Sow, Grow, Stow

An artful approach to living emphasizes self-reliance & traditional homemaking skills.

By Kate Bryant


Harriet Fasenfest has been gardening, preserving, and cooking up a storm for more than a decade.Harriet's kitchen credentials grew via mentoring from her friend Marge Braker, a home economist with the Oregon State University Extension Service in Clackamas County. Together, the two women presented workshops on food preservation and cooking until Braker's retirement. Harriet continues the workshops from her home studio. With her book A Householder's Guide to the Universe (Tin House Books, 2010), Harriet aims to deliver "the real story on how to live authentically and repair what's broken in our society."

The term "householding"—which she borrows from a book of essays by farmer and environmental activist Wendell Berry—is bound inextricably to the seasons. Harriet describes householding to include the full range of activities involved in the domestic economy, from planting and harvesting each month's fruits and vegetables to keeping track of what's ripe at local farms and snapping it up at its peak. Life is busy through spring and summer, becoming downright frenetic in fall when she practically lives in the simple outdoor kitchen that doubles as her teaching studio. In winter, all the frenzy of the gardening season is rewarded with an abundance of homemade food.

Harriet's pantry is stocked with swoon-worthy jars of pickles, preserves, fruit, vegetables, and grains, all from local organic farmers and her own garden. The orderly rows of jars contrast with her voluptuously wild, overgrown back yard. In the garden, clumps of black-eyed Susans, nasturtiums, and other pollinator-friendly flowers are packed into every available niche of sunlight that isn't occupied by food plants. Beauty is obviously vital in Harriet's home and garden, as it is in every other aspect of her life, but what drives her is a singular need to craft a life that expresses her love of the planet through her day-to-day choices.

A Householder's Guide to the Universe is as much a manifesto and call to action as a how-to guide to living a better life. It offers inspiration, advice, rants, musings, recipes, and stories about Harriet's own struggles negotiating the challenges of householding. The book is organized by month, providing a seasonal framework for understanding the processes and ideas behind householding. "I'm not advocating a throwback to Betty Crocker," she says. Instead, she hopes the book will challenge and entice readers to consider a new way of thinking about home economics.