Sustainability Feature: Homesteader’s Emporium

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Could you introduce yourself?

Certainly.  My name is Rick Havlak, and I’m the founder and owner/operator of Homesteader’s Emporium.

Can you lay out the basics of homesteading for someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

Traditionally, homesteading meant maintaining a self-sufficient farm spread where a family would produce most or all of what they needed to survive.  A homesteader would raise animals for protein, grow produce, preserve food for the winter, make clothing, and more. Nowadays we use the phrase “urban homesteading” to refer to the same suite of activities, but without the expectation that everybody do everything.  It’s about doing as much for yourself as you’re able given the space and resources you have.

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What got you started homesteading?

The short answer is that back in university I got really into homebrewing, and it got me interested in seeing what other things I could start making at home.  I started making cheese, roasting coffee, and even built a top-bar beehive with a friend. I think my upbringing adds a lot to the equation though. We did a lot of work as a family on a off-grid cabin we’d visit on weekends, and eating good whole food at family dinner every night was a must.

What is the Homesteader’s Emporium?

Homesteader’s Emporium is a resource for learning all the skills I’ve mentioned in an environment where most people have forgotten them.  Want to make cheese or cure meats?  We’ve got the supplies you need and can teach you how to do it.  Want to start small with a vegetable garden?  We can help you with that too.  We run out of a 1700 square foot retail space on East Hastings.

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 What kinds of classes and workshops do you offer for people looking to get started homesteading?

We offer workshops on all kinds of things.  In the summer we have workshops on gardening, beekeeping, and preserving foods; all through fall and winter we have classes on cheese making, meat curing, fermenting, soap making, natural cleaning and cosmetic making… we have different programs every week.  For popular subjects we try to offer different levels of class.  For example, we have an introductory evening cheese workshop and also an all-day hands-on one.

What’s the next homesteading project that you’re looking to take on?

Bonsai fruit trees!  I’ve been learning to graft fruit trees onto hardy rootstock, and I’ve potted some fruit and nut trees into small pots. The goal is to get a variety of produce from a balcony-scale “orchard.” Now I keep them watered and wait.  It’s very exciting but not much for instant gratification!

What are the benefits to homesteading in relation to sustainability?

Sometimes doing something yourself can directly make your life more sustainable. For example, when you use your own compost to grow vegetables you get fresh food with zero transportation miles and low energy input.  In other cases it’s more about awareness and education; for example, if you cure your own bacon at home you pay much more attention to the quality of the meat and how it’s produced than if you’d ordered it in a diner. If enough people pay enough attention, pork growers respond by adopting better practices, and we all win—even if you buy your bacon or are vegetarian.

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And what are the rewards for the people doing the homesteading?

They’re myriad.  You can make sure you eat the healthiest food, and minimize your exposure to antibiotics and pesticides.  You get to learn new things, and feel satisfaction when you create something.  When you make something, you get great conversation topics and gifts people love to receive.  Your street cred will increase.  You’ll have more excuses to get together with your friends and family.

What do you see as the future of homesteading in Vancouver?

I think more and more people will come to accept that activities long relinquished to industrial scale operations are possible and fulfilling to do at home.  As more people learn to garden, make cheese, bake, cure meats, make soap, and more, we’ll see a corresponding,  growth in the availability of good quality, sustainably produced produce, dairy, bread, meat, and household products.  The future is bright!

Do you believe it’s possible to be totally self-sufficient living in the 21st century?

Sure, but most people I talk to don’t want to. It’s as possible to live off-grid now as it ever was, but if you want to remain integrated with your friends and family, and generally participate in the world, you’ll remain interdependent with other people. For most of us, that’s a good thing.  We’re social animals; it’s good to have neighbours and good to be able to trade skills or goods. The happy balance, I think, is to learn as much as you can about whatever interests you.

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