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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Urban Homesteading

For those of you who have somehow avoided the controversy until now, the Dervaes family has trademarked the term “Urban Homesteading.”   I don’t know exactly what their intentions were for doing so – it may have started innocently as a way to protect the term from more insidious corporations, it may have been an honest belief that they coined the term and made it what it is, or it may have been for some other reason entirely.

The Dervaes are very press savvy.  Full disclosure – back when I was in film school, I featured them in one of my thesis films about peak oil and climate change.  I don’t want to violate any of the trust they put in me by revealing their innerworkings behind the scenes.  So suffice it to say that it was clear to me that they have ambition and understand how the press can help them get where they want to go.

Trying (it seems twice) to trademark urban homesteading is something that they probably knew would make many fans more loyal, turn a few away, but in general give them some additional press to spread their word.  I’m sure they had no idea how much press – actually I imagine they probably view it as a misstep now, but I don’t know.

But whatever the reasons they did it, it has divided us.  Again.

We have a multitude of very real, very severe planetary problems around us.  Yet we are fighting about a terminology, fighting about owning a thing that isn’t really a thing at all – just utterances in air and ink.  Instead of uniting against much worse things out there: Congress that never passing much in the way of planetary protection, oil drilling in Alaska, butterflies and birds that are going extinct, terribly unpredictable weather around the world this season, wars that never cease, world poverty that is devastating whole cultures….

Don’t get me wrong – I think the Dervaes did make a mistake in taking a seriously bold step to trademark a lifestyle that so many people are proud of.  I will use the term urban homesteading – along with permaculture, biodynamic, four square gardening, simple life, local living, and so on – because I believe it is more important for us to unite around such terms. These define our movement, the movement we have built together over many years.  We are all in this together, hoping to impact the world in a positive way, as our predecessors did in the 70s, the 40s, and all those before them.

Let’s not lose sight all the many important reasons to harness our anger before it’s too late – before the planet changes irreversibly, our lives change irreparably, our children don’t have the same planet to grow up in.

Dervaes family, you know I respect you all for what you have done.  I hope you, too, can see this controversy is leading us off our important track together.  I wish you the best in making a decision that is good for the planet, good for the movement, and good for us all.

And for the rest of us, if this is really making you angry, ok – put your anger there.  But reserve a bit of your anger for something bigger than all of us.  Today, consider putting an equal amount of anger toward helping an important planetary cause that you really believe in.

It took me 45 minutes to write this post today.  I will spend 45 minutes signing petitions, calling Congress, and finding other ways to inspire positive social change.

What Is The Best Form Of Exercise?

Why Am I Asking This Question?

Because one of the keys to sustainable living is health and longevity.  If you are healthy, your life is sustainable.  And I love you all, and want you all to live long, healthy, and productive lives!

Are You Having Difficulty Exercising?

I have fought and fought myself about exercise over the years.  I’ve been through phases of aerobics, yoga, running, weight lifting, stair mastering, tread milling, rowing, biking, swimming, and lots more.  But all phases.  Nothing stuck permanently!

But if you need reasons to exercise, please read the Mayo Clinic’s top 10 reasons – they’re short and to the point.  Essentially the reasons are: to feel good, live long, be thin and healthy, and stay smart.  Pretty good reasons, don’t you think?  So let’s all just find a way to do it, shall we?

What’s the Best Form Of Exercise?

The one you’ll do.

My husband works out in the gym of our building.  I walk to work and garden.  Whatever works is what we stick with, because our health is the most important thing.  I found out over the years that I don’t like gyms.  I also can’t always afford yoga, taking exercise classes, or swimming.  But I can afford to walk, and I can afford to garden.  And so I allow myself to be ok with that.

You’re most looking for aerobic exercise that lasts 30-60 minutes at a time, and something you’ll enjoy doing every day or nearly every day:  brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, dancing, some types of yoga and pilates, tread mills (and equivalent gym equipment), etc.  There are 1,440 minutes in every day.  All you need is 30 of those to exercise.

Walk With Me!

If you enjoy walking, walk with me!  There are 24 of us walking together now – come join us!!

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Bored walking alone?  Start a walking group!  Ask a friend to join you, walk with your partner in the evening, find a coworker who lives near you to walk with.

Be Smart & Safe

Wear Supportive Shoes

No matter what exercise you choose (except swimming), make sure you wear shoes that give you adequate support.  You don’t have to find them new – if you don’t have any good shoes, you usually find decent shoes at a local thrift store, just make sure the soles and arch support are still good.

Warm Up

Just like your car on a cold morning, your body doesn’t like to start up and go immediately.  Stretch and start out slowly, allowing your body to ease into your exercise.  Then do the same at the end: slow down and ease out of the exercise.

Be Safe

If you feel unsafe, exercise with a friend.  If you have heart troubles, make sure you consult your doctor.  Please be safe.

What Kind of Exercise Do You Like Doing?

Are you exercising now?  If not, will you start?  I want you to live long, be healthy, and stay smart.  So how about it?  (No excuses now!)

Our New Garden!

It seems like we are destined to have a new garden every year!  Each year for the last several years, we’ve taken over old, unloved land and nourished it.  We leave behind for others gloriously fertile soil and beds just waiting to be planted.  The bad part? We leave behind a lot of blood, sweat, and tears – and planning, too.

Sigh.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know we moved from Los Angeles, where we had a potted garden on concrete, to Geyserville, where we had a 2,000 square foot garden.  Then we moved to Seattle, and I started a garden with my mom and we gardened on our fire escape.  Then we got a community garden plot (aka “p-patch”), a couple miles away.  Then we moved to a neighborhood closer to work, and the p-patch became 3 miles away.

And now I’m sooooo excited to say we have a new plot just down the street!  Hooray!

Ok, here’s what we did last weekend….

Our New Community Garden Patch

Here we are, with loads of work to do.  A very unloved patch of land, full of horrible, horrible weeds (morning glories, among others – they have long, long roots and seem like they pop out every where).  There were several weird wire cages and fences, and numerous old metal and wooden poles and posts, plus raspberries all over, and clearly pretty poor soil.

The pots you see are garlic and rhubarb from our old plot.

So we dug and carted and weeded and dug and carted some more.  Brutal work!  But alas, we moved the raspberries to one place in the plot, rescued some beautiful chives, and cleared our new land.

Baren Land

Then we went with some friends down to Cedar Grove Compost, our municipal compost location, where we bought a truck load of “Booster Blend” (compost mixed with aged manure) for $11.  It’s great for us city dwellers:  we compost at home, it goes to Cedar Grove, they mix it with microbes and age it, and we buy it back for a small amount of money.  Not bad!

Several hours later...

After wheeling and dumping and digging and raking in several barrels of compost, voila!  We have a plantable garden!  I transplanted the garlic and rhubarb, and we now have a blank slate of good, nurtured soil.

This weekend we will plant!

The space is about 15 by 20 – almost twice as big as our old plot.  It doesn’t seem like much, probably, to those of you who have large garden spaces.  But it is a good amount of space if you use it well.

So… What Shall We Plant?

Currently, we have rhubarb, raspberries, chives and garlic.  What else shall we plant?  What’s your favorite unusual vegetable?  What space-saving varieties have you found?  Please help us maximize our garden space!

Happening Upon A Herd Of Urban Goats

Urban Goats!


It was a year ago.  I was driving down the street, and I saw them – were they wild dogs?  I slowed… then the car behind me slowed as well… they… they were goats!  Wow!


I was fascinated – they were alone, under some trees, behind a hastily put-up fence.  Two days later, I’d just returned home and was checking my RSS feeds.  On the Slog newswire was a headline “Goats in Capitol Hill!”


I grabbed my camera and whisked off – it was nearly dark, and this was something that must be captured!


Mmmmmmm


Amazing.  On a hill between the dog park and the freeway, were a whole bunch of happily munching goats!  There were many people looking on, taking cell phone photos, laughing, and enjoying the bizarre sight. A community-building moment to be sure.


I learned later that the city rents them – I’ve seen them in other parts of town since.  One of those fun little sustainability sights in the city!


Not a Baaaad Idea, eh...?


Have a lovely Friday, everyone.


Lessons I’ve Learned From My Grandfather: #1

I know several of you are anxious to hear answers to your questions.  I apologize – our schedules haven’t synced up easily over the last week, and I haven’t made it to see my grandfather.  Totally a bummer, as I miss him and I can’t wait to ask him your questions.  But until I can get together with him, I thought you might be interested in some things I have learned from him.

 

Courtesy Henry Ford Museum


When he was young, my grandfather would go down to the corner of the road with his brother, and they’d wait.  Sooner or later they’d hear it:  chuck, chuck, clunk, clunk, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a car!!  They’d cheer and whoop about, it was such a novelty.  There were several trains that passed by during that time, but the car was the thing.


A couple of months ago a friend of mine took his son down to the corner and they waited, and waited.  Sooner or later they heard it:  chugga, chugga, clank, clank, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a train!!  They cheered and smiled, it was such a novelty.  There were hundreds of cars that passed by during that time, but the train was the thing.

 

“It’s about time they put the trains back in,” my grandfather said.  “I can’t believe they tore out all that track in the first place!  What a shame.  You know the technology isn’t really any different than it was?  It’s just more expensive now.”


Our great grandfathers often had the right answers.  Sometimes it seems like we should have spent more time fixing things that needed to be fixed, rather than things that didn’t need fixing.

 

Gardening With My 98-Year-Old Grandfather

 

Many of you have been following along as I learn from my grandfather.  When I was a young child, he taught me a lot about gardening.  During the Depression, he grew food for the family.  When he moved to a multi-unit building (in the 60s I think), he petitioned the city to let him garden on a bare patch of land at the end of the street.  It was enormous, and he was known as the guy who feeds the whole block.  He continued to tend that patch until he moved to a retirement home about 10 years ago.

 

 

About a year and a half ago I was talking so much about our garden, and bringing him goodies on occasion, that he got excited and signed up for a garden patch at his community.  This spring his name came up on the waiting list, and we planted the garden together.

 

Cherry Tomatoes

 

We planted three tomato plants, which he and Marion have been eating straight from the vine.  The tomatoes look beautiful, of course – he has not lost his touch!

 

Grandfather Tending the Garden

 

Everything we planted is finger-food type veggies:  tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, and broccoli.  They eat in the cafeteria almost every meal, so these are nice and healthy snacks to eat between meals.

 

Orange Pepper

 

My grandfather was a bit apprehensive as we began planting in the late Spring.  He was afraid he’d forgotten how to garden, and looked to me for much guidance.  But as I’ve been sick and moving for the last month, he has been tending the garden on his own.  It’s clear he’s really enjoying it – the excuse to get out of the house, the feeling of nurturing with his hands in the soil, the freshness and sweetness of the fruit, and the joy of sharing his harvests with friends.

 

Thinking About What To Plant Next Year

 

And we’re already talking about what to plant next year – they’ve extended his patch, so he has more room to garden next year.  The possibilities!

 

Walk to the Garden

 

Living Sustainably in the City

Our Rooftop

 

There is a notion in the world of sustainability and green, that you must live a country life and make everything – and grow everything – and do everything – yourself.  I believed it.  I read books about moving back to the land, of living self-sufficiently.  I learned how to preserve, how to garden at a large scale, how to make cheese, and bake bread daily using our own homemade starter.  I began to learn how to sew and knit and truly believed I would learn to make everything I needed in my life.


I was not unhappy.  But I was not really happy, either.  There was never enough time in the day.  I worked very hard doing things that accomplished the basic necessities of life, and no more than that.  There is something very pure in that.  In fact it was a good way to purify my body – I lost a fair amount of weight, got my asthma in check, and felt good; and to purify my soul – after a rat race of working in the film industry for ten years, working 12-18 hours/day, I needed to unwind.  But it was not a lifestyle that ultimately made me happy for the long-term.


I felt isolated.  I felt unable to do the things I wanted to do to make the world a better place.  I felt lost within day to day living.


It was then that I realized that sustainability meant more than living self-sufficiently, and that simplifying made a lot of sense to me, but for me there is such a thing as living too simply.  It may be perfect for you, dear reader.  I am in no way saying it is not a good life to lead.  But for my own happiness, I’d gone too far down the simple road.


And so I moved back to a mid-sized city, where sustainability was an everyday word – trains and streetcars are returning, the urban center is being revitalized with built-green mixed-use buildings, and people talk unabashedly about changing the world.


In many ways, my lifestyle here is more sustainable.  While we spend more money on rent and the cost of living is higher overall, the wages are higher, too, and we don’t spend money on gas.  I’m not perfect – I do buy some new clothes to support my professional lifestyle (and try to buy them sustainably), but I also find nice used clothes in local thrift stores.  I don’t make my own meals every day – sometimes I purchase locally- and ready-made foods made from organic ingredients instead.  I don’t grow all of my own food anymore – but I purchase local and organic foods from local farmers.


I walk nearly everywhere.  I’m becoming a part of my community in many ways I could never have done in the country.  And I have time to do the things I set out to do in my life:  to change the world for the better in a large way.  I write this blog (and others), I work with amazing world-changing organizations and corporations in my company, I see my family regularly, and I participate in my community in numerous ways.


These things I could not do in the country, nor could I do them if I lived a totally self-sufficient life.  So I am happy with the places I have been, the things I have done, and the lifestyles I have lived.  And I am very happy to be living sustainably in the city.


I hope you have found such happiness as well.  Have you?