Family Homesteading in California and Iowa

A tale of family homesteading in California and Iowa. Thirty years ago, David Cavagnaro was growing an enormous garden in California. Now, he lives in a cooler climate in Iowa, but he’s still able to enjoy just as much fresh, homegrown food..


| August/September 2007



Homesteading in California and Iowa. David Cavagnaro’s house in Iowa.

Homesteading in California and Iowa. David Cavagnaro’s house in Iowa.


Photo by David Cavagnaro

It’s been a long journey from homesteading in California to Iowa, but both are great places to grow and enjoy fresh food.

Family Homesteading in California and Iowa

I’ve never been much of a city person. Even when I was growing up in the suburbs north of San Francisco, I was roaming the nearby creeks and hills and wanted to be a naturalist. I started my first vegetable garden in our tiny back yard at age 8, expanded up the street in front of the neighbor’s house, and eventually had half the neighborhood kids working with me as garden helpers.

After a bit of college and a lot of travel as a scientific field worker, I got married and began a slightly more sedentary life. My wife, Maggie, and I lived in a series of rental houses, each more rural than the one before. In each place, we left behind a larger garden than we found when we moved in.

Our adventures in homesteading started when we took positions as resident biologists at Audubon Canyon Ranch, a beautiful heron and egret rookery on the infamous San Andreas Fault, near Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Our son, Pippin, was born there, and that’s where we lived until he was 5, soaking in the beauty of redwood canyons, marshes, beaches and lagoons.

During that time we planted our first big vegetable garden, bought goats and sheep, started an education and docent-training program and began writing about our homesteading successes and failures.

Our desire to follow a self-sufficient lifestyle was growing stronger over time. I wrote a book, Living Water, about journeying to the Sierra Nevada to experience nature as a summer visitor. My second book, This Living Earth, chronicled our efforts to know the natural world in our own back yard intimately. But we still desired to actually live the principles we were discovering at work in nature, as well as write about them. Those first years at Audubon Canyon Ranch gave us that opportunity. Our book about those experiences, Almost Home: A Life-Style, was published in 1975 and that same year, we were finally able to move onto land of our own.





dairy goat

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