Homestead Act 2.0

featured on the Urban Farm Hub (5/6/10)


There is a term that has troubled me & I can’t let it go any longer.  The word has entered mainstream lingo, is a topic of discussion on blogs of varied genre and has found its way to a recent NY Times article.

The term?

“homestead”

What image does the word conjure up for you?  An urban garden and a bent for gaining self-sufficiency?   A white hippie co-opting dreads, going all natural and eating sprouts?  Laura Ingalls and The Little House on the Prairie?

Do you think of self-sufficiency? Growing your own food?  Having chickens or goats? Canning? Co-ops?

Or maybe what comes to mind is manifest destiny. The displacement of indigenous peoples by force. Genocide.

Homesteading 2.0

Parts of the movement I can get behind: A movement toward great self-sufficiency and resistance.  A movement of opting out of industrialized agriculture, big business and greedy corporations.  Farmers markets. Eating seasonally. Kindness to our earth, animals and bodies.  Sustainability.  Cooking.  Slowing down.  Making. Preserving.  Real food.  These are attributes of  a movement I support!  Sign me up. I’m in!

The seed starting & saving, kombucha brewing, cooking from scratch, soon-to-be-beer & wine making, chickens, goats, canning, bees, knitting & crafting….it’s what I do.  Ok, not the goats. I’m still holding out for the development of a nice backyard pygmy dairy cow. (Seriously! How fantastic would that be!?)

What’s in a title? A wander through the DIY or gardening section of any bookstore will show you that self-sufficiency is big. Going local is big. Organics are big.  Edible gardening is big.  The term homestead is tossed around in conjunction with these things a lot these days.   A quick search turned up a handful of books with ‘homestead’ in the actual title.  Titles such as:  Deliberate Life: The Ultimate Homesteading GuideThe Urban Homestead,   The Backyard Homestead and   Homesteading: A Back to the Basics Guide.   Don’t get me wrong.  I have some of the books listed and they are fairly informative and useful, not to mention inspiring!  I’m into the activities.  Use of the word homestead… not so much. The word is capital-L-loaded. Loaded with history, loaded with power, loaded with privilege, LOADED!

When I hear ‘homestead’  I think manifest destiny & rugged individualism.  A bit less resistance & self-sufficiency and more “Get out of our way- we own this place. You know, cuz it’s our God-given right.  So move along. This is our land now. Mine, mine, mine!

When I think ‘homestead,’ I think racism, colonization and genocide.  Not sun-warmed tomatoes, string beans and kale. There is too much tainted history wrapped up in the term.

A Bit of History

Manifest Destiny

The concept of manifest destiny was popularized around the 1840’s with the basic premise being that the white folks had the God-given right to expand their control from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans (and later the Philipines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Hawai’i) obliterating  cultures, peoples and traditions throughout the Americas & beyond. Sadly, this imperialist and colonialist ideology on the part of the US continues today. For current trends, see Arizona (here, here & here).

Homestead Act

The Homestead Act of 1862 gave an applicant land rights to 160 acres outside of the original 13 colonies stolen/colonized land. While the Act technically allowed freed slaves access, very few attained land.  Access to the capital necessary was not available.  Slaves had just been freed around the same time and had little power to negotiate with the local white authorities that often enacted unjust means of social control.

“The greed of Americans for money and land was rejuvenated with the Homestead Act of 1862. In California and Texas there was blatant genocide of Indians by non-Indians during certain historic periods. In California, the decrease from about a quarter of a million to less than 20,000 is primarily due to the cruelties and wholesale massacres perpetrated by the miners and early settlers. Indian education began with forts erected by Jesuits, in which indigenous youths were incarcerated, indoctrinated with non-indigenous Christian values, and forced into manual labor. These children were forcibly removed from their parents by soldiers and many times never saw their families until later in their adulthood. This was after their value systems and knowledge had been supplanted with colonial thinking. One of the foundations of the U.S. imperialist strategy was to replace traditional leadership of the various indigenous nations with indoctrinated “graduates” of white “schools,” in order to expedite compliance with U.S. goals and expansion.”-Sharon Johnston

Rugged Individualism

Homesteading also conjures up the idea of rugged individualism.  A concept that came forth as part of so-called “Frontier Culture”  and full of the crap notion that we all have equal opportunity and everyone just needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Just.Not.True.

Howard Zinn has said:

“It is an irony that these rugged individuals so loved individualism that they ganged up together to enslave black people, steal land from Mexico, and carry out an ethnic cleansing of the continent. At other times they ganged up to abuse and mistreat, among others within their borders, Chinese people and Japanese people and Jews and Catholics, before ganging up to abuse peoples of Central and South America and so on around the world. A nation of individuals saying, “I am an individual. Don’t blame me for the collective crimes of this country.”

Emma Goldman also criticizes the concept:

“Rugged individualism’ has meant all the ‘individualism’ for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking ’supermen.’…Their ‘rugged individualism’ is simply one of the many pretenses the ruling class makes to mask unbridled business and political extortion.”

Sustainability

I am not going to go further in to this, but the advancement of homesteaders to the plains, abandonment of indigenous farming methods and subsequent unsustainable farming practices also lead (in part) to the Dust Bowl.

Current Day

Gentrification

Generally gentrification is when there is an influx of new homeowners (typically white, young professionals) move into previously “undesirable” areas (by way of a relatively inexpensive ‘buy-in’) while people of color are displaced (essentially forced from their homes). Gentrification parallels the Homestead Act in that whites gain land ownership at a ‘bargain’ price at the displacement of a disproportionate number of people of color who are often not in a position to buy.  It is my observation (from both “real life” and in the “blogly way”) that the white urban homesteading frequently occurs in gentrified neighborhoods.

White Dominance

The current “urban homestead movement” is a largely white dominant movement.  White folks are the people using the term homestead (and getting book deals and/or media attention,) not people of color.  When we white people take up a cause and then label it with a term that is offensive, painful, exclusive and ignorant of the historical implications– we have seriously fucked up.  It is the way we re-enact racism and play out micro-aggressions.

(**I have even heard talk of “Heritage Skills” used in conjunction with the activities commonly attributed to urban homesteading.  Umm….seriously?  WTF??  Whose heritage?! )

Plus, the urban homestead movement and its appeal to white dominant culture through the collective nostalgia for the pioneer days, invisibilizes the urban farming and collective resistance of people of color.  There are countless groups, organizations, families and individuals doing phenomenal work, none of whom invoke the word homestead.   Will Allen (and Growing Power)2 Brown Chicks Farm(check out their community based projects!),  The People’s Grocery and Clean Greens Farm to name a few. Groups that are very active in food justice, edible gardening, sustainability, equality, outreach and community building.

These are the reasons that I am involved in urban farming/gardening, not to reproduce racism through my use of colonialist discourse.  Resistance to terminology such as “homestead” is resisting racist structures (language, history, power, knowledge) which are deeply intertwined with the global capitalist agro-industrial complex.

Make sense? We can talk more! Now pass me my SCOBY I’ve got some fermenting to do!

**Be on the lookout for Homestead Act 2.1: Neo-colonial discourse and collective nostalgia**

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52 Responses to Homestead Act 2.0

  1. Awesome post Meg! As a gentrified white urban farmer I appreciated reading it. The baggage associated with the term never came into my mind but you can bet it will now.

    I do this as a way to opt out of the crap food system – as a way to help create demand for healthy high priced food and send a message to crap food companies in the hopes that by increasing demand for higher priced items I lead to an increased supply and therefore lower price that more impoverished folks can afford. I’ve been doing this for years hoping somehow the pendulum would shift and that money I could have been saving was not in waste.

    Since having kids, though, I’ve decided to opt out entirely. I realize I can only do this – afford to feed and keep chickens safe, garden to this extreme (in cedar raised beds with a fence around it), put in so many fruit trees, bushes and vines, buy kitchen equipment to make cooking everything from scratch realistic – because I have the financial means to do it. The irony is that I spend less on food now than I ever did before but only because I could take the plunge and had free time to spend seeking out local food sources, organizing large buys directly from the farmer and learning to make these things on my own using my laptop & high speed internet connection or buying books.

    It’s true this movement is gentrified but hopefully it’s keeping a lot of soccer moms in their SUVs off the road, saving gas, shopping less and learning wider empathy while building community. And if this is lost on them it hopefully won’t be lost on their kids. I have to feel like the world is better off for this movement in some small way, whatever you want to call it.

  2. Heather says:

    A lot of what you say is true. The history of the word is not pretty or fair, however, usage of words does change over time and new meanings get attached. Semantic change and adaptation is not always a negative. I see homesteading as a way to localize the food system and avoid excess use of oil. As oil becomes more expensive, I want to have the skills to keep my family fed when the ramifications of this become widespread. I also think that homesteading implies more than just family. Safety (whether in the nineteenth century or in modern day) comes from caring for your community as well as family. By homesteading even in simple ways I can feed more than my family and build a stronger neighborhood, one peach tree at a time. For your stats, i am white, however, live in a neighborhood that is not gentrified. There is a long history of community gardens in our neighborhood/city, and I see the homesteading as growing from that tradition.

    I have relatives living in the Detroit area and so closely follow Detroit’s developments. There the city is speaking of shutting off services to portions of the city and helping relocate those who need services to other parts of the city. The parts that will go without services will become urban homesteads in the modern sense of the word. They will be providing most if not all of their needs from their land. I have seen homesteading projects/urban farms there which are very inspiring. It’s not gentrified, it’s not wealthy, and the land was almost all abandoned before being turned into farms.

  3. Wow, Heather that is so cool! Sad that Detroit had to go through such an extreme downturn before this could happen but amazing that they are finding a silver lining in it. The beginning of what things *could* be like as we shift into peak oil.

  4. Thanks for the comments! It is really complicated isn’t?

    I really love the activities that fall under the term ‘homesteading,’ my objection is to the term only. The opting out of a crappy food system, safety, community, etc.

    Word usage does indeed change over time. Due to the historical trauma/implications I don’t think, as a white person, I am in a position to decide that “homestead” is a term I can ‘take back’.

    I am not really saying the movement itself is gentrified, only that in my observations it appears to happen more frequently in gentrifed neighborhoods. I realize though this isn’t necessarily true.

    Again, I find immense value in the activities– like I said, it is what I do. I just have issue with the naming of it ‘homesteading’. We aren’t homesteading. We are farming, we are cooking, we are brewing, sewing, knitting, keeping animals, we are building community and we are resisting. But we are not homesteading.

    Re: Detroit, I need to read more about it. What I have seen sounds ideal: taking currently unused space and transforming it into an place of growth, etc. I have heard to this as ‘urban homesteading,’ however much of what I have found is discussing business ventures and larger scale farming in the area and not community based gardening.
    I have a lot of questions about Detroit- Is it a community based project? Who is ‘in charge’ of the project and are they calling it homesteading (or is it individuals coining that for the project)? I have mostly heard of it being discussed as urban agriculture.
    Anyhow, I think it would be fantastic have Detroit (and all cities!) find a way to provide most of their food needs!

    But again, the people that were living in the area (poor, working class, people of color) have been abandoned due to economics. It sounds like an AWESOME undertaking…but still one I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling “homesteading.”

    Thanks for the feedback! Anyone else have thoughts?

  5. angela says:

    hi meg! it was good to meet you today at the goat fest! hope the little one’s molars come in real soon. :)

    adding you to my newsfeed! great blog!

  6. Thanks Angela~ it was nice to meet you as well. Would have liked to talk more…but the babylady was wound up. Glad to have found your blog as well! Thanks!

  7. TinTin says:

    Great post, Meg! I definitely find the word homestead to be evocative of all that less-than-pleasant stuff you mentioned. And I’d also add in the massive deforestation and monoculture-ing of most of the Midwest! I think I’m just going to do what I can to fight the good fight and not label it anything. Now, gotta go back to defending GMOs. :)

  8. I got refered to another blog post re: ‘homestead’ as it is being used, including information on what is going on in Detroit. It is worth a read!
    http://littlehouseontheurbanprairie.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/urban-ag-panel-at-u-of-m-dearborn/

  9. kelsey says:

    thanks for your awesome analysis – esp. around gentrification and urban homesteading.

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  11. Inder says:

    Sigh. I confess that I have used the term “homestead” a bit unthinkingly. I further confess that I have romanticized certain aspects of homesteading and pioneers, while conveniently forgetting the less savory details.

    But I think you’re right. The more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I feel using this term.

    Your post hit home, because I am (a) a white girl in (b) a very diverse city that is (c) gentrifying.

    Dang it! There goes my blog tagline! Back to the drawing board.

    http://inderlovesfolkart.blogspot.com/2010/05/well-shoot-there-goes-my-blog-tagline.html

  12. Great post on your blog about this Inder! It was great! Glad you are joining the conversation!
    I have totally romaticized things pioneer and homesteading—it is difficult not to in our society! And growing up with a wee Laura Ingalls….how could a person not!? =)
    Thanks!

  13. Lindsay says:

    Thank you. That term has always bothered me. And it’s not the only example of suppression and romanticization of history in the urban farm/ sustainable food movement. As for Little House on the Prairie, remember when Pa remonstrates with Ma over her dislike of native people, and later dresses up in blackface… It’s complicated on the farm!

    • Thanks Lindsay! Yep, there is a lot of romanticizing going on within the movements. Well, everywhere I suppose…but because I am involved closely with a lot of the activities I attempting to at least call attention to the terms being used. I’m working on “homestead act 2.1″….a further discussion on discourse in the movement.
      You are right about LHOP–I rewatched some a few years ago and some episodes pretty horrifying. (And some sweet and romantic….thus some of the complexities!)

  14. Catalin says:

    I’m so glad you’re thinking about this term. I have preferred the term to “Urban Farmer” because I think of farmers as being in commercial production. I used the term term “City Homestead” for a tour I organized in my city, but have had questions about the way the term resonates with different people. I grew up with the Little House books (but not the TV show) and also with tales of my own ancestors who lived on the prairie and supposedly got along fine with the local indigenous people (family stories have a way of ameliorating history). All that said, I totally get the problems with the term and have been looking for something else.

    Because my city has a proud WWII history (white and African American women and men built ships here), there has been some talk of reviving the term “Victory Gardens” and there are certainly some great posters from the times encouraging people to grow food, preserve, and generally live in a frugal and sensible way. However, there are also problems with idealizing war times, right?

    I’d love to hear more ideas about how to identify this movement in a way that is inclusive and positive.

    • Catalin- so true! I have had thoughts on the ‘victory garden’ thing as well. Less loaded than ‘homesteading,’ but still a glorification/romanticized version of war history. But the growing, preserving, sensible living….all good!

      Thanks!

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  16. Kate says:

    I’ve struggled with the word myself for a long time (I studied Anthropology), which is why I’m not including it in the book. It is, however, in the title of one of the blog photo collections.

    I’m really glad you’ve posted such thought-evoking information, and I agree about us–as white gentrified participants in the real food, less consumption movement–not being the best actors to ‘take back’ the phrase.

  17. Kami says:

    What drew me into urban (or slightly less rural) gardening and caring for chickens and goats was an article about Cuba. After the USSR fell and chemical fertilizers and gasoline became more scarce, the people turned to organic farming in organoponicos for survival. It was their experience that sparked a passion for sustainable living in me.

  18. Kate- That rocks that you aren’t including it in your book! I think Anthropology is fascinating and as a discipline would have an interesting take on the term ‘homesteading.’

    Kami- do you know what the article was? I’d be interested! Thanks!

  19. Spot on about the homesteading/manifest destiny/whiteness of the movement, etc. But what, I have to ask, is offensive about “heritage skills”? I can, preserve, grow food, etc., and as someone who’s only one generation off the farm, these skills would indeed seem to be “my heritage.” Certainly “craft skills” or DYI skills are more neutral terms, but it’s also true that many, many Americans–regardless of race–are only a generation or two away from farming. This is obviously less so for children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren of twentieth-century urban immigrants, but to deny a connection for the millions of people who have direct memories of relatives who did these things seems a bit…strong.

  20. Doris- You are right about heritage skills. I guess I didn’t make that point to clear. In the case of a person, or a specific community, etc claiming their activites as heritage skills that is great. Skills that have been culturally and familially important are a person’s heritage.
    The critique about “heritage skills classes” was that it was located in a very culturally diverse urban setting and was touted as THE heritage, as in the only heritage. In the instance I was referring to it was used in a manner that erased other heritages and purporting their own heritage as essentially the only one.
    I didn’t make it clear enough in the post- I apologize.
    It is another potentially tricky area. When discussing one’s own heritage it is awesome. When it is centered as ‘the normal/usual/etc’ heritage and erase other’s heritage it has the potential to be problematic.
    I have noticed an increase in classes around chicken keeping, gardening, preserving, etc and they are labeled with things like “homesteading skills” (yuck) or “re-skilling” amongst others.
    Thanks for weighing in!

  21. Hi Meg, I’m curious what you think the classes should be called? In the ’70s it was called the back to land movement because they were moving out of the cities in order to do it, normally in groups so there were many hands to keep babies out of the lye soap vat. I’ve been struggling with what to call this as well. “city”steading seems to confuse folks. Self reliance also doesn’t seem to do it justice, nor does do it yourself. Have you heard any other terms that don’t harken back to a darker era?

  22. Hi Annette! Gosh, I still don’t know. I think part of the difficulty is that people engage in different parts of the ‘movement’ and enter due to countless reasons.

    For me it is about community building, social justice and resistance.

    I think ‘city-steading’ or ‘urban-steading’ is pretty good. It calls out to what people are thinking “homesteading” but it has a different feel.

    I have thought about “Re-skilling” after I saw that term coined.

    Personally, I prefer to call the classes what they actually are… Knitting or Cheesemaking or Raising Chickens or Fermentation 101 or Summer Canning, etc. that to ‘assign it’ to a movemement (that people may or may not feel part of).
    To me, they are skills that people are choosing to learn or re-learn for a variety of reasons.
    I want to learn to make wine… not because I actually think it would taste good if I did, but because my grandfather did and I have fond memories of “Wine Time” with choke cherry or elderberry wine (coolers for the kids) and crackers. Others might want to learn how because they would like to perfect their craft or provide for themselves.

    We all enter at different places for different reasons so an all-encompassing name is difficult, if not impossible.

    That is what I think anyhow!

  23. Bureinato says:

    This is the post I followed you back on from bitch, phd on. Thank you for articulating why I felt slightly uncomfortable with, but unable to say why, the term homesteading. Of course I don’t have a good replacement for it, self-sufficiency, homemaking, etc don’t seem/feel right either. I like the idea of the transition movement, and they use re-skiling, but the events I’ve gone to are not right for me either. But a) I’m an introvert, b) can’t figure out why foks can’t teach themselves canning from the internet, c) am too sarcastic, bitter, and cynical for earnest people in groups.

    • Thanks for adding more to the conversation!
      For me the term ‘self-sufficiency’ doesn’t work for me in some respects because I am interested in community building & collabaration. Though it works in terms of being less reliant on corporations etc.
      And ‘homemaking’ doesn’t seem quite right for me either- largely because it has been used to demean women and/or has sexist tones to it. How it has been used doesn’t jive with my sense of resistance.

      As I keep saying, it is difficult to come up with a term that will please everyone as we all enter the activities for different reasons and different places. But ‘homestead’ needs to be OUT because it is just plain messed up!

      Your last bit cracked me up… i’m an introvert also and often sarcastic, bitter & cynical =)

  24. Meemaw says:

    Meg, We just visited the Little House on the Prairie in SD. Your comments on homesteading rang in our minds and hearts. This country does have a very complicated racist, ugly, interesting history. I loved watching the Little House on the Prairie and never once thought about what it meant. Thanks for your comments.

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  26. Barbara says:

    Thanks for this very interesting and thoughtful post and analysis of the term homesteading as used in new urban jargon. A lot of things have bothered me about this term, too, and you hit the nail on the head. I, too, grew up with Little House on the Prairie (and Bonanza), but realized early on that it was a fairy tale, I think, although that didn’t prevent a kind of longing for all it represented. That’s what fairy tales are about, after all. In today’s high-tech world with its destroyed environment, the longing for elementary skills and control of what we eat and buy seems to have gotten stronger. That can only be good! It’s why a lot of us garden. But associating that at the same time with “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps” and “take-the-law-into-your-own-hands” mentality – two aspects of historical homesteading – can only be counterproductive in achieving social justice for all. And of course you’d then need to own weapons to be a homesteader, etc.

    • Thanks for weighing in Barbara. You are right….control of what we eat/buy is good. And that the associations with ‘homesteading’ are often painful, loaded and def. not about social justice! Thanks!

  27. OMG! Thank you! I am so OVER the term “homesteading” especially URBAN homesteading. It literally makes me roll my eyes when I read it.

  28. Meg you’re so fly. Every time I see this picture of you it makes me smile. You just resonate FUN.
    xo, Annette

  29. Almost – the photographer talked me into getting a hog we ill needed this year just to get processing shots and I’m still working on him. “The Mean One” was nearly 400 pounds. Today I stuff and smoke kielbasa and hot boudin links, tomorrow render lard and Monday make soap. Almost done! And then I got the crazy idea of trying to tan the hide when we get our cow…I think that project may have to wait until next year though. So many things to learn!

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  36. Ruby Blume says:

    1. I have always used the name Urban Homesteading with full understanding of the earlier usage, associated with the rape and theft of native american lands. I have always been clear that we are reclaiming and changing the meaning. All urban people claiming forgotten pieces of land in the city. Not just backyards but medians community gardens, empty lots, foraging trading and more. One way to negate the bad vibe is reclaimclainm it….vis a vuis QUEEr.

    2. While I understand the gentrification process I also want to know why poor white people who move into poor neighborhoods are attacked as gtentrifiers. We also need somewhere to live that we can afford. As a white adult I have always lived in mixed race neighbiorhoods. Mostly I have then been priced out of my own neighborhoods., the same way folks of color around me have. But i dont blame those upwardly moble professionals,. I recognise the phenomenon, but individuals are not to blame. Capitalism is. Longer discussion required.

    3. I am offended by the idea that white people can’t speak of heritage skills., Are you such a self-hater that you don’t recognise the roots of agricultural and food preservation systems from within your own european-american heritage? Or are only “exotic” peoples allowed to have a heritage. I learned to can and bake from my very white friends in Germany, who are not so diovrced from their heritage that they think they have none. And I am Jewish, fronm a rich culture of peopke with varying degrees of color in their skin. Irish and Italians are also “white”, yet no one would deny them their culture…..

    is it possible that Urban Homesteading is not an attemot to steal culture and land from people of color, but instead a movement that appeals to european americans because it reflect5s the richness of our roots and heritage before we were also made “white?”

    I make these statements only after years of examining white privledge and racism and working with countless social and environmental justice groups. (incuding friends with folks from people”s grocery, spiral gardens food justice group etc)

    with respect for the issues you have brought to fore.
    Ruby Blume
    Institute of Urban Homesteading

    • Hi Ruby-
      First- thanks for the questions, etc! I’ll try and address your questions as best I can.
      1) I don’t like the term homestead in naming what I do personally. If you, or anyone else, wants to use it- please go forth. It is really my opinion on the term and why I won’t/don’t use it.
      I also see that its current day usage is not the same as its historical connotations. I am all for reclaiming a word to gain power, like in the instance of Queer. However, I also don’t think a person outside of the group originally marginalized by a painful incident can reclaim it. Therefore I am in no way at all a person that can rightfully reclaim homesteading, in my opinion. As a queer woman, I can reclaim that though.

      2) You are absolutely correct on the issue of gentrification. It is definitely a sticky area- one I plan on addressing. As soon as I have some clearer ideas on it. I, also, have lived in areas that are potential gentrification neighborhoods. And it is complex (agh, why does everything have to be so darn complex!!!) And capitalism is definitely to blame. My biggest issue is white people (like myself) moving into an area previously where primarily people of color rented and who are then displaced because of a housing boom so someone can make a quick buck. And then the new neighborhood residents complain about making the neighborhood ‘nicer.’ I fear for my own neighborhood…and my tipping point is a certain location that I am sure when a starbucks goes in that it will be the beginning of the end. So far though we have an active community development that is interested in keeping all business locally owned and the area unincorporated.
      But, def. the issue of gentrification is sticky. Would I have bought a house where I am now if I could have afforded to live anywhere else? Not sure I would have. We made sure we bought from an already owned place, didn’t use a realtor and no low income residents got displaced. For me, that is how I slept at night buying in.
      Then there is the whole issue of land ownership anyway….I live on area that is actually indigenous american land—that isn’t recognized by our goverment. It is total capitalist BS- all of it!!

      3) I am all for heritage skills. I certainly should have expanded on that further giving some context. Heritage skills are incredibly important and passing on cultural history/ways/etc are necessary and rich. I am sorry I offended you with my lack of explanation. In this case I was thinking of a white couple in particular that was teaching classes and it was VERY clear that in naming it heritage skills they were presuming that their WHITE heritage was really the only heritage. They centered whiteness as the cultural norm in terms of knowledge to learn. When I wrote this post I wasn’t sure if they were readers and didn’t want to offend them. And in doing so I protected them at the expense of others I was wanting to support. Heritage skills= yes! The presumption of WASP-Heritage skills=no!
      And, you definitely hit on that white people are so often yakking on about “I wish I had culture” and all the exotic-fying (i know that isn’t a word…) that goes with that. Gross.
      I’m well aware of my German/Norwegian/English roots though.

      I think that a lot of people are happy to be reconnecting with their heritage/roots in the urban homestead/etc communities. However, I am concerned that in general most people don’t have a background in critical analysis to conceptualize what they are doing/saying. And that movement tends to ignore communities of color as doing things more out of necessity than as part of a movement. In Oakland, and a few other places, there is greater attention to issues of social justice and anti-racist work/practices. It is unfortunately not the case country wide.

      I am really happy you responded and am glad that you have thought about this critically! A lot of my wish is to push people to think about issues that they might not have. And while you do and have… so many people haven’t.

      Anyhow, keep fighting the good fight in respect to your Institute! The community is behind you 100%!

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  38. I have to think about this for a while.

    My great-great grandparents homesteaded. My thoughts about homesteading are formed more by family stories than by Little House on the Prairie or New York Times articles. We have pictures of these people, and know about their lives through family story. According to my relatives, only one in ten families who tried to stake a claim in northwestern Minnesota were able to meet the requirements to get the land. It was a crucible. I believe my ancestors’ decision to move to a place where there was no support system for them cost them their only son. I know they had to work in community in ways that I never have. They took in children when their parents died. (Who else would have done it?) As a midwife, my great-great grandma was some of the only medical help around. They did their best to construct the same social structures they knew in Sweden, starting a church and donating land for a school. I marvel at their strength and vulnerability. I love these people I have never met, and I feel them with me. They guide my life. And part of me is almost afraid of them, maybe because of the hardships they faced, maybe because of their role in what turned out to be genocide.

    They took land that wasn’t theirs. Clearly. (Even though they were told that it was theirs.) But the land that I live on now — how did I come to own it? I’m sure it was stolen, too, at some point. And I’m sure I was able to buy it in part because of wealth that depends on white privilege. I don’t know. I don’t feel so removed or separate from the generation that homesteaded, and looking at their lives should mean looking at our own. Do they — as homesteaders — carry much more blame than I do?

    It is not at all important to me to use the word “homesteading” to talk about more traditional food production. But the way you write about homesteading sounds almost like it came from a sociology book, and I can’t relate to that. I guess what I want are more family stories — from the families who lost the land, or who were killed.

    What I do know is that the way my grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents grew up is not terribly different from the way their ancestors grew up, working small, self-sufficient farms. The way I grew up is very different, and many survival skills have been lost over the course of just two generations. This is tragic and dangerous, and it is one of the reasons I think so much about the relatives who came before me. I’m trying to honor them by farming myself.

    • You bring up excellent points! Thanks for responding. It is difficult to discuss the topic fully in the length of one post and so I tackle topics as I can. Your stories of your family sound rich and amazing. You are lucky to have them! I always was fascinated hearing the stories of what my grandparents and great-grandparents did to survive and thrive. We should never forget the people that have come before us- they shape us, guide us, inform us and teach us. And it important to honor them.
      All stories are complex, for sure. I frequently struggle with my role as a home”owner.” I live on stolen land, land of a People that the federal government is yet to recognize. White privilege definitely played a big part in my ability to ‘own’ the space we are in. It is so intertwined and complicated.
      You are very right in looking at our ancestors lives means looking at our own. I am not blaming the homesteaders. Every generation operates within the system in place at the time. What I am asking for is people that use the term in current day to think about the connotations it might have for a person whose family land was stolen, whose People were decimated, etc. And that like most things, the history of homesteading is incredibly complex. Full of struggle, love, family, genocide, laughter, tears, connection, growth, etc.
      Thanks for commenting!

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  41. Delicious Mystic says:

    While racism may be a part of the term’s hidden meaning, racism is really only a mechanism of deeper cultural beliefs and values. What is really important in resisting those structures that have enabled racism and manifest destiny in general, is that we understand the cultural story we have been telling about civilization’s virtues and our obligation to forward it’s “progress” through the accumulation of power and dominance. These forces have been almost deified in the culture, or cultures, that share the utilization of the Totalitarian Agricultural systems that have brought us through the last 10,000 years to our current mono-cultured, patented crops. The term “homesteading” has historical elements of racism, but it may be that the historical roots of racism, (along with greed, avarice, and a host of other vices attributed to human nature) have developed from the story about what we are that we have been telling ourselves for a very long time. Our culture has been called the Taker culture, and it’s easy to see why. Homesteading grew out of a deep belief that we could have whatever we wanted, because, simply we had the desire, and the wherewithal to take it; Millions of voices have been silenced in that pursuit.

  42. Pingback: Homesteading | Kyriolexy

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