As we hurtle toward a world of digital jobs and automated consumerism (hello, Instacart and Amazon Dash), we urbanites who long for a deeper connection to the natural world, to our food sources and to do something real with our own two hands that doesn’t involve the pushing of a button, often think the lifestyle choice has to be either-or: Either we sock those dreams away in the “one day” file and surrender to the economic leviathan of modern city life, or we leave the city (and our livelihoods) behind to pioneer a homestead somewhere out in the country. But seven years ago, Root Simple founders Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne delivered us an alternate path forward with the release of their bestselling book The Urban Homestead and seminal follow-up, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. From their hilltop bungalow set on 1/12 acre in Eastside Los Angeles, the pair sparked a DIY revolution -- bringing permaculture front yards, backyard chickens, wild-fermented beer and home-constructed milk crate dry toilets forever into the (almost) mainstream.
I’ve been following Erik and Kelly’s work here in LA for nearly a decade now, and was excited to have the opportunity to check in with Erik to hear how far he and Kelly have progressed on the path toward self-reliance, since the book’s release. But as so often happens in these interviews, what transpired turned out to be a much different conversation than the one I had anticipated. Erik and Kelly have faced some serious life circumstances in the past year, and as a result Erik came to our talk with some new truths to reveal about the realities of running an “urban homestead,” the fool’s errand of self-sufficiency, and the real importance of community.
Here’s more of what we dive into:
- Erik’s co-founding of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, slow-fermented sourdough and furthering a community of traditional bread baking in (gluten-phobic) LA
- Milling your own flour, the KoMo Grain Mill, grain diversity and the history of Sonora wheat
- His mother’s work as a crafts teacher, and his childhood of “making things”
- Working with your hands as the antidote to our overly abstract, digital lives
- Growing up in Southern California “back when the phone rang and there was no answering machine”
- The origins of Erik and Kelly’s first blog and book, The Urban Homestead
- Erik’s urban homesteading philosophy: “You don’t need to do everything. Pick something you like. Spend some time working with your hands. You don’t need a house; in fact, maybe it’s good not to have a house”
- The reality of their urban “farm” and how to pare down/prioritize
- Brussels sprouts frustration and why smaller vegetable gardens are better
- The myth of self-sufficiency
- Wasted space, the water crisis and the unintended consequences of short-sighted city planning
- A virtual tour of Eric and Kelly’s bungalow homestead
- Why you should throw a neighborhood cocktail party
- Mom activism and the 1970s Stop de Kindermoord safe neighborhood movement
- Natural beekeeping
- What Erik and Kelly are growing now
- How Erik “balances” life in LA
- Dunkirk and digital media frustration: “Why am I seeding all this time to these tech bros in Silicon Valley who are profiting off of our distraction?’
- Erik’s thoughts on the future: preparedness versus a doomsday mentality
- Community and boxed macaroni and cheese
You can follow Erik’s (and wife Kelly’s) work and writing on the Root Simple website, connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, check out the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, and tune into the bi-weekly Root Simple podcast here.
Erik’s books (permanent fixtures on my own bookshelf):
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Links from the show:
Good (bought) bread in LA: Lodge Bread, Seed Bakery, Clark Street Bread, Bub & Grandma’s
Neighbor Jennie Cook
Natural beekeeper Kirk Anderson
LA's bee rescue: The Backwards Beekeepers
Franchi Italian Seeds