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
  • For 30 years, Cavagnaro has grown much, sometimes all, of his family’s food.
    For 30 years, Cavagnaro has grown much, sometimes all, of his family’s food.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • Sonoma County, Calif. The garden and orchard take shape.
    Sonoma County, Calif. The garden and orchard take shape.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • On this homestead, David and Maggie raised all their own food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
    On this homestead, David and Maggie raised all their own food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • Maggie colors yarn with homemade plant dye.
    Maggie colors yarn with homemade plant dye.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • A bountiful garden with 150 fruit and nut trees!
    A bountiful garden with 150 fruit and nut trees!
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • Drying peaches and pears for storage.
    Drying peaches and pears for storage.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • Joanie and Carina at the cabin in California.
    Joanie and Carina at the cabin in California.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • David’s son, Pippin, in the middle of a building project.
    David’s son, Pippin, in the middle of a building project.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • David’s daughter, Carina, picks broccoli.
    David’s daughter, Carina, picks broccoli.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • One of many delicious ways David prepares fresh vegetables — stuffed summer squash with Romano beans.
    One of many delicious ways David prepares fresh vegetables — stuffed summer squash with Romano beans.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • A selection of Cavagnaro’s delicious heirloom Italian vegetables.
    A selection of Cavagnaro’s delicious heirloom Italian vegetables.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro

  • Homesteading in California and Iowa. David Cavagnaro’s house in Iowa.
  • For 30 years, Cavagnaro has grown much, sometimes all, of his family’s food.
  • Sonoma County, Calif. The garden and orchard take shape.
  • On this homestead, David and Maggie raised all their own food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
  • Maggie colors yarn with homemade plant dye.
  • A bountiful garden with 150 fruit and nut trees!
  • Drying peaches and pears for storage.
  • Joanie and Carina at the cabin in California.
  • David’s son, Pippin, in the middle of a building project.
  • David’s daughter, Carina, picks broccoli.
  • One of many delicious ways David prepares fresh vegetables — stuffed summer squash with Romano beans.
  • A selection of Cavagnaro’s delicious heirloom Italian vegetables.

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.






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