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Urban homesteaders find ideal ground in Altadena

Neighbors swap produce, honey, eggs and much more in Altadena, where the urban homesteading movement has produced much more than sustenance.

March 10, 2011|By Veronique de Turenne, Special to the Los Angeles Times

"I want to make a new breed, between an Americana, that lays blue eggs, and a Barnevelder, a Dutch breed that lays brown eggs," Dawson says. "I want a Barnevelder that lays blue eggs, and that would be the Altadena chicken."

Farther from the mountains, Gloria Putnam is having great luck with goats. A search for a source of fresh cow's milk led to owning the Mariposa Dairy, a herd of nine milk goats. Putnam and her partner, Steve Rudicel, live in his family home, an 18,000-square-foot house once owned by Zane Grey.

"For the first year we were here, all we did with our time and income was fix the leaking roof," Putnam says. "When we finally looked outside, we saw we had all this land."

The couple put in raised vegetable beds, added chickens and bought two goats. Two goats became nine, and the friendly, funny, strong-willed animals soon became the focus of their homesteading enterprise. The couple milk the goats twice a day, and Putnam makes cheese. Last year, she entered the International Dairy Competition at the Los Angeles County Fair and won an award in the mold-ripened goat cheese category.

Now Putnam's considerable skills as an organizer have led to a monthly Urban Farmers Market in Altadena, a hit with growers and shoppers alike. At its inaugural meeting in October, 330 people attended. The number grew to 550 in November. In January, a holiday weekend, close to 400 people braved drenching rain to buy hyper-local produce.

None of which surprises Gail Murphy, the founder of RIPE, a local fruit-swapping group.

"People build [kinship] around church and school, and here we've had that come out of our backyard produce," Murphy says. Members meet regularly to trade and share excess produce from backyard trees and gardens.

"There were four or five of us at the beginning, and now there are close to 200," Murphy says. The food swaps have led to an information network, potluck dinners and a sense of living among neighbors.

"Growing our own food has led to sharing it, which has led to something we knew we needed but didn't know we had," Murphy said. "A true community."

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