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HOMEGROWN Life: Modern intentional organic hipster activist farmer homesteader: Truth vs caricature.






Recently there was a flurry of online conversations about urban farming, organic farming, “intentional communities” and why people choose to take these paths. Some of you may have seen Michael’s cheeky titling of the CNN story: “Hipsters, is there anything they CAN’T do?” in the Show and Tell section of HOMEGROWN.

Neysa, an aspiring organic farmer from Dissertation to Dirt ranted (her word) about the same CNN video in her post: “The Magic of a Cucumber On a Vine…Holy Jesus“:

What is it about white progressives that everything we do has to be saving the world, usually through some epic spiritual journey?  Can’t we just do something and shut up about it?  It’s like every time we’re on to something good, we get so pleased with ourselves that we end up screwing up what was once an honest and humble cause.

my intentionalcomic

Longtime HOMEGROWNer, AlizaEss, wrote about her conflicted response to the new Grist comic “My Intentional Life“:

In this week’s episode, a white kid in his upper-twenties adopts a duck, has his heart broken, rides across Europe on a bike, and ends up moving to an intentional community in the city.

You can read more about Gabriel Willow’s housemates in their intentional community here. They raise bees on the roof and chickens in the backyard, lead wilderness tours in the city, and raise money by DJing and working for non-profits.

In short, they’re a lot like many of the people I know from various collective and projects here in Baltimore City.

And I feel kind of weird about that! I know it wasn’t their intent, but “My Intentional Life” made me feel like this is all just some kind of scene.

And referring to a New York Times article about similar activities in Detroit, “Wringing Art Out Of The Rubble of Detroit“:

A lot of insecure feelings and sociological questions got stirred up in my head as I read about these fun foodmaking adventures. I am familiar with these tight communities, and know that most people involved are from a certain section of the social pie.

Or as one commenter on the “My Intentional Life” page put it:

Am I the only person who is tired of this classicist, white washed, hipster crap? They deliberately move into predominantly communities of color and do little to engage with/interact with the local populace.


We thought it would be interesting to explore these ideas a bit further…Check out the comments on Dissertation to Dirt, as well as on “My Intentional Life” and tell us: What do you think?

What drives YOU to live a sustainable, DIY, agrarian life?

Do media misrepresent our intentions?

Is organic farming and “Living HOMEGROWN” idealized in the media?  Does this image help or hurt young people who are trying to pursue organic farming as their career?

Maybe you’re a current or former farm worker / intern with a unique perspective on this. Maybe you’re an urban homesteader who never gave it much thought beyond what you grow, make, build, brew and do in your own back yard. Chime in, it’ll be fun!

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19 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: Modern intentional organic hipster activist farmer homesteader: Truth vs caricature.”

  1. Thanks for publicizing this debate Cornelia! As urban homesteading becomes more and more popular, these kinds of discussions are really important.

    Is the negative backlash the beginning of the end of a fad?

    Or is it just necessary soul searching within the movement?

    One theme that kept appearing was the role of the internet. I am curious if it seems like only “hipsters” are gardening because we are blogging about it more, and therefore generate more media buzz?

    In any case, I’m headed on a bike tour of Baltimore gardens next weekend, and I’ll be sure to report back on the demographics of the participants and the gardeners 🙂

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by HOMEGROWN DotOrg, Michael Brown. Michael Brown said: Modern intentional organic hipster activist farmer homesteader: Truth vs caricature Thoughts? via @HOMEGROWNdotORG […]

  3. Very interesting. I have to say that sometimes the “scene” that a lot of people (aka hipsters) are creating around urban farming skeezes me out. I just don’t feel comfortable with it, and I’m an urban farmer! I like teaching people how to grow and raise food, but I don’t want to hang out with people that make it their whole life and have the “holier-than-thou-because-I’m-an-urban-farmer” air about them.

  4. I agree with AlizaEss that such soul searching is necessary. At the same time, I think that the media choose to “create” a trend whenever it’s an activity being done by young white middle/upper class people. There are lots of people who are urban farmers who don’t fit that demographic. We all just need to keep doing our thing. Yes, there are some for whom it’s a “scene,” but more people growing their own food can never be a bad thing.

    (See also Michael Pollan’s recent comments at:,7518,s1-65-70-1810,00.html about the importance of gardening and cooking.)

  5. Beerburgher Says:

    There is a pretty active urban farming and edible schoolyard scene in my town, but it brings up some issues. One of my former students said she felt uncomfortable “working the field like a slave hand for some rich white guy (me)” a sentiment subsequently echoed by others. I am no longer an urban farming/edible schoolyard advocate…I garden, I live in the city, I mind my own business.

  6. Me thinks this is more about the cult of celebrity than about urban farming or sustainable living.

  7. Cornelia, thank you so much for doing this. I think it’s a really important discussion. Like you and another commenter said, I think this type of soul searching is not only a good thing, but a requirement if organic farming is going to become a realistic pursuit for twentysomethings, like me. I got a little ranty about this CNN video because I see the same trope about organic farming just about everywhere. Organic farming is seen as some magical, perfect task, with affluent white people leading the way. The real picture, I’ve found, is much much different. Just like anything, self-criticism is the best way to be real about what we’re doing, and what we want to accomplish.

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AlizaEss and Natasha [Tasha Pea], Natasha [Tasha Pea]. Natasha [Tasha Pea] said: RT @AlizaEss: @HOMEGROWNdotORG discussion page about the whole "Is urban gardening a hipster thing" controversy > Wh … […]

  9. Though there might be a certain truth to the growing trendiness of urban farming and gardening, I believe that the movement to grow food in areas devoid of access to healthy food and food sovereignty was something that grew organically (no pun intended), based off of the perceived needs of communities.

    Farming in urban settings has been around for decades, while the hipster trend is incredibly new and quite flimsy in comparison. Still, if the two currents are now flowing together, it is more of a reflection of the growing visibility of the food movement, now recognized more and more in mainstream currents.

    Just like going green has become a popular catch-phrase, so too is urban farming finding its way into the eye of the trendsetters. But this time it is so much more than just a catch-phrase. It is a real and viable solution to so many problems which affect our inner city communities. So you can call the people who practice it what you want: hipsters, farmers, dreamers… it really doesn’t matter. All in all they are just showing the way to the future, and that future is local/sustainable food production.

  10. I love gardening, my grand parents all grew up on my farms. i am middle class. I AM NOT WHITE.

    The most irritating thing about the current media frenzy over farming is that, as usual, only young white, privileged people are invited to represent an entire demographic of urban gardeners and farmers.

    living in brooklyn i see this all the time. there are older people of color who have been doing this work for DECADES. the majority of community gardeners in nyc are people of color. Yet someone with capital, connections and trust funds come in and become the face of a movement they know nothing about.

    when you do your ‘soul searching’ remember that articles like this and many of the comments effectively throw me out the door by not acknoweledging the long time urban gardeners.

    but because they support “green” movements and local, expensive food these issues are overlooked.

  11. my last thought.

    don’t assume that everyone is new to the table or that organic and local are new inventions just because you have recently discovered these things.

    natasha: a sustainable future with privileged white folks speaking for everyone and without visible brown faces is new spin on antebellum america

  12. For the record, I am an Urban Farmer, working under a USDA grant through Findlay Market, Ohio’s oldest continuously run market – I share a farm space with another independent farmer and about 10 Burundian refugees. Originally, there were supposed to be as many Guatemalan refugees, but they needed more immediate income, so they opted for landscaping jobs. Out of the 30 or so people accepted into the program, there is great diversity – even some Cuban farmers. Part of the grant program was specifically designed to bring more diversity to the Market, and it’s working!



  13. The longer we keep paying attention to the fact that “he’s white”, or “from yale”, or “it was on CNN”, the longer it will be an issue for us.

    Laugh and leave it. Turn off the TV and go grow!

  14. Thanks for posting this Cornelia–what a great conversation!

    While media coverage tends to be have a white bias, the truth is, as the comments above point out, this movement is incredibly diverse (and not as new as most people think!). I think it’s our job to alert the media of that, to call them out on the coverage that doesn’t portray the whole array of people involved in urban ag. To point out other people and groups who are doing this work that may not be the hipsters producers and interviewers first have in mind. While I understand the desire to just want to turn off the tv and tune out, I think that we all have a role to play in promoting the full diversity of movement and in saying, “You know, this isn’t just about being cool–this is about justice!”

  15. The media has gotten ahold of this one because idealistic white kids working in fields makes great copy! I know — I used to write for a newspaper! It’s the job of the rest of us to keep pointing out that many folks around this nation have eaten locally and grown their own food for a long time — it’s called being poor and making use of whatever resouces are available to you! That’s not great copy. It’s just the truth.
    (But I do find it pretty hard to swallow the verbage of some up and coming young blogger waxing poetic about an awesome dish of sweet potato greens with soy sauce…)

  16. Js — thank you!! I totally agree with you. I posted your comment on my blog. I hope that is okay with you.

    Despite farming’s long and nuanced history, the face of organic farming today is white and male. I am a new farmer and I’m a white female. I really want to have conversations about race on my blog, but I have trouble. I think that I can pursue farming the way I have and get the attention I do because of privilege that comes along with my color. I hope to open up more communication about race, and get more varied perspectives than what we see in the media.

  17. Sure, in many ways urban ag. can be viewed as a hobby for young privileged white kids, and in many ways it is. But as Js pointed out, this is really something that has mostly been carried by urban minorities and people living in neglected communities for years.

    Not only have these movements been ignored, they have been outrightly targeted, and in many case taken down by municipalities and private land owners who do not value the self-empowerment of people. Urban minorities have been THE urban farmers for decades before it became the new hot thing to do, with little to no support from the powers that be.

    Has anyone ever seen the documentary “The Garden?” It’s a great commentary on how race and class play an enormous role in the politics and practice of urban agriculture. Definitely recommend giving it a look.

    Js, I really feel you about the lack of acknowledgement on the history of urban agriculture. But I don’t believe that the future will be comprised of just white people speaking for a movement without any visible brown faces. Like I said in my first post, this movement is so much more than a passing trend. This is a REAL food revolution, that has been going on for years and whose deep, strong roots are laid in those very same urban communities who have been most affected by a lack of access to healthy, affordable, sustainable food.

    It is up to the people to take their food, their bodies, their communities back into their own hands and transform the face of agriculture forever. Right now it is trendy, but very soon it will become necessary. And it won’t matter what race you are, because EVERYONE will have to be growing their own food.

  18. Wow, I said a lot. Sorry if I ranted people! 😉

  19. Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading
    correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

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