Homesteader Conversations: Urban Farming, Bitcoin And The Future Of Self Sovereignty
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Meet Erin, a Bay Area urban farmer and astrologist who sees Bitcoin and homesteading as community-focused ways of becoming self-sufficient.
In this edition of the “Bitcoin Homesteaders Interview Series,” I spoke with Erin, who built an urban farm in the backyard of her rented apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I originally met Erin at a Bay Area Bitcoin Meetup and was struck by her wide interests — from astronomy and astrology to Bitcoin and doomsday prepping. When not tending to her farm, she’s working on a PhD in Earth and planetary science and running a podcast called “Hell Money” with Casey Rodarmor (the Ordinals guy).
She’s also reaching kids with her adventures into urban farming via TikTok — so follow her there if you’d like to learn more about how she produces abundance out of her yard.
Erin and I talked about how she got her start with homesteading by chance, the unique challenges and advantages of urban farming, paying it forward, the future for San Francisco and the astrology of Bitcoin. I hope you enjoy!
Sidd: Thanks for joining me, Erin! Just to kick off, can you tell me a bit about how you started homesteading and where you’re at now?
Erin: Sure. So, I started homesteading kind of by accident. I moved out to the Bay Area about four and a half years ago. And when my boyfriend and I were trying to find a place to live, we were just looking on Craigslist for a place with a backyard. We knew we wanted to do some gardening, but we didn’t have big plans.
We came across a Craigslist ad with no pictures — it was maybe two sentences long saying basically, “Hey, I need a sublet for six months. If you are willing to feed the chickens, I’ll give you cheap rent.” We responded to it, though we thought it might be fake. But if it happened to be real, we thought it would be a good spot for us.
We found out the person who posted the ad was Novella Carpenter, who is practically a local Bay Area celebrity. She’s an urban homesteader who wrote a book called “Farm City” in 2009. It was a memoir of her life in Oakland where she started squat gardening on an empty lot next to her house. After she gardened for a long while, someone finally showed up and told her it was their lot — but they offered to sell it to Novella.
She bought it and built out an entire urban farm that’s called Ghost Town Farm. She emailed us from her personal email while we were going back and forth about the listing, so we found out who she was. So, the listing seemed real to us after that, and since she didn’t ask for any payment ahead of time we figured it wasn’t much of a risk.
We drove across the country in a U-Haul and showed up without seeing a single picture of the apartment. We just resolved to live there regardless. It felt like a synchronicity, a beautiful thing to be welcomed into.
Erin and her cats on Ghost Town Farm
That six-month sublet ended up turning into a year living at Ghost Town Farm. However, she ended up leaving after that year, since she only owned the lot next door and not the house she was living in. When she left, she asked us if we wanted to take the chickens. We agreed and found another six-month sublet that was willing to have our chickens in the yard. We filled a U-Haul full of fruit trees in trash cans, cuttings in planters and eight chickens.
We moved in a month before COVID.
Once we settled into the new place, we found that we got along with the landlord and felt comfortable being there more permanently. That allowed us to more intentionally design our garden. Then COVID hit, which actually worked out perfectly for us because we were home all day, every day. We spent the first three months just working in the backyard and setting everything up. The backyard itself is less than a quarter acre. It’s not a huge backyard. But we’ve kind of been able to figure out a situation with some raised beds, some stuff in the ground, and then the chickens.
Funny enough, most of the backyard when we moved in was actually concrete. The guy who owned the house before our landlord was a concrete layer who would test out new mixes in his backyard. So, there’s concrete about 16 inches deep in our backyard.
We thought we’d take the concrete out, but that was far too difficult. Instead, we contacted local arborists — people that cut down trees — and we got three giant loads of mulch. We covered the entire backyard in mulch and just started planting on top of the concrete and mulch.
Tip: Arborists will give you free mulch whenever you’re able to take it, because they just need to get rid of it.
Spreading mulch over the concrete backyard at Erin’s current place.
From an urban soil perspective, loading mulch on that concrete is actually a great thing to be able to do because you don’t really know what’s in the soil in an urban environment. Even if something’s not near a present-day structure, the odds that someone had a weird shed or whatever with lead paint on it, for example, are not zero. Unless you literally go foot by foot and test the soil in your backyard, you won’t know what you’re growing in. It’s a huge problem for urban homesteading. So, starting fresh on top of concrete and building new soil actually eliminated a lot of potential issues.
We’ve been here for two and a half years, so we’ve seen a couple of seasons here now. That’s the story so far.
Sidd: And what is your personal background? What else are you doing outside of homesteading and how did you discover Bitcoin?
Erin: Well, I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and that’s where I lived until we moved out here. I moved to the Bay Area to start a PhD program in Earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley. I’m currently in the PhD program, and that’s what I do for money.
I fell in love with Bitcoin when we were living at Ghost Town Farm originally. That was the first time I ever bought bitcoin as well. So, starting homesteading and getting into Bitcoin were on a similar timeline for me.
Outside of that, I also have a podcast called “Hell Money.” I do a lot of astrology stuff as well, which we can get into later.
Sidd: What are you producing right now on your homestead?
Erin: So, we have orange and lemon trees, some of which are still in trash cans, and some of which are in the ground. Putting trees in the ground is a pretty permanent thing to do as a renter. We’ve tried to put things in the ground that aren’t going to be a huge potential problem when we move out some day.
Then we have 13 chickens in one area producing eggs. Although, I will say, even in Northern California winters, they don’t produce very much unless you have a heat lamp. We get a lot of eggs — enough for the two of us — and then some extra during the spring, summer and fall.
Erin and the chickens she inherited at Ghost Town Farm.
We have two areas in terms of growing. There’s a perennial permaculture area that’s mostly herbs and plants that just stay in the ground and produce a new harvest when they’re ready. Then we have two raised beds that we use for crops that we harvest on an annual basis and that we rotate.
Right now, the beds are empty. We’re just getting things started for next year. It’s our fourth summer living in this house, so we are getting to the point where we have to really care about soil health for annual crop rotation. When you garden in the first year or so, if your soil is in good shape, everything’s great. After that, if you’re not thinking about how to fertilize things and make sure that your soil is well balanced, it can really start to go bad.
We’re focused on getting soil tests done to get a sense for our soil health, so we can maintain that into this year. We also have worm composting, which I recommend to anyone who even has just like a tiny backyard.
Worm composting is basically a system of Tupperware-like large bins that have grates at the bottom. Stack four or five of them on top of each other with smaller and smaller grates as you go down the stack. Put your compost in the top bin and add worms. The worms eat your compost and as it breaks down, compost falls to the lower levels and the worms spread out. You produce great fertilizer so quickly in a very space-efficient way. The bottom container gets filled with black gold.
Sidd: So, in those first three months, was it full-time work for you and your boyfriend to build beds, lay mulch and plant everything? What was the process of getting it started when you properly kicked off?
Erin: I would say it was a full-time weekend job for two to three months. We both work full-time jobs during the week, but we were working from home. That helped with a few tasks, like tending to new chicks. It’s really hard to have a nine-to-five office job and raise chicks. You need to be able to do 15 minutes of maintenance or checkup during the day — that makes a huge difference. So, a remote job where you’re working from home is perfect.
Fortunately, it was also a really nice way to see friends at that time. In the early days of COVID, people were not really leaving the house or doing anything. So, people were eager even to come over and move mulch around for four hours. That meant we got a lot of help.
I think living in an urban environment, so many people don’t have access to nature or the joy of cultivating something. It’s very satisfying work. So, even when we have big tasks that are a lot for just two people to do, we’re usually able to find some friends that like to make a cute kind of cottage day out of it.
Sidd: How did you learn how to set up and run your homestead?
Erin: A lot of it was Novella, initially, since we lived on her farm which was at that point about 15 years old. She was our biggest mentor. When we took cuttings from her plants, we were already familiar with how they behave if they’re doing well or not.
I didn’t grow up doing this, and neither did my boyfriend. Our experiences with Novella and the internet got us here. We do have a ton of homesteader books, but I haven’t cracked open most of them because any question I have I can just Google around for while I’m out in the garden. There are a lot of forums with people figuring it out online.
I also found the free permaculture course from Heather Jo Flores very helpful and enjoyable because it goes into the principles behind permaculture. Those principles help me to keep asking, “What is it I’m actually trying to do here?” so I put more thought into my designs.
Our learning path has been a mixture of that initial mentorship, a lot of Googling and then just experimenting and willingness to fail. We’re not doing this for profit or trying to live completely off our land which means we have a big margin for error.
Sidd: What labor is involved now in running your garden and the chickens?
Erin: It depends on the time of year, and since we’re doing it for fun instead of to survive, it also depends on how motivated we are and how much time we have to devote. In the spring, from February to April, is the most intensive time because you’re sprouting seeds and you have to plant everything. That’s the planting and sowing seed stage.
Once everything is in the ground, we have drip irrigation. We don’t need to go out there and water every day. The chickens have a feed thing they can just step on to open so they can get food. We just have to refill that like once every other week and collect eggs, which is not work — that’s fun.
Harvesting during the California wildfires of late 2020.
The door to the chicken coop opens and closes with the sun using a light sensor, and the chickens are like robots — they know to go in and out of the coop. So, the level of work is honestly up to how much effort we want to be putting in. It ends up being a Saturday or Sunday, maybe every other week or so, becoming a designated work day to do a bit of maintenance.
If you’re working from home, and you can spare 15 minutes in a day to do whatever needs to be done outside of a weekend day, I think it’s easy to maintain something that’s this small. Especially chickens.
I recommend chickens to everyone who has a yard. I think they’re a lot easier than people initially expect. I’m sure if we hadn’t inherited chickens, it would have been a big decision to get them. But now, we’re never going to live without chickens. They’re a part of our life and now we know how easy they are.
Sidd: What about the noise from chickens — does that ever bother you or your neighbors?
Erin: They are noisy, and roosters can be a lot. However, we’re in a city anyway. Most people are used to noise. They’re expecting it.
The main difficulty for us was finding landlords that are cool with them. In this area, neighbors aren’t the problem. It’s Berkeley people, they think it’s cute and cool. We had one neighbor who put up a fuss about it, but it was because he thought we were just yuppies that didn’t know what we were doing. Once he realized we had a clue, he loved us and enjoyed having us as neighbors. That was a funny sort of rite-of-passage experience.
Sidd: So, walk me through all the fruits, vegetables and herbs you are growing.
Erin: We have practically infinite lemons and oranges year round coming from two trees in trash cans and one in the ground for both of those. We also have an insanely prolific raspberry bush that produces the most delicious raspberries I’ve ever had. We randomly planted artichoke, which is perennial. It’s always doing super well.
And then we have a lot of herbs. Those have been easy, especially herbs for teas and medicinal herbs. I was really into that for a sec. during COVID, because I wanted alternative healing options. One of my favorite things to do is a big harvest of herbs. I hang them to dry and then experiment with different tea blends.
We have to decide what to plant for the summer in the raised beds. My grandfather on my mom’s side was an avid tomato gardener in Pittsburgh who saved seeds every single year. I was able to get some of his seeds from the 2008 planting, and already got some to sprout and grow. I saved seeds from those that we can plant again.
Finally, we grow a lot of weed every year, inside the legal amount in California of six plants. We’re legally growing more weed than we could ever possibly smoke. I just give it away.
Marijuana plants hanging in the backyard to dry.
Sidd: If you move, are you going to dig everything up? Or take cuttings and start anew?
Erin: So, we actually live in a duplex, and our new neighbors that moved in a year ago said they chose this place partially because of all the work we had done. They wanted to start gardening, so we helped them build out two more raised beds to plant in. Now we get to share this area with people that are like minded and want to cultivate with us.
So, when we finally do move out someday, depending on the dynamics of who’s living upstairs, we might just leave it for them. We could just take cuttings of whatever we want, basically. Having moved so much from sublet to sublet, I think it’s nice to leave things better than you found them. To give the people moving in something they’re able to use and build off is a really nice feeling to have upon moving out of a place.
It’s paying it forward. If we just moved into an empty lot, I can’t imagine what we would be doing now. We were fortunate to see other people doing it, and there’s a lot of generosity in wanting to keep the land going the way that it is rather than tearing everything out and taking it with you.
Sidd: What are your thoughts on the importance of genetics in the plants you’re growing?
Erin: When I think about genetics, I think about biodiversity. Generally speaking, I lean in the doomsday prepper direction. Having a homestead is exciting for me for the food-security aspect. Our garden hasn’t solved that problem, but it does give us a buffer. That alleviates what some would call “anxiety” in the background — but I just think it’s realism about the state of things.
So, when we were setting up the homestead, I was fixated on how there’s so little biodiversity in our food system. So many farmers just buy seeds from the same people and they’re genetically modified. On top of that, many of the hybrid seeds literally cannot be saved — they won’t propagate on to new generations or it’s illegal to do so.
Grandpa’s tomato seeds came to life, and produced a new set of seeds.
Very little diversity in seeds makes it easier for a disease to spread like wildfire and wipe out a bunch of genetically-identical plants. So, I was interested in finding varieties that were sourced from people trying to preserve biodiversity, and also to optimize for things that grew well in my microclimate. At this point, a couple years in, the best way for me to do that is to save seeds myself every year. Long term, I hope I can start a seed farm and sell seeds in order to help maintain biodiversity.
Sidd: Most homesteaders, I think, are withdrawing from the world in a lot of ways. However, it seems you’re thinking about it in a more communal way. Why do you think that is? What role does community play in your homesteading journey?
Erin: I think it’s a bit of a lifestyle difference given I live in an urban area. I’m not able to fortify and close myself off the way I think a lot of people who do this sort of lifestyle are. And at this stage of my life I don’t think that’s something that I want to do.
For example, I love that there’s literally one Bitcoin meetup a week, at least in my area. I like living somewhere where there’s a lot going on and it’s easy for me to interact with people and be a part of something greater than myself. I would rather try to build up my community around me than just survive isolated with my family.
I’m sure I got this from somewhere, but I think growing a garden is one of the only individual radical acts that you can do. Buying bitcoin is probably another one. Growing a garden makes you more self sufficient and allows you to supply basic needs to people around you. If you have a couple feet of dirt, you can do that. I definitely went through a phase where I thought we needed to move to the middle of nowhere and fortify, but I’ve gotten past that now.
We are also fortunate to live in an area with many solid regenerative farms with community-supported agriculture (CSA) drop offs, so we have a vegetable CSA and a meat CSA. That’s another advantage of living in a populated area — you have access to a lot better food sources that can still be very local. We have many options here from urban farms to the wider Bay Area, which is why I don’t feel such a strong need to subsist off just what I grow. I would rather just be a part of that network personally.
Sidd: Back to Bitcoin. I noticed a strong interest in homesteading among Bitcoiners when I traveled across the U.S. this year. What’s your read on that? Is there real interest in moving back to the land and farming?
Erin: I think it’s real. But I think the back-to-the-land thing is fraught. It’s the same thing that the hippies did. I think people underestimate how difficult and isolating it is to truly leave society. I believe in my power as a part of a community enough that I think I can make change, within the area that I’m in. I don’t know that I would feel that way if I lived somewhere else.
The Bay Area has a strong slow food movement left from the hippies in the ’60s and ’70s, and I feel like people here are more okay with alternative lifestyles. There’s an appetite for experimenting with more decentralized, anarchist situations, for better or for worse. San Francisco is on the bad side of that, like, anarchy line. Like I said, I think the food system is a problem that you can actually try to tackle as an individual or as a family, which is not the case for a lot of political issues.
A regular harvest on Erin’s urban farm.
If you are that worried about the food system, you can buy a couple of acres and start a farm to be a part of the solution. That goes hand in hand with the decentralized economics of Bitcoin as well. In my eyes, decentralization is a huge part of this new movement of growing things the right way and incorporating animals into your growing ethically. I don’t think that we can have a vegan, plant-based agricultural system — we need animals to be a part of that. And I love that lots of Bitcoiners get that.
There’s also a parallel between Bitcoin and homesteading in systems design. You have to be able to zoom out and appreciate the system as a whole. In a great garden, you are setting up the right growing conditions so that the things you plant all contribute to each other and soil health is maintained. That is an elegant system that is truly sustainable — not sustainable in a buzzwordy way. Bitcoin and its incentive structure are similarly sustainable.
Sidd: I want to get your take on what’s happening in San Francisco. In a recent “Hell Money” episode, you talked about how San Francisco has many wild dichotomies. For example, you’ll be sipping a $20 cocktail in a nice bar with people shooting heroin outside and feces in the street. What’s your read on what’s happening in S.F.?
Erin: That’s a tough one. There are a lot of people that make a lot of money living in S.F., but I think they’re not very invested in San Francisco in the long term. When I think about the people I know who live in San Francisco, they go to Tahoe to ski every weekend. Once they have kids, they move out of S.F. I think there are more dogs than kids in the city of San Francisco.
This is a generalization, but I feel a lot of tech people are fine to just order DoorDash and hang out in their apartment during the week, then go away on the weekends. I don’t think there’s the same level of investment in living in San Francisco as somewhere like Los Angeles or New York — which have high income as well.
San Francisco people strike me as either shut-ins or outdoorsy. In both cases, they’re not going out in the town and experiencing things. I have still not fully wrapped my head around the homeless situation or how people explain that to themselves. When I go to San Francisco, it shakes me to my core. Something needs to be done but I have no idea what.
The social norm is to just ignore it as you walk by. That’s a terrible thing to do, but that’s all you can do, right? That’s all that’s socially acceptable to do, at least. Homelessness has become such an ingrained part of the politics here: No one really knows how to solve it, or the solutions are unsavory to a progressive mindset. So, the answer is just to ignore it, and not spend time in San Francisco.
It’s interesting that the rest of the Bay Area does not feel like that at all. Oakland and Berkeley do not feel like that. They feel like lived-in places where people spend their whole lives, raising kids and all. Oakland and Berkeley are probably the best lifestyle in terms of what I’m looking for out of life: a backyard, chickens and low-key neighbors. There’s no homeowner’s association to deal with. But I can take the bus to work, we can bike wherever we want, it’s a very walkable area.
Sidd: Where do you think San Francisco is heading? What will it look like in 20 years?
Erin: My hope is that the tech sector eventually peters out of the Bay Area. For tax reasons, I feel like that’s not an unlikely scenario. Then I hope that San Francisco builds more housing and it becomes more affordable to live there. It’s a beautiful city with an incredible climate, and that will always be a draw. It just needs a reset.
Sidd: So, the last thing I want to talk about is your interest in astrology. I find it interesting how you talk about Bitcoin and other social change through that lens. I’m curious, why are you so interested in astrology?
Erin: God knows! It’d be really convenient if I wasn’t, honestly. The more I learned about it, the more my world shaped around it. I started seeing things in that framework, and it became the dominant way that I understood life.
I think belief and spiritual structure are a natural part of the human experience. So, you can either be self aware about it, acknowledging what you believe and that it’s not something you’re going to logically justify. Or, you can try to pretend you don’t have to believe anything — but that just makes you less aware of the line between your belief structures and your logical brain.
It’s hard for me to imagine how I would make sense of anything without astrology. I never stopped wanting to learn about astrology, and I always find new ways to understand the world with it. However, I also consider myself a science person that enjoys thinking logically. I just think of them as being different tools in a tool belt. Both have their limitations. But again, if you don’t have the spiritual understanding, I think you will fill it with something else. That could be an ideology or a sort of religious interpretation of science, but you’re going to create a belief structure even if you think you don’t believe in anything.
Sidd: You’ve mentioned the astrological age of Aquarius many times in podcasts: What is that and what does it say about everything we’ve talked about?
Erin: So, the age of Aquarius is an astrological age. Astrological ages are determined by the precession of the equinoxes of the Earth. Over a period of thousands of years, the Earth wobbles on its axis. This means the equinox points in a different direction over time, into different constellations. The equinox points toward each sign for approximately 2,000 years.
So, we’ve been in the age of Pisces for the last 2,000 years, and we’re transitioning out of it now. Jesus is often thought of as a very quintessential Pisces energy, because Pisces is all about spirituality and dissolving the self into the other. I feel like religion as the opiate of the masses is a very age of Pisces kind of energy.
The last 2,000 years have been so dominated by the major monotheistic religions, with the way people determine what’s good, what’s valuable, what’s legal even, all derives from these monotheistic structures. Even the Gregorian calendar we use today started 2,000 years ago, with the dawn of the age of Pisces. Monotheistic religion is such a huge part of the framework today; of the soup that we’re living in.
Now we’re transitioning into the age of Aquarius. When the age actually begins is highly debated, but I’ve heard a lot of people say the year 2000 and even the year 2140, unrelated to Bitcoin. In any case, the age of Aquarius is marked by themes like decentralization and expressing individuality while still being part of a collective.
The internet comes to mind with age of Aquarius vibes. I also think the transition to the information age and the dissolution of the hierarchical structure we had before are big themes. There are all these different kinds of decentralized ways of determining what’s valuable and true, like Bitcoin, but they are also so chaotic right now. That is age of Aquarius energy.
My Bitcoin journey is actually tied to astrology as well. I wasn’t following it closely, but I was buying small amounts as a doomsday prep of sorts as a buffer against an economy that seemed fake. Then, at the end of 2020, there was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Aquarius. I felt like all this Aquarius energy would come in, filling the void left from COVID.
The day of the conjunction, as we were driving out to the beach, I looked at my phone and realized bitcoin was back up to $18,000. That felt like age of Aquarius energy. During 2021, bitcoin’s price followed the trends of Jupiter closely. So, seeing all those Aquarius transits happen with Bitcoin, I resolved to learn more about it. I found an in-depth article about the astrology of Bitcoin and it just clicked for me. This and the internet are how we can dissolve this corrupt, top-down financial system that everyone knows is broken.
Sidd: One last question: Is there an astrological explanation for the recent bitcoin run up?
Erin: So, this weekend I’m meeting up with some Bitcoin astrologers. Of course, this is not an astrologically-random time: we’re meeting up for the new moon in Aquarius. So, today is Tuesday the 17th of January, and there’s a new moon in Aquarius on Saturday the 21st. The new moon will be in the same area that Pluto will go into between March and June this year. So, I think this will be a sneak peek into what Pluto in Aquarius will bring. After Pluto leaves Aquarius this year, it will re-enter in 2024 and stay until 2044.
So, we’re getting a little blip of what that new energy coming in might be.
Sidd: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Erin!
This is a guest post by Captain Sidd. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.