.Homestead Marin: Growing Crops & Community

The Bay Area’s hustle, bustle and grind culture can careen even the most serene of people into an ambitious frenzy, one that leads many to at least consider a certain escapist fantasy that reigns supreme above all of the rest: homesteading.

That’s right, homesteading. It is also known as the simple human desire to leave it all behind, purchase a small plot of land to call one’s own and permanently escape into nature.

On a more practical level, the definition of homesteading has less to do with escapist fantasies and is more in line with finding different ways to utilize one’s land to promote methods of self-sufficiency through practicing DIY agriculture, preservation and crafts, as well as tending to livestock and more.

Though efforts like these may sound a touch extreme to some, there are tons of varying degrees to which a person may retreat from the constant cycle of capitalistic, consumer-based lifestyle choices. Even the smallest homesteading gestures, moves toward self-sustaining practices on one’s own land, can make for big changes for individuals, neighborhoods and even entire communities.

Even if the escapist fantasy aspect of homesteading isn’t particularly appealing, there are still many other benefits to consider in taking up parts of this down-to-earth lifestyle. Marin County is perhaps one of the best places to pick up tips and tricks from local, knowledgeable folks who are already making waves in what it means to return to natural, age-old agriculture, development and human sustainability practices.

The county is packed with expert farmers, makers and more. But one especially great place to go for resources, advice and inspiration is West Marin. Historically, West Marin’s agricultural roots make it a rich area to both live in and visit. And though it may take a bit of networking to find a mentor for some more involved homesteading lessons, there are also many ways to learn in the meantime.

West Marin Culture Shop, for example, showcases all the cool ways one can ferment produce and forage through its array of exciting—often housemade—products. The shop also sells books teaching the art of fermentation and ceramic fermentation vessels made by Bay Area locals. Just down the road, Heidrun Meadery offers its flower-to-flute beekeeping and mead-making experience, which guides participants through the beekeeping, honey extraction and mead-making their facility excels in.

Just east, Novato’s own Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden provides another excellent resource for those looking to learn the ins and outs of homesteading. Here, people can get their hands dirty and help support local agriculture by volunteering or buying produce boxes. The Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden also provides educational opportunities, tours and classes for those interested in learning more about sustainable farming and agriculture.

Mill Valley’s Green Jeans Garden Supply is another local resource for excellent gardening advice and homesteading provisions, especially with spring just around the corner. Green Jeans specializes in organics and, as a bonus, can also point patrons in the right direction for mushroom cultivation—an excellent addition to any homestead, big or small.

As a whole, homesteading practices promote greater appreciation for the goods we consume and, in turn, create a less wasteful cultural mindset toward consumption. By growing, tending to and processing the things we use and eat, we teach ourselves to make better use of resources such as land, time and the byproducts of both. This, in turn, can benefit the local environment and even the relationships between Marin’s communities.

Anyone who has owned chickens or a particularly prolific zucchini plant at some point or another understands the simple, much-appreciated gesture of giving away excess food to someone else. And if everyone in Marin were to have just one thing in excess, given away in generous spirit to the people around them, then the flow of good-natured neighborhood and community would undoubtedly grow.

The benefits of self-sufficiency on both the large and small scale are nearly endless. And even better, they have a snowball effect that naturally builds on itself. For instance, on a single acre of land or even in an average-sized yard, there is enough room to feed a family or at least get the ball rolling on some self-sufficiency.

But before buying a (literal) ton of earth to fill the garden beds that have yet to be built, it is essential to delve a little deeper into the possibilities of each unique person, their passions and the potential of the property they plan to work with. Plus, in the case of homesteading, it is best to start small and build up as one learns. Otherwise, people may end up with elaborate setups that are as expensive as bizarre and ultimately useless.

To illustrate what homesteading in Marin may look like on an individual scale, consider an example: A person living in one of Marin’s more suburban homes has a front yard with a lawn, some flowers and not much else. Rather than maintaining a lawn, which produces nothing yet still needs water and space to thrive, a person may instead build garden beds in their front yard to grow vegetables for themselves and, in the case of excess, their extended friends, family and maybe even neighbors.

Those without yards who still want to pursue some form of homesteading practice may consider creative options like planting out window boxes with herbs, creating a vertical garden on a balcony or entranceway or perhaps turning their attention toward processing another person’s crops rather than growing their own. This can look like turning a neighbor’s abundance of excess fruit into preserves, pickling or fermenting a friend’s veggies, making soaps and candles from someone’s flower garden, or even developing an at-home brew of wine, beer, mead and more.

In other words, one’s imagination is the limit when it comes to integrating homesteading practices, especially with Marin’s already rich agricultural culture. And even for those who don’t know if they can take on such a task, there are small gestures like using red and yellow onion skins and other natural dyes for this year’s Easter eggs—rather than food coloring.

In reality, homesteading in Marin County can be whatever one wants it to be. Whether the plan is to buy five acres, 30 Nigerian dwarf goats and a clutch of chickens or just plant a few herbs and natural pollinator plants for Marin’s butterflies, bees and so on, there are so many options for sustainability in Marin. The only hard part seems to be choosing what to do…and following through on it.

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