is a multi-generational calling

When Lena Schaeffer turned 15 years old, her father asked her what she wanted for her birthday. Her answer: “A goat.” Her birthday wish was granted, and decades later, goats still hold a special place in her heart.

Schaeffer, now a grandmother, keeps 200 goats on her farm, Dove Song Dairy: “They have awesome personalities. You can pick them up on your lap and hold them when they’re babies.”

Adorable though they may be, goats have become a serious business for Schaeffer and her family. The Schaeffers have been milking commercially since 1996 on their 47-acre farm in Bernville, Bucks County. In addition to their raw goat milk, the farm offers a variety of products, including yogurt, cheese and soap made from goat  milk; pastured eggs and meats. They also raise chickens, pigs, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas geese and guinea fowl.

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Spicing Things Up

Homesweet Homegrown owner Robyn Jasko grows all of the peppers in her sauces. | Photos by Daryl Peveto

Robyn Jasko’s “hyper-organic” peppers
ensure a farm-fresh hot sauce

When Robyn Jasko launched her Kickstarter campaign in March 2013, her husband implored her not to be upset if her attempt to crowdfund a new hot sauce business was unsuccessful. By the time she woke up the next morning, her $850 goal had been met, and 45 days later, when the campaign came to an end, she had raised more than $53,000.

“It was insane,” Jasko says, still incredulous nearly a year and a half later. “I just thought, ‘Let me put this out to the universe and see what happens.’ I never thought this company would take off like it has.”

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Growing Together

Dakota Borneman Murtha, the daughter of Blooming Glen Farm farmers Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha, smells freshly pulled fennel. | Photos by Daryl Pevet

Blooming Glen Farm is a labor of love for farming couple

Ask Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm how they met, and the couple credit a well-crafted mixtape. But almost 20 years since they first got their hands dirty together while urban farming as college students in Philadelphia, it’s clear that farming has been a strong thread running throughout their relationship.

“I think we were just looking for something to do outside together that felt meaningful and that we were passionate about,” Borneman says. “The ideas of working for ourselves and working with the earth gelled together in farming.”

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