urban community

Re-creating the Village - Rachel Natland and Chris Morasky

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via  Wisdom Keepers . Bottom photo:  Elements Gathering .

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via Wisdom Keepers. Bottom photo: Elements Gathering.

I had to go way off into the wilderness for a long time and really live apart from people before I realized that I actually do like people, and that I actually really love people—and that what I really don’t like is the way that people often treat each other. And that it’s because we have been born into a society which is so very strange and so very different from what is normal for our species, if we look at the long history of humanity.
— Chris Morasky
A lot of the things that happened to me as a child would not have happened to me if I was in a community that could have caught me.
— Rachel Natland

For 99 percent of our human history, we lived in small, likely egalitarian societies—tight-knit hunter-gatherer bands of a couple dozen people deeply reliant on their community and on the surrounding environment, for their survival. So where does that leave we present-day humans, now navigating an increasingly virtualized and individualized world amidst the dizzying urban constructs (not to mention vast social inequality) we call modern civilization? In a word: searching, to return to the fold of community and nature in which our species evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. 

My guests today, Chris Morasky and Rachel Natland, know that search well, and for decades pursued it on disparate paths: Chris, as a wildlife biologist who lived for more than 20 years in the wilderness and became one of the foremost Stone Age skills experts in North America; and Rachel, as a single mother who overcame her own inner-city childhood of abuse and addiction to become a spiritual mentor. Four years ago the rugged survivalist and the urban community-builder met, and the rest is history—and the future: Now a pair and living in Portland, they are restoring ancient egalitarian wisdom to the 21st century via their Wisdom Keepers school in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest. Hear their incredible life stories that brought them to this remarkable moment in time, their poignant vision for the future, and how they're re-creating the village with their don't-miss Elements Gathering in the ancient sequoias. Hope to see you there!

Here's the run-down of our conversation:

  • Planning their upcoming Elements Gathering: A week-long village experience in the ancient sequoias

  • How Rachel brought herself up out of the inner city and broke the cycle of abuse and addiction

  • Chris: “I believe that children choose their parents”

  • The disparate paths that brought Rachel and Chris to the world of rewilding

  • The epiphany moment that sent Chris on a 20+-year-long journey living in the wilderness and small communities of British Columbia, Idaho and Utah

  • How Chris navigates life intuitively, and tapping into “our instinctual connection to the perfect system of nature”

  • Why Chris left the wilderness for Los Angeles

  • Overcoming the illness of modern society, and how to get the most out of our lives

  • Rachel’s calling to the West, single motherhood, and classism

  • How Chris and Rachel met

  • Community, autonomy and rugged individualism

  • Why they left LA for Portland, and what comes next

  • Our egalitarian history, technology and exponential growth

  • Wisdom Keepers

  • Rewilding, space exploration, and Chris and Rachel’s thoughts on the future

You can learn more about Chris and Rachel, along with their current class and workshop offerings on the Wisdom Keepers website, as well as on Facebook. Want to go to Elements Gathering this year? Don't wait, tickets are going fast! (You can also check out the event virtually via the Elements Facebook page.) 

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!

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