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Urban homesteading hipsters November 29, 2010

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.

There was an amusing bit on Saturday’s Marketplace Money from “Ask a Mexican” columnist Gustavo Arellano about the current trend in urban homesteading amongst “young professionals and the socially hip” – particularly the attention and fanfare it gets relative to folks (immigrants, poor, old folks) who’ve been doing it since ever.

He wisecracks it – but he gets it exactly right that when this current generation of hipsters “raise chickens in their backyards, newspapers do articles with slideshows. When us Mexicans do it? People call code enforcement.”

Nail on the head.

Case in point #1: I (white professional 30-s/thing living in urban Mpls) was contacted recently by someone writing an article about keeping chickens in the city. I don’t even have chickens yet – still building the coop.

Case in point #2: There are two Hmong families within 3 houses either way of me who raise chickens, and for a hundred different understandable reasons they don’t have permits. I wouldn’t dream of narc’ing on them, but of course I find myself doing the upstanding white-person thing and applying for a permit for mine, and now worrying that in the process I’m going to somehow inadvertently get them busted. If it weren’t for having a partner who formerly worked for the city of Mpls, I would likely just keep my own chicken raising pursuits on the DL.

But yes – these are clearly the times we’re in where hipsters (self included) can take on urban homesteading or DIY or knitting (yep – tried my hand at that too) or <fill in the blank> as hobbies – not as a function of necessity. And it’s these hipster-initiated voluntary hobby-type (and not always even successful or enduring) DIY pursuits that make the quaint personal interest stories, while folks who’ve been raising their own food since ever somehow fail to hit the radar of things-worth-covering.

Of course as a side note – that’s in part due to the fact that if there’s one thing Gen X/Y/Z’ers tend to love more than even breathing s/times, it’s getting attention for doing things we think are neat – even if those things are entirely the opposite of new, original or interesting.

In a small defense of hipsters and their (our) gleeful pursuit of urban homesteading or other olde timey DIY activities – there’s no denying that the average 30-s/thing American these days (myself included) come out of the gate possessing a distinct lack of culture insofar as mindfulness of where food or really anything else we consume comes from. Every generation seems to have shed more and more of any sense of repeatable, pass-down-able culture of methods and notions of things-that-came-before. My generation is for the most part at least two generations removed from those who by and large were canners, farmers, animal raisers, and/or otherwise full on did-it-themselvesers. So I guess it’s no wonder that it’s taken some of us being well into our adult lives to wake up and clue into wisdom that was wasn’t directly passed down to us to begin with. And perhaps the novelty/neat-o factor of our “discovery” of things like raising our own food can be forgiven as well.

So while Gustavo is absolutely on point – I’ll just be grateful that even though I and the rest of my young white professional urban DIY homesteading hipster compadres are completely late to the party, we’ve managed to make it to the party at all.  Perhaps we might just try to be a little less self-indulgent and precious about it.  🙂


1. Preflash Gordon - November 30, 2010

I dunno. I’m not sure people aren’t being a little unfair to themselves. If a fish swims across the English channel it’s not news because that’s perfectly ordinary for a fish. If a cat does the same thing, of course it makes the papers.

It’s less freaky for Hmong or Hispanic or Southeast Asian or other groups to raise chickens because there’s a lot of first-generation folk doing the raising, and it’s part of the culture back home (not as many first-generation French immigrants out there raising chickens, I’m guessing). So in this case, the newspaper story is “people who move here from other places bring their cultures with them,” which is not terribly new or exotic. No wonder the media isn’t terribly interested.

But when people who have lived here for generations and have no special connection to raising chickens suddenly start doing so (i.e. you and all the other Gen X/Y/Z’ers out there) then the meta-story is, “why are these people suddenly taking a detour from the urban fast lane and voluntarily heading for Old MacDonald’s Farm?” And that, I submit, is completely different.

It’s not the chickens they’re interested in. It’s the raisers. Are you quirky individualists? Survivalist doomsdayers? Eco-friendly Greenpeacers? You’re new, and a bit of a mystery. So I think it’s only natural that news outlets looking for human-interest stories would sooner or later come sniffing around. That, of course, and the hope they can score some awesome eggs. 😉

2. Angie W. - November 30, 2010

I feel the babyboomer generation dropped the ball in teaching our generation on these essential life skills. They only taught us how to use a can opener, and it does feel satisfying to can stuff or dig up potatoes from the front yard. Immigrants are more self sufficient, but notice how eventually they just pick up the can opener.

therealtinlizzy - December 1, 2010

You make excellent points as well. Generally speaking those “essential life skills” like growing/raising food have been ditched at the earliest opportunity prosperity allows – including if not by 1st gen immigrants, than certainly by their children. Our parents’/grandparents’ generations were driven to provide/hand-off a “better” and more convenient way of living where we wouldn’t have to have such a tough go of things. And along the lines of Preflash’s points – I guess the story isn’t in the thing itself (the raising of one’s own food, etc) – the story is about what’s driving a generation(s) steeped in convenience and technology to (at least in parts) go back to some more mindful, intentioned ways of providing for one’s own needs – like keeping chickens. And I suppose no surprise that for those of us finding worth in going back in time a bit – it truly is a “discovery” to us.

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