Harriet Fasenfest began a journey of self-discovery about ten years ago that took her from being “a Vogue girl who dreamed of shopping in Paris” and a Main Street business owner to being an author and advocate for a home-based economy that she calls “householding.” Fasenfest is the next featured speaker in the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center’s Annual Lecture Series at Loucks Auditorium in the Salem Public Library on January 26, 2012. In her discussion, called “Home Economics & Householding in the Modern World: What Does It Mean and What Would It Look Like?” she will explore the importance of householding as an individual response to a changing world of environmental limits and shifting economic concerns, as well as offer practical tips and advice on how to implement the practices of householding.

Fasenfest’s transition began with her growing discontent over the displacement of local communities brought on by increased competition from large chain stores and restaurants, and the transformation of affordable housing into “fancy, high-design living quarters at fancy, high-design prices.” She started reading authors such as Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva, who articulated a new relationship with the land and a different way of doing business. But her transformation culminated with a backyard epiphany that she calls her “Newton moment.” While an apple didn’t literally fall on her head, she looked at the huge old pear tree in her yard and instead of seeing it as a nuisance that left rotting pears and attracted fruit flies, she saw it as a resource or “original asset.” Fasenfest says her revelations “offered an entirely new lens through which to look at my world.” It also raised some questions that focused her work: How had she come to take those pears for granted, leaving them to rot? What had happened to her understanding of resources, labor, value and stewardship?

While most of us welcome the easier lifestyle industry has given us, it has also been a slippery slope characterized by severe environmental damage, an economy that must continually grow with limited resources, and as Fasenfest describes it, a “system designed to give the most to a chosen few.” She argues that there is no “they” out there responsible for this state of affairs; we are all complicit. She says, “That is the liberating moment, the realization that we have been swept away and we have bought into this theology.” She points out that a hundred years ago family disposable income was largely spent on food and housing, with a small percentage of that income devoted to insurance and luxuries such as entertainment. Now we spend less than ten percent of our incomes on food, a bit more on housing and a substantially larger portion of family income on insurance and luxuries. “Instead of owning a pair of boots that will last many years, we want a pair of boots in every color.”

Householding is an ancient concept and according to Fasenfest, it “promotes the revival of a personal system of resource management, founded on principles of equity, thrift and stewardship.” It is “a move away from consumer culture and toward a culture of producers” based in our homes, gardens and local farms, as well as our communities. She has become enchanted with what she calls “the University of Grandmothers,” elders who “understand seed and soil and possess an awareness and knowledge of being that says this is just what you do.” They adapted their own ways of doing things particular to their needs, like using old vegetables to mix into pot pies and soups, or old fruit as pie filling. In an era of fast food, microwave popcorn, and high-tech kitchen appliances that are rarely used, Fasenfest fears that this knowledge will disappear with the passing of that generation.

Fasenfest has written one book called “A Householder’s Guide to the Universe” and is busy working on a second book. She says the first book is a personal narrative about her journey and offers some practical tips on implementing the practices of householding but the second will build on the humble simplicity of the University of Grandmothers. It will be more of a “how-to” guide and will also examine what a curriculum of householding economics would look like with the idea of taking it to the schools as a revival of home economics for modern times. It will help readers develop a profile in which they take a an honest look at what they want in their lives. Fasenfest believes we must lower our cost of living and determine our needs while eliminating more of our wants. She stresses the connection between the economy of nature and our own well-being, arguing that “if the earth is sick, we all will be sick, and no amount of market manipulation will change that.” It will take deep work but “what we’re hoping for is a repair of the planet and of ourselves.”

Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center’s 2011-2012 Lecture Series, featuring Harriet Fasenfest, “Home Economics and Householding in the Modern World: What Does It Mean and What Would It Look Like?” January 26, 2012, 7 p.m. Loucks Auditorium, Salem Public Library. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Publicity photo included.

Additional info (sidebar?):

The Annual Lecture Series is one of the cornerstone programs sponsored by Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center. It brings noted authors, scientists, photographers, government officials and others to raise awareness and understanding of the natural world, and to engage the community in environmental issues and topics related to sustainability. It provides free life-long learning experiences to people of all ages. In November noted author and outdoor enthusiast Bill Sullivan packed the auditorium and entertained the audience with anecdotes and pictures of some of his adventures in the wild areas of Oregon and southern Washington.

All lectures are held at Loucks Auditorium at the Salem Public Library at 7 p.m. All lectures are made possible made the generous donations of FSELC’s supporters and sponsors. The lectures are free and open to the public.

Harriet Fasenfest, author and advocate, will be the next featured speaker in the Straub Environmental Lecture Series on January 26, 2012. She will present “Home Economics and Householding in the Modern World: What Does It Mean and What Would It Look Like?”

Science writer Sharon Levy will present “Once and Future Giants” on February 23 and she will provide insight on what current research concerning the demise of large mammals such as mammoths and saber-toothed cats reveals.

James Roddey from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries will be talking earthquakes on March 15 with “Earthquakes in Oregon: What can Native American Myths and New Scientific Discoveries Tell Us About ‘The Big One’”?

Accomplished geologist, educator, author and photographer Ellen Morris Bishop will examine Oregon’s fiery volcanic heritage in “Living with Thunder: A Past, Present and Future History of Oregon’s Volcanoes” on April 26.

John Bolte will look at the increasingly relevant issue of water systems and scarcity on May 24 with “Willamette Water 2100 Project: Anticipating Water Scarcity and Informing Integrative Water System response in the Pacific Northwest.” Bolte is the developer of “Envision,” the modeling package that develops “future scenarios,” and serves as a means to ask “what if” questions for different policy alternatives regarding water management in the Willamette water system.