Home Economics

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Sat, Mar 11, 2017 - 2:00pm

This week marks the launch of our Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers. This first comes from Jan S.

Home economics was a class for girls in junior high.  They learned how to cook, sew and do domestic stuff.

Actually, all those are important skills.

Fifty years later, home economics takes on a wider scope.  I bought a mid fifties vintage suburban home in Eugene, Oregon 16 years ago. Its on a quarter acre property.  The house is made of real wood like red wood siding and old growth framing. Its a modest 1100 square feet and had a one car garage.

I gained an interest in urban land use moving to Eugene over 20 years ago from Texas. As we all know, suburbia is a great companion for cars, big footprint and social isolation.  While living in Houston, we had a permaculture group and one member actually had begun to re work his suburban property with permaculture ideals. That was in 1990.

So when I bought my place, it was with the intention of doing a major permaculture make over.  Its flat, good soil. The climate here is Mediterranean, a somewhat cooler and wetter version of Santa Rosa. First project was turning the garage into a living space which makes this a three bedroom house.  I sheet mulched front and back yards for garden space.  Then removed most of the existing ornamental landscaping and planted fruit and nut trees, grapes and brambles. Western Oregon is perfect for fruit and veggies.  Its a bit too cold for citrus but figs do great here and a few adventuresome people are actually planting acres of olives.

Early on, I took out my driveway.  Reclaiming automobile space has been a primary ideal. An English walnut tree and shed with grape arbor over the roof occupy the former driveway site.  Early on, I also installed two 1600 gallon rain water tanks.  Since then, I added a 3000 gallon tank for a 6200 gallon total storage capacity.  We have a very dry summer.  And we are due for a large earthquake.  Green resilience is a primary goal here.

The south facing patio was closed in and became a 350 sq ft passive solar space that helps heat the house and is full of plants. The house has a solar hot water heater and a heat pump. I built a detached passive solar "bungalow, " my living space.

All these projects work together.  This is updated home economics, taking care of more basic needs at home. Thanks to various kinds of food storage, I rarely buy fruit or veggies. My diet is vegetarian and I go for weeks without even riding in a car.  Months without driving, thanks much to a wonderful car free bike path into town.

This is a lifestyle boycott of many aspects of the mainstream economic system.  The more people who don't buy the unhealthy stuff, the less of it will be manufactured.  Plus, when we buy healthy, we don't have so much of the external costs to clean up.  That means more money to invest in a more green, resilient and peaceful world.

So a low overhead lifestyle is a must. I rent rooms, the house is paid off. An important source of income.  My website, www.suburbanpermaculture.org contains lots of info and photos about my place, suburban permaculture and social/economic alternatives in general. I write a blog for Mother Earth News.

Home economics can become neighborhood economics. In the nearby neighborhood, there is a small but appreciable network of others doing similar projects. We cooperate with the city for making better use of nearby public property including a 65 tree filbert grove we restored.

We host site tours to show what a green and resilient suburbia can look like.  Our neighborhood hosted the 2015 Northwest Permaculture Convergence at the neighborhood rec center.  Over 800 people attended.

There are many many rewards from making these changes.  This has been one of the most satisfying experiences in my life. Its a small preview of a preferred future. My eco footprint is much smaller. Many basic needs are produced here at home. Over 2000 people have visited over the years and I know many of them are now doing their own projects now.  

This place lifts the spirit, an aesthetically beautiful place to live.  Transforming suburbia could employ millions of people, a big part of a new "repair" economy.  Re purposing suburbia can stimulate social cohesion and resilient culture as well. Its an important start for an uplifted economy that serves the well being of the many, not the wealth and vanity of a few.  Home economics is the point of departure for a wide range of benefits.

To share your own story, email us at [email protected]


RiverWind's picture
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Posts: 9
Thank you!

Love this new addition to PP!   Very excited to hear more stories ---a wonderful form of education in so many ways. 

LesPhelps's picture
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Posts: 811

Jan and I were next door neighbors growing up in rural North Texas.  I joined the corporate world and eventually moved East.  Jan boycotted the corporate world and moved West after roaming far and wide.

We stay in fairly regular contact and I check his website from time to time to see what he is up to.  If you didn't click on the link above, you should.  His property is an excellent example advanced permaculture.  One of these days, I'd like to head way West and see it in person.

Thanks for posting Jan.

jdsfrisco's picture
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Posts: 11
Love it!

Please feature more of these examples. Plain vanilla, room temperature, mom and pop, no need to beg for permission, no debt... Yes. More of this please.

megan styles's picture
megan styles
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Joined: Mar 13 2017
Posts: 1

I currently live in a housing price bubble (Auckland, New Zealand).

Do you have any advice on transforming your house when you can only afford the most basic of flats to rent? I'm currently trying to find a property that I can rent that has a garden - but it would mean sacrificing some of how much I can save every month towards financial freedom.

NickAdams10's picture
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Posts: 29
Great idea

This is a great idea for a series. My wife and I are expanding our garden this year, and we're always looking for inspiration.

One suggestion: could pictures be included in future posts in this series?

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
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Posts: 3214
Yep, Photos Welcome

Yep, Nick. Photos are definitely welcome. If folks send them to me, I'll post them in their story wherever they direct.

This coming weekend's one will have a few :)

Michael_Rudmin's picture
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Posts: 934
It would seem...megan styles...

... that relatively speaking, you are massively underpaid. Therefore, one solution is to move to an area that is not in such a housing bubble; but maybe that isn't practical for you.

Let me suggest a different method.

Here in America, if someone doesn't pay their taxes, the property gets auctioned off.

Yes, what that means is that nobody ever actually owns their land; but that is true, because nobody completely defends their own land.

And while it may not be moral to disposess an old widow of her home in tax auction, an empty lot is only an investment that is not paying off (unless said widow is gardening it... but that's unusual).

So go check out the tax sales--usually you have to pay cash -- and then also keep in mind what the taxes are. Don't buy more than you can maintain.

But really, the lots you want for a garden will be so small -- 9 metres x 40m, 1/16 acre -- that they won't be practically buildable; and those will be super cheap, too.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
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Posts: 77
Borrow access to land

Megan Styles, if you are only looking to get a space to garden in you might consider other options than buying someplace with suitable land or moving to a more expensive rental property that would allow it.  You might be able to work out an arrangement with someone in your area who already has suitable land for this but is currently not gardening in it.  There is a podcast series about the urban farming work Curtis Stone is doing.  Here is a link to it.  http://www.permaculturevoices.com/the-urban-farmer-show/  I admit I haven't spent much time with this podcast, but my understanding is that he doesn't own any of the property he farms.  I don't know if he even pays any actual money in rent.  I believe he has found he has access to way more land than he can personally manage by setting up agreements where he is tending the property and sharing a portion of the food produced with the actual land owners.  His "farm" is in essence spread out over the backyards of many people in his region.  It would seem to me that this sort of approach would also be helping to develop social capital in addition to living capital.

jdsfrisco's picture
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Posts: 11
Photos and videos

Just google Jan Spencer, Eugene, Oregon, Permacuture. Loads of photos and videos will pop up.

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