Professor Communication and Media
Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
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June 9, 2021
In the Garden of Deeden: Breaking Ground
May 17th was the 16th anniversary of me moving into the home that my friends dubbed “Deeden.” My dear friend has been urging me to blog about my homesteading lifestyle for over a decade. He finally hooked me. Our friendship really began after we participated in an ACEER workshop –From the Andes to the Amazon. While there, I had a transformational experience with a shaman, and the lessons resonated with me over the decade that I renovated an old house and turned the lawn into an intensive organic garden. In the process I also changed – in the way I look at the world, interact with others, and engage with life. Ironically, as a person with a doctorate in communication studies, describing the experience usually leaves me relatively speechless. When I have shared the story in my classes, there’s always at least one student who tells me “the hairs on my arm stood straight up.” That will be a whole blog post, but I can say that it put me in a place where I did some of the hardest self-work I’ve ever done. Correction. It started me on a path of self-work that only seems to continue.
My property is 21 feet wide. In fact, the entire property — including where the house sits — is less than 1/10 of an acre. I have been shocked to find how much food can be grown in such little space, allowing me to eat fresh, share with neighbors, can, dehydrate, and freeze food, donate over 100 pounds of food to our local food cupboard, and still have room for flowers! It’s been an evolution. Loving to cook, led me to growing food, led me to canning, and the list keeps growing. My 95 year old neighbor asks me “How’s your farm?” It amazes me every year, and I am grateful and humbled. This picture represents the property when I moved in. I’ve since torn up every inch of lawn (and composted it, of course).
My homestead is located in a Borough in southeastern Pennsylvania with about 18,000 residents, and is home to the public university where I work. It has an urban feel since the houses are so tightly packed together and given the vibrant downtown center.
I grew up in suburban northeast Ohio — not the daughter of homesteaders. The things I learned didn’t happen all at once. They came about by my own curiosity and desire to challenge myself to try new things. In future posts, you’ll read about adventures in beekeeping, insect identification, seed starting, intensive planting, companion planting, fermentation, rain barrels, solar panels, creating backyard bird habitat, canning/pickling/preserving, composting, and much, much more.
My purpose is to inspire, not to preach. If you’d told me when I was 20 that this is how I would fill my days, I’d have looked at you like you were out of your mind. However, being in the garden centers me. It is truly meditative and therapeutic. Whereas I’ve had disasters and failed experiments, and even had some lazy moments, every day I challenge myself to adapt, conserve, be resilient, and have deep gratitude for what this land gives me. Every choice I make is just that… a choice. We all live in a world of limited resources, and we all have some level of responsibility to conserve and to treasure these resources. Part of my learning process is to “grade” myself each day on how I’ve lived up to being a responsible consumer of these resources and what I’ve done to give back to our precious Mother Earth. My motto? No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. This blog is about what it’s like to be an urban homesteader and to every day break new ground.