self reliance

Extreme Simplicity - Christopher Nyerges

Christopher Nyerges Uncivilize Podcast .jpg
Some people think I’m teaching for the to get by. You probably could, if you take these classes. But I’m hoping we won’t have an apocalypse. If we change our behavior, and [learn how to] use less and work together better, we won’t have apocalypses.
— Christopher Nyerges

This week, I step away from my Skype interview setup to head out into the urban wild with Los Angeles-based survivalist (and National Geographic Doomsday Preppers alum) Christopher Nyerges, who has taught wild food foraging, wilderness skills, and ecology awareness to nature-starved urbanites for the past five decades. Christopher was the editor of the former Wilderness Way magazine, and is also a prolific writer, having authored thousands of articles and more than 20 books on the skills of self-reliance, including How to Survive Anywhere, Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Foraging California, and Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City.

In many ways, that latter title could serve as the theme of his life's work, as I learned in this forthright conversation with Christopher about our societal obsession with money, his School of Self-Reliance, and what’s driven him to live a (some might say, though I wouldn’t) radically spartan, even off-grid existence in a city where materialism seems to know no bounds. I also got a literal taste of Christopher’s vast wild food knowledge, thanks to the accompanying edible plant walk he took me on in Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park

Here’s the breakdown of the show:

  • My edible wild plant walk with Christopher, and how to avoid poisonous plants

  • His experience being homeless and living as a squatter in LA

  • Christopher’s wilderness/survival classes

  • “Food was sacred”: Growing up not wasting anything in a family of six kids

  • Why Christopher chose the path of minimalism

  • Writing Extreme Simplicity and living off-grid for 20 years in the Highland Park neighborhood of LA

  • Modern-world clutter versus owning things that have purpose

  • Christopher’s thoughts on the apocalypse

  • Bukowski and death: “[My] focus on death isn’t about death; it’s about life”

  • The four illusions of money

  • What we can learn from tribal peoples about functioning as a communal society

  • Christopher’s thoughts on the future of cities

You can learn more about Christopher’s classes, special events and writings on The School of Self-Reliance website as well as on Facebook. See links to a few of his most popular books, below!

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A few of Christopher's books:

Honing the Urban Homestead - Erik Knutzen

Uncivilize Podcast Erik Knutzen.jpg
The point with what we do is not to be self-sufficient; I don’t like that word, actually. I think that’s a fool’s errand. We’re in community with each other.
— Erik Knutzen

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 FacebookTwitter 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):


If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Links from the show:

Good (bought) bread in LA: Lodge Bread, Seed Bakery, Clark Street Bread, Bub & Grandma’s
Chad Robertson
Neighbor Jennie Cook 
Natural beekeeper Kirk Anderson 
LA's bee rescue: The Backwards Beekeepers 
Pascal Baudar
Mia Wasilevich
Franchi Italian Seeds