Living a Resilient Urban Life

Reader Contribution by Familyfarmed.Org
article image

The summer is in full swing, and we’re all thinking about growing food and preserving the summer harvest. We’ve asked one of our longtime Good Food Festival & Conference partners, Vicki Nowicki from The Liberty Gardens Project, to tell you about her suburban permaculture homestead, and why she and her husband Ron have chosen to live a simpler, more resilient life.

My husband Ron and I have lived in a passive solar home in a permaculture landscape for over 30 years. At this point I realize that our framework for viewing the rest of the industrial-based, consumer world is colored by what we see and hear outside our windows every day, and how we prioritize our activities. We like to say that we are practicing the art of sustainable living. You know, two of the hardest words to define are “permaculture” and “sustainable.”

When we use these words we’re talking about a way of living, both in the home and in the landscape, that is designed to recognize the urgency of today’s dwindling resources. We aim to craft solutions that conserve or do without the high levels of consumption that all of us have become accustomed to. Sustainable growing emphasizes the precious land that is in our care and recognizes that we must improve the for our children and grandchildren so that they will be able to grow high quality organic crops as well.

There is no one way to approach the massive challenge of conserving resources, but everyone can make changes at home to make a difference.

Many living in urban and suburban environments would like to emphasize the joy and benefits of slowing down to take in the simpler rewards of a more natural approach to life. It’s amazing how enthusiastically families respond to discoveries made right in the backyard without the assistance of electronics and distractions.

Judging from the growing popularity of the Good Food Festival and all of the diverse topics it offers to visitors each year, it’s clear that urbanites and suburbanites are placing local and homegrown organic food high on their list of priorities for lifestyle changes. There is an intense interest as well in all sorts of related topics to do with food, energy, water, homesteading, and permaculture.

Ron and I have been living this lifestyle and teaching classes for over 30 years, but even we struggle with how best to move forward and in what direction. We have worked on energy conservation in the home as well as water conservation in the garden. Each family must make their own personal choices from an array of hundreds. They must be aware of what they need to pay attention to with respect to future emergencies as well as the options available for them to go towards less consumption. Not every strategy will require a gadget or some type of new technology. Most people will be able to start out with just plain common sense.

I remember years ago, Darrel Morrison, Landscape Architect well known for pioneering the natural landscaping model, said something like, ”Sometime in the 2040’s we will look back on the mown lawn as a symbol of the excesses of that time [late 20th century].” In fact, we will look back at much of the last 150 years of The Industrial Revolution as having led to many excesses that we have all enjoyed.

But we are swinging into a new era now and our families have different ideas and aspirations about the ‘American Dream.’  Do these new ideas include lifestyles with more meaning and less consumption?  More health and less uncertainty about food security?  It remains to be seen.

In order to share our knowledge and way of life, we have begun offering classes through The Liberty Gardens Project. Know Your Food/Grow Your Food is an immersion class for students to become involved in a hands-on way with our particular sustainable lifestyle. We have tried to tailor the class to fit the needs of urban and suburban families who are open to a simpler, slower life. We have chosen to focus on growing food in our first round of classes because producing food organically and ethically will affect water, energy, soil, microbiology, natural communities, and human communities that connect with our lives. Food is the logical centerpiece of our class and we will ripple out from this center every time we meet.

The ultimate purpose of this class is to begin to build a community of people who are trying to live differently by making different choices, and to connect to the natural world within the real rhythms of the Earth.

We hope to teach people to come into our space and learn to observe while we are working on our tasks. David Orr writes that “…the basic rhythms of the Earth have been completely drowned out by the business cycle, the fiscal cycle, the electoral cycle, the seasons of fashion, the rhythms of commerce, greed, power and violence.”

Ron and I have created a home that is authentic. We want everyone to have what we have. I have found a physical comfort and ease in my own human skin by connecting to the simplicity of the day following night; one season following another; the migration of the sandhill cranes, over our house; the bursting forth of the elder flowers on cue; the rhythms that have been revealed in my own mind and body as a result.

Author Vicki Nowicki is an award-winning vegetable gardener, a published author, a teacher and a devoted environmentalist, and has worked with and the Good Food Festival & Conference for years. She and her husband, Ron Nowicki own and operate The Land Office, a design/build firm specializing in sustainable and permaculture landscapes. In 2012, Vicki was selected as a delegate to the International Slow Food Terra Madre Conference and traveled to Turin, Italy to meet with farmers from 151 countries. Moved by this experience, she founded The Liberty Gardens Project in 2013.

The Know Your Food/Grow Your Food Immersion class meets at Vicki and Ron’s Permaculture designed, resource conserving home in Downers Grove, IL, and covers growing, storing, cooking, and eating food direct from the garden. Classes, presented by The Liberty Gardens Project and The Resiliency Institute, run through August and September, and include time in the garden, the classroom, and the kitchen. If you are interested getting your hands dirty and learning to live with the rhythms of the season, contact for more information.

Photos by Vicki Nowicki.