New Stories From 'Urban Agriculture Notes'
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Another Classic Urban Agriculture Book published in 1979

“Rabbits are the best survival system as they can eat almost anything growing in the urban area.”

The Integral Urban House: Self-Reliant Living in the City
By Helga and Bill Olkowski, Sim Van der Ryn, Tom Javits, Sterling Bunnell
Farallones Institute 1979
494 pages

This was one of our ‘bibles’ at City Farmer when we began in the 70’s. There is still much to be learned from it by the same authors who wrote The City People’s Book of Raising Food in 1975. The Olkowskis then went on to promote IPM, Integrated Pest Management, and published a book we still use named Common-Sense Pest Control.

See The Integral Urban House book for sale here.

The Integral Urban House – A Victorian mansion in Berkeley California is converted into an urban homestead.

By Julie Reynolds
Mother Earth News
November/December 1976


For all the current talk about getting “back to the land” and becoming self-sufficient, darn few folks have taken the lead in showing urban residents—apartment dwellers and city homeowners—how they too can enjoy a more self-reliant way of life. One organization that is doing encouraging work in this area is the Farallones Institute of Berkeley, California. Here’s a report on just one of the Institute’s project: the conversion of a Victorian mansion into an urban homestead!

Away out here in Berkeley, California—in an aging semi-industrial neighborhood—an enthusiastic group of “doers” has come together to restore (and display to the public) a 100-year-old Victorian house. What’s so unusual about that? Nothing . . . except that the stately dwelling—now known as the Integral Urban House—has become one of the country’s most innovative and successful “urban homesteads”.

Half a dozen IUH residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, rabbits, and fish, recycle 90% of their wastes, solar heat their hot water, and conduct a variety of alternative technology experiments . . . all on a 1/8-acre city lot!

“The Integral Urban House exists,” explains house resident Charles O’Loughlin, “to serve as a model for a more ecologically sound urban habitat, and to provide urban dwellers with physical and conceptual tools for creating a more self-reliant lifestyle.” In other words, the IUH staffers want to show by example how city folk can “live better for less” . . . while doing a good deed for the planet at the same time.

Read the complete article here.

The Integral Urban House Revisited By William Olkowski

Excerpt from his blog, Dec 25, 2011

We had started a class at UC, Berkeley within the first Conservation and Natural Resource Management Program, a large scale educational responses to Earth Day. Students were working on these components and we were teaching how to kill a chicken, for example. This was a great experience as we had shocked vegetarians and all sorts of urban folk who had never really understood where their meat came from.

Being the radical I am and my feeling about food and animals as food, I was really too much. I used to go through the steps of first holding the chicken, then breaking its neck, then bleeding it by cutting its throat right there in the classroom. Then it was really an anatomy lesson, which itself was an eye opener because most students at the college level never see anything real and learn such skills, nor do they ever fully appreciate how the vertebrate body is constructed.

But if push comes to shove, knowing how to kill and dress an animal like a chicken or rabbit could be important for survival. I felt this way then and still do. If our food supply takes a dive, a lot of people are going to starve. Rabbits are the best survival system as they could eat almost anything growing in the urban area. Chickens need protein to make their eggs and getting that from food wastes is usually not enough to make the system efficient. Rabbits could be raised on alfalfa which could be grown in the garden. In WWII rabbit growing was big in the San Francisco Bay area as the climate is amenable to alfalfa as I saw reports of over 10 cuttings per year on earlier alfalfa farms. They are all gone now, however. No matter what, knowing how to produce your own food is a revolutionary activity.

Read the complete article here.

1 comment

1 Paula { 01.04.12 at 8:52 pm }

When I was a hippy teenager in the 70’s, my forbearing and understanding parents actually took me to the Integral Urban House in Berkeley. I especially remember the Clivus Multrum composting toilet that was two stories high.

Now, more than thirty years later, we have a solar water heater and solar PV system on the roof, and I’m teaching myself how to feed ourselves out of the yard. I have a ways to go, but feel like we’re back on the right road!