Last week I chatted with Robin Burnside, author of The Homesteader’s Kitchen: Recipes from Farm to Table, to get her take on what it means to eat sustainably, nourish your family, and be a modern-day homesteader.
The title of the book is “The Homesteader’s Kitchen.” I wanted to start out by asking you, what does homesteading mean to you? And is it the same thing that it meant to our great-grandparents, or has it evolved?
Homesteading has definitely evolved. I don’t grow all of my own food – I rely heavily on the farmers market. But homesteading is still about being able to eat off the land. I eat something from my garden every day, even if it’s just a handful of greens and some herbs.
For me, homesteading is about stewarding the land for the time I have it. It’s about relating to the plants in my garden year after year – that’s really precious to me. My rosemary is a giant bush, it’s a beautiful being that has grown over 7 feet in the air. I only take little bits of it, but those are really important bits.
My cuisine is all about being able to go out and grab what I need out of my garden.
What first got you interested in food and where it comes from?
I first got interested when I became a parent and realized that I had the responsibility of growing a body, not just from my own body but from whatever food choices I put in front of my children.
And I noticed that I could affect my children’s behavior with the kinds of food that I fed them. I found that feeding my children whole foods and getting them accustomed to them from the beginning was huge.
Do you have a favorite cookbook that you always find yourself returning to?
One of my favorites that I return to is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. It’s an incredibly fun read. I also highly recommend Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice. Sally Fallon’s book is a little bit more in depth, which for me is fabulous because I’m kind of a fact foodie freak.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in starting a homestead or who want to eat more sustainably, but don’t have acres of land in their backyard?
I think that homesteading can happen anywhere. I see people in the city that are turning up their lawns and creating vegetable gardens. I see people in condominium spaces coming together to create edible gardens. Even in the inner city there are amazing community gardens. And with farmers markets, you can eat sustainably without having to homestead yourself.
Where do you see the alternative food movement going?
The alternative food movement is all about waking people up. We’ve been allowing industrialized food to be the dominant way that we get our nourishment, and it’s been a huge mistake.
My prayers are that we start supporting small farmers and creating small, sustainable food-making systems. We need to lessen our dependence on huge, mono-cropping agriculture and the use of toxic chemicals. And I think we absolutely make a difference in how we spend our dollar.
In the future, people looking back on this time will declare crimes against humanity for the ways in which we chose to feed ourselves and the world. We need to wake up and pay attention to where this apple came from, what did it take to get it to my plate, and is it going to be good for me and the planet.
Burnside and her family have been homesteading in Big Sur, California for over 30 years. A mother of four and a grandmother of six, she knows how to feed a family.
Burnside was co-owner, chef, and baker of Carmel Cafe in Carmel, California, and Cafe Amphora at Nepenthe in Big Sur. She managed the kitchen at Esalen Institute for five years and has also worked as a professional food service consultant, private chef, and caterer throughout her 40-year culinary career.
Image courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher.