Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen Photo by Christopher Nyerges

Urban homesteaders

Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen are leaders on the road to self-sufficient living

By Christopher Nyerges 10/22/2009

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Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen are urban homesteaders, creating a rural environment a stone’s throw from Sunset Boulevard, a nearly stereotypical part of the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Their book, “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City” ($16.95, published in 2008 by Process Media), is their attempt to share what it means to be an urban homesteader.

When I visited recently, the front hilly yard — where most “normal” folks have a grass lawn — was full of herbs and edible cactus and even a solar food dryer. Everything they do — and write — is designed to show that it is possible to take back control of our lives, in even the simplest things.

Theirs is an average-sized urban yard, yet there is so much life there. Fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, a solar oven, chickens off to one side and a beehive on the other. The ground is mulched with wood chips, and useful weeds are not poisoned or pulled up but left for the soup pot or chicken feed.

I find myself smiling inwardly as I feel that I’m in a familiar place. It reminds me so much of my own yard, or of the magic and mystery I found in my teens on my grandfather’s farm. But from here, we can actually look out to the south and see the towering skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.

Much of their lifestyle consists of simple steps anyone can take, things that rural folks a century ago would have taken for granted. They produce their own fertilizer from their own yard trimmings and kitchen scraps. They raise their own worms and let the worms fertilize their soil. They look for natural ways to combat bugs in their garden — including feeding the bugs to the chickens.

According to Knutzen, “All of these activities — vegetable gardening, backyard chickens, cycling, gleaning, foraging, food preservation, etc. — always become popular during hard economic times. Our hope is that, whatever the future holds, people will realize the value of learning self-reliance skills and will continue practicing them in the future. Most importantly, these activities tie us to mother nature, reminding us of the cycles of life and death.” Knutzen adds the flip side to this — that many common-sense activities that our ancestors practiced and took for granted are now illegal due to restrictive building and zoning codes. “I’m working with some of my neighbors here in Silver Lake,” says Knutzen, “to legalize growing flowers and fruit and selling them at farmer’s markets. Believe it or not, the planning code makes these two activities illegal. Councilman Eric Garcetti has put forward what we call the Food and Flowers Freedom Act to make selling locally grown flowers and fruit at farmer’s markets legal. The silver lining of our current economic crisis is that many people are realizing the foolishness of restrictive codes and the value of growing food locally.”

So how did they get started on this path to self-sufficient living?

“It started with the search for a decent-tasting tomato,” says Erik. “You can't buy one at the store. So we decided to grow our own, even though we were in an apartment at the time. Once we bought a house 11 years ago, things accelerated.”

One step led to another and now all of their landscaping is edible or useful. Erik says that they can compose a meal almost entirely from the yard most times of the year, even though they still go to the market.

Learn more about Knutzen’s and Coyne’s book and workshops through their blog, They have also collaborated with a bunch of folks to help put on “Kraut Fest 2009,” a class on making sauerkraut, kim-chi and choucroute garni.

“Our goal is to inspire and awaken the do-it-yourself spirit,” says Knutzen as the chickens cluck in agreement behind him.

Nyerges is the author of the recent book, “Self-Sufficient Home: How to Go Green and Save Money.” He is also the editor of Wilderness Way magazine. For more information, go to or write Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041.


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