The Homestead Earth Model

The Homestead Earth Model

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    • #4225

      The following is a letter that I sent to “Great Transition Stories,” a wiki-based online organization devoted to cultivating new narrative frameworks to describe where we now stand and where we might seek to go in the future.  I haven’t heard back from them in almost 3 months, so I thought I’d just post the letter here.         
                                                                                                                                                      Nov. 1, 2012
      Dear, Mr. Elgin, Ms. Lumbard, and Mr. Vander Clute,
      I’ve got an answer, another story.  I’ve been developing this story for five months now.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to best share this idea, and I think Great Transition Stories is it.  I just watched the lecture on your home page, and I watched you describe the kind of stories we need:  universal, simple, emotionally powerful and engaging, and evocative of our higher (and I would add) fundamental human potentials.  I think the story that I am about to describe satisfies those requirements.  My hope is that others will find this concept as meaningful and pregnant with possibility as I believe it can be.  I call it Homestead Earth.  It is a concrete paradigm that encompasses unfolding layers of logical, intuitive, and tangible concepts and principles to guide us on our search for meaning, purpose, understanding and connection. 
      The basic idea hit me one night when I was watching a BBC discussion about the future of Capitalism.  One of the participants, Jayoti Ghosh, proposed that what we need is an entirely new system, a new paradigm because the ones we have now are essentially dead ends.  It hit me like an epiphany.  Five years ago my wife and I moved from the suburbs of Durham, NC to 2.5 acres in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  We began the physical process of cultivating a homestead: gardens, fruit trees, learning new skills, and developing a real relationship with the land and the people around us.  But what I’ve since come to understand is the degree to which this experience has changed my thinking, my perceptions, my values and most importantly my understanding of the interconnected web of relationships of which I/we are a part.  I understand now that by stepping out, even to a limited degree, out of a way of life immersed in transactional exchanges, into a way of life embedded in relational exchanges, I experience reality in a new way.  My way of life changed and so too did my perspective. 
      The philosophy or paradigm of the modern homestead is one that is not limited by scale, nor does it require us all to move to the country start a garden and raise chickens.  Homesteading is fundamentally a transitional and progressive process by which one steps away from the dominant systems of transactional exchange toward an expanding relationship with place and a deeper relationship with the life-giving natural world.  It is a way of understanding and actualizing the acquisition of our basic human needs through relational processes and systems.
      The homestead is something cultivated and cared for, not something to exploit for profit.  For the homesteader, the land base is the source of life, now and in the future.  This is a sacred relationship that carries certain responsibilities, but also provides the opportunity to satisfy the essential human need for a sense of connection, meaning, and relationship with the place where one lives.  The time scale of the homestead is radically different from that of the conventional paradigm because one recognizes that the health of the relationship between oneself and the land and all its inhabitants and features is bound up in the indefinite future.  The trees that I plant will not bear fruit for some years, but still I plant them knowing that their bounty will be enjoyed even by generations to come.  Derrick Jensen points out that, “…if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them.”  The deeper meaning that I derive from this statement is that what we value depends on how we see the world, and how we see the world is greatly shaped by how we live in the world.
      The homesteader takes what he/she is given in terms of available natural resources, and seeks to cultivate the ongoing health, vitality, diversity and productivity of the land base that they live with.  The trees, the water, the soil, the animals, insects, plants, even the seasons become a part of one’s lived experience- relationships that shape ones values and choices.  The homestead provides as much abundance as can be sunstainably generated.  Essential human needs are prioritized but physical reality guides choices and imposes limits on what can/must be done and what must wait or cannot be done.  On a large scale I see this as a kind of civilizational triage.  Embedded in the concept of the homestead and in the concept of Homestead Earth is the notion that to the extent possible, essential resources must be sustainably and locally utilized.  Seeing the world we live in as a homestead shapes our values and our priorities, but living in the world as Homestead shapes how we live, how we think and how we relate to the world and each other. 
      When we begin to think relationally, we recognize that the health of our community is just as important as the health of our ecosystem.  Relational systems of human social organization are not new to the human experience, but the dominant paradigm that most of us are immersed in alienates us from relationship with place and community and reinforces its pattern logic with every iteration of transactional exchange.  We are caught in a Catch-22 where the way we live shapes the way we think, feel and perceive, which shapes the way we live, all of which is constantly and pervasively reinforced by the experiential network of our modern way of life.  Transactional systems thinking focuses on surface phenomena, on immediate consequences because in a transactional exchange it is the proximate effects, not the underlying causes and relationships that matter.  Where the rubber meets the road is what happens when I give someone else the thing that they want and they give me what I want, the transaction is completed and deeper relation limited by the duration of the transaction- externalities remain external because their cost is not factored into the transaction especially when negative effects are cumulative and remote in time.  The Homestead Earth model focuses instead on ongoing relationships built on shared interests, not zero sum gain.
      The Homestead Earth model is largely a cognitive and philosophical framework.  It is a strategy as opposed to a tactic. I see it as a unifying organizational set of principles. Today we see brilliant and inspiring tactics employed to achieve all manner of worthy ends: renewable energy programs, local organic agriculture, worker-owned cooperatives, educational programs, community centered endeavors, environmental conservation, etc.- what is needed is a way to bring together these disparate efforts around a larger framework of shared goals and priorities.
      If some of the underlying theoretical framework I describe sounds familiar, it is because essential idea of Homestead Earth is not new.  I draw from various principles of Permaculture, Gift Economies, ecology, the Transition Towns Movement, indigenous cultures, and heterodox economic theories.  The significance of the Homestead Earth concept is that it is a simple archetypal concept, it already exists in concrete form on a small scale, coexisting on the edges of our current system.  Most people have some sense of what a homestead is- they can imagine the thought processes and priorities involved.  The guiding principles are easily understood, but there is deeper meaning to be discovered.  It is a path, a mode of inquiry, a set of questions to be answered, challenges to be addressed and a value system to be explored.
      If we are to find ways to transition to a more sane, sustainable, peaceful, just and humane future, we have to start where we are now- a radical reconfiguration of our way of life may be necessary, but getting there will require a process of maturation, a recognition of limits, but also a destination and purpose that is still within reach of where we now stand.  I believe that Homestead Earth can represent some the first steps toward that vision.  I look forward to hearing your views regarding what I hope can be a useful contribution to the Great Transition Stories.
      Matt Rawlings
      A little about me:  I’m 37 years old.  I graduated in 1999 from Warren Wilson College with a B.S. in History and Political Science.  I’ve worked with troubled youths, adults with severe mental illness and mostly as a carpenter.  I spend a lot of time reading and researching current events, economics, energy, issues, environmental issues and politics.  I am a part-time stay-at-home father with two young children- we live at the foot of a small mountain in Western North Carolina where we have a large organic garden, a blacksmith shop, a small woodworking shop and countless projects in progress.  I have some experience with activism, and co-hosted a local talk radio program for over a year.  As much as my life is full and rewarding, I feel a powerful call to do something more to make a positive difference in the world that my children will inherit.
      I can be reached at or better yet by phone at 828-450-1178

    • #39340
      Rohan Thorat

      I also strongly believe that Homestead Earth can represent some the first steps toward that vision. It is definitely a thought provoking, best review I have ever read on this topic.

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