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Urban self-reliance: homestead in Oakland’s small rented lot

Sheila Cassani began farming her rental home while a college student. She started with a small vegetable patch, but it soon spread to keeping chickens and bees and planting produce on nearly every available patch of the small yard not dedicated to the poultry. “We were motivated to basically turn the home into this engine of production instead of just this engine of consumption which most American homes have become in the last 50 years or so.”

Cassani and her partner Matthew wake up at the crack of dawn to let the chickens go free-range, but she says the garden isn’t a lot of work once you’ve put in the initial investment. Financially, their homestead conversion was fairly affordable because they focused on reusing found materials, such as old fence to make raised beds, bamboo that grows on the property for trellises and chicken fencing (even indoors, their furniture was mostly found, including a pallet wood sofa).

“As renters we’re just here putting money in it’s our personal investment so we’re really conscious of some ways we can utilize the space without having to make a really big financial investment so we basically used whatever was already here.”

They’ve dubbed their East Oakland (California) homestead the “Kansas Street Farm” and they try to keep things as closed loop as possible by catching rainwater, composting, using the chickens to prepare the veggie beds and fermenting leftover produce.