Self-reliance in LA: backyard farming + radical home economics

Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne have been farming their yard in Los Angeles for over a decade. In addition to a mini orchard and extensive veggie garden, they have all the instruments of an urban homestead: chickens, bees, rainwater capture, DIY greywater, solar fruit preserver, humanure toilet, rocket stove, adobe oven. But they don’t like to talk about sustainability of self-sufficiency, instead they prefer the term self-reliance.

“I don’t like the goal of self-sufficiency, I think it’s a fool’s errand to chase that goal,” explains Knutzen. “I think we live in communities, human beings are meant to live, and trade and work together. I think self-reliance is okay, in other words, knowing how to do things.”

Knutzen and Coyne share their tinkering, DIY and small scale urban agriculture experiments on their blog Root Simple and in their books “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City” and “Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World”. They believe in the value of shop classes and old-school home economics (back when you learned how to make things, not shop for things).

For the couple, their true goal with all of this self-reliance is freedom to live as they please. By growing their own and canning, pickling, preserving, freezing and baking their own breads and beans, they live frugally. They also only own one car (plus a cargo bike), one cellphone and no tv. “I think a lot of it has to do with our overdriving ambition to be free,” explains Coyne, “makes being cheap fun, because it means you can be free”.

Root Simple:

Original story:

*Cameraman Johnny Sanphillippo also films for the site Strong Towns:

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  1. Rebecca Jane
    March 24, 2018

    Nice to see Toby Flenderson doing so well for himself.

  2. Kat4Animals00
    March 26, 2018

    Great Vid and Info!!

  3. Nick Smith
    April 12, 2018

    Cool – and yeah we forgot a lot since the war that’s for sure

  4. A M
    April 18, 2018

    The using human feces in compost ? Really?! I don’t think so?!?? Other than that it’s all good

  5. Johnny Meyer
    May 7, 2018

    This couple is awesome, great adaptive living in big LA…

  6. X I V
    May 10, 2018


  7. elainehawk50
    May 15, 2018

    That lady is nuts to run her hand through the soil where there is why poop…you can get ring worm and other things from chicken poop…

  8. nancy oden
    May 16, 2018

    This is wonderful and really would benefit all of us…my concern would be the amount of time and work involved..most people work hard at their jobs…children really work hard in school and activities…you can’t help but wonder how someone would find the time…maybe if someone worked from home..etc..but it’s just a wonderful idea….I wish our education systems would include this in their curriculum…it’s such a practical idea….

  9. ImVictoriaD
    May 20, 2018

    Thanks for the video! I have learned a ton.

  10. Flaquis
    May 31, 2018

    This was full of inspiration! Thank you

  11. grammus cc
    June 12, 2018

    Love this! So many things to learn. And that bread he makes, wow. And the old telephone. Love their vibe, very L.A. Eastside. Grew up in Atwater Village, in a similar neighborhood, in a 1924 Tudor style cottage. Some of what they have was normative for the time period the house was built in — that makes so much sense. We had a few fruit trees out back — peach, orange, lemon and banana — and figs out front. We werent self-reliant by any means but there was nothing like fresh fruits from the tree!

  12. Elaine Granzow
    June 23, 2018

    I have watched this many times. Every time I am overcome by nostalgia.

  13. msmeg
    July 1, 2018

    Humanure is NOT supposed to be used to fertilize/grow edible food, only decorative plants. Also, you two talk about "the earthquake" and your prep for it, but I don't see a boat anywhere…you know that LA will be under water when "the earthquake" happens., if of course you're talking about the next big quake, anyway.

  14. Sandyat Thebeach
    July 6, 2018

    Very fantastic! So you all do not have an HOA? We live in Indiana and cannot wait to get out of HOA thumb! Thanks for the video!

  15. Ugly Maid
    July 7, 2018

    Why would it be illegal to rapture rain water?

  16. I Solitari I
    July 7, 2018

    Totally appreciate this

  17. Janette Lavender
    July 8, 2018

    I have watched this video so many times. Much of how my husband and I live in the midwest is headed this way. The home we plan to retire to has been fashioned on this model and once we live there full time it will be ramped up with worm bins, chickens etc. love your emergency preps. Very smart. I bake the same bread. I havent bought a loaf in 7 months since I learned this “skill”. I even taught my mom. So darned easy, People will be lost if something drastic happens and they are not up to speed with the information you have shared here. Its happening all over the world. It does my heart good to see people sharing basic living skills all over the internet but if the grid goes down so does the internet. People need to take this very seriously and not be caught unaware. Too many people have their heads in the sand. Many of our grandparents lived a simple life and passed down basic food preservation skills that are no longer being passed down..l. Great video. TFS

  18. Krystal E
    July 8, 2018

    Excellent!~ "Engine of production…" LOVE!

  19. David Myers
    July 8, 2018

    really like everything that you guys are doing, keep up the good job.
    Those bands on your jars will not hold up in an earthquake. the distance from side to side is too far and when they all shift at the same time they will all come out.

  20. Helyne Walker
    July 10, 2018

    more, please

  21. Marcy's Eco Village Life
    July 11, 2018

    Love the idea of deep bedding for my chickens! And here I've been knocking myself out trying to keep their pen clean since I live in the city! I'm going to add straw to their eating area right now thanks to this video! Much easier to let the chickens compost it than for my to constantly be tossing it into a compost pile and churning it myself!!

  22. NicholasDu4
    July 12, 2018

    This makes me want to buy a house!

  23. francis weir
    July 14, 2018

    She is wonderful, and he is amazing. Together they are beyond description.

  24. Midwest Girl
    July 14, 2018

    I have a question about the laundry detergent you use……you save the water from your washing machine to water your fruit trees……Do you make your own detergent that would be safe for that purpose? Thanks.

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