Urban Homestead: Living Well on Two City Acres

Through trial and error, this enterprising Atlanta family has learned how to experience the good life on an urban homestead comprised of a private plot and cooperative-owned land.

| May/June 1985

Many of us lead double lives. We hold jobs during the day, and when we get home, we spend time growing and putting up our food and trying to live in harmony with the earth. Needless to say, it's a difficult way of life; it often puts a strain on the family's time budget, and many of us frequently wonder why we're doing it all.

However, when I visited Judy Bender in her Atlanta home, I was both encouraged and inspired by the steps she and her family have taken toward self-sufficiency. Judy believes in cooperative efforts — between people, and between humans and their environment. And as a result of that cooperation — even though both she and her husband, Don, have jobs away from home and the added responsibility of raising two school-age children — the Benders have accomplished a great deal on their urban homestead.

Cooperation With the Neighbors

Don and Judy's 80-year-old house, with its deceptively simple entrance, sits on a busy street in an older downtown neighborhood and looks very much like its neighbors. Inside, the long hallway with high-ceilinged rooms lining its length is typical of the architectural style of the early 1900's. But big surprises wait down in the basement and out in the backyard, where much of the food needed by several families is grown through cooperative effort.

Two acres that extend behind the house sport vegetable gardens, a pond, grapevines and blackberry bushes, a huge compost pile, dwarf fruit trees, and a woodlot. "We, the families in the houses on either side of us, and another family who lives down the street bought this land cooperatively," Mrs. Bender says as she points to the gardens from the back porch swing. "Then we all bought our houses, along with small plots for our own backyards, back from the cooperative, so that each family actually owns its own property. The rest of the land, though, is still owned cooperatively."

Aside from four large gardens (each is spacious enough to feed a family of four), the main focal point in the neatly kept acreage is the pond. "That's where I raise African tilapia," Mrs. Bender, who is director of environmental research at Morehouse College, explains. "The fish are a source of delicious protein, while the green and blue-green algae in the water are just as valuable. We irrigate the gardens with the algae-rich water, which also contains fish wastes, and it's an excellent fertilizer."

Rainwater from the Benders' steep-pitched roof is channeled down a gutter into an underground pipe that goes to the four-foot-deep, PVC-lined pond, so the water is constantly replenished. Mrs. Bender reports that she uses slightly less than a full $9.00 bag of fish food a year to supplement the fish's diet of algae and natural foods.

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