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"How to Homestead" Tours Bring Small Town Skills to the Big City

The How to Homestead series offers a year's worth of skill sharing, potlucking, dancing, and live music, all designed to bring communities together.

"Growing up in a small town, the Vets hall, the grange—these were the places of congregation. There were square dances, there still are, [and one day]," explains Melinda Stone, a professor, filmmaker, and organic farmer, "I just started thinking: where are the granges in SF—where are our local town halls? Where can I congregate with my neighbors?"

It turns out there are lots of community centers just waiting for people to take advantage of them. One in each of San Francisco's 11 districts, in fact. So Stone, who, when she's not teaching or tilling soil, directs (and often stars in) how-to videos on everything from composting to greywater systems installation to DIY Kombucha for the How to Homestead website, decided to organize a yearlong, hyperlocal series in the city that aims to bring neighborhoods together through food, music, and sharing of the unique skills she's documented over the years.

"At the heart of these tours is a drive to re-enliven community spaces, many of which were built during our first depression with WPA funds," says Stone. "We may not have the federal funds behind us now, but the need is there and we are hoping to fill these vibrant but little known spaces to the brim with good times and simple DIY knowledge."

In planning the How to Homestead programming, Stone worked directly with the community center to see what they were keen to host, learn, promote, and also to determine what works seasonally. Participants can now sign up to learn a variety of useful skills from basic mending to plant propagation, tincture and salve making to solar oven building. Each demonstration is followed by a potluck, live music, movies, and dancing including a contra dance with caller Mavis L. McGaugh at the end of February and a Hootenanny in August. (If you've got a skill to share, let Melinda and her crew know here.)

So what does homesteading mean to 21st century folk? Stone offers this take, "Homesteading to me is respecting and utilizing the resources surrounding your home—some folks have a homestead that is 20 acres, others enjoy a patio homestead—but whatever one has I think it necessary and enjoyable to use it to its fullest."

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