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.Admittedly, not everyone has the time or ability to commit to householding. But Harriet questions the thinking that has us measuring our time in terms of money, arguing that anyone can at least make some choices about his or her home economy. She also advocates for households of all descriptions: "You don't need to have a conventional nuclear family to household. It's about creating a household of commitment," whether with family or friends.

"There's a lot of preciousness about the idea of householding. We see picture-perfect people doing it and maybe want to emulate it, from the outside in. But it isn't just about getting chickens," Harriet says. "For it to be meaningful, we should understand the home as a microcosm of the world. You may not be able to change the global economy, but you can change your home economy."

Rich or poor, busy or at loose ends, with or without children, there are sacrifices as well as benefits involved in the householding life.

"It's hard to do it without giving up something," Harriet says. "Are you willing to be available when the harvest is ready? Can you budget differently, with the largest outlay of money in fall when you're putting up food? And can you learn to eat your mistakes?" Householding is a skillset—a tradition that has been taught over the centuries, generation to generation of, usually, women.

"You can't take a lifetime of knowledge and distill it into a day, a week, a year, or even a book. To become a balabusta, it takes time." But you have to start somewhere, and your own back yard is as good place a place as any.

A Kitchen in the Garden
Harriet Fasenfest's outdoor canning kitchen is a simple open-air space, formerly a carport, shaded by grapevines. She uses the outdoor kitchen to preserve her garden's bounty in summer, when a big simmer-ing pot of tomato sauce would heat up the house. In A Householder's Guide o the Universe, Harriet lists the essentials for an efficient outdoor kitchen:

  • A tabletop propane burner or barbecue grill for the canning pot. Optional but convenient: a second burner on which to cook jam or sauce while the canning pot heats up.
  • A counter-height work surface for filling bottles.
  • A sink with a bucket below to catch draining water.
  • A drinking-water-safe hose connecting the sink to an outdoor faucet.

Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, Oct/Nov 2013