BRIAN & NICOLE
SOFTWARE MARKETING ENGINEER & STYLIST
Urban Haven in San Diego, California
Hidden in the back of a divided double lot in the heart of Ocean Beach is Brian and Nicole Blum’s permaculture haven. From the street you would never be able to imagine the tranquil and sustainable homestead they have creatively and skillfully constructed with mostly recycled and repurposed materials. Behind a tall wooden gate one enters what the couple has nicknamed their “Narnia” or their more scientific title the “PermyOBle Oasis” a refuge away from the bustle of this busy coastal San Diego neighborhood. Three years ago, when Brian bought the property, he planned to construct a tiny house for him and Nicole to live in and rent out the small 890 sqft main house to their friends to cover the mortgage. Plans changed when the couple found out they were expecting their daughter and they redirected their energy into turning their 3,500 sqft lot into a place where they could grow their own food and live more sustainably. By collecting rainwater, using grey and black-water irrigation, and building a homemade aquaponics system, they are able to raise fish, grow vegetables year round and have over twenty thriving fruit tree varieties. Their home is run entirely off of solar panels on their roof and they compost all of their food and paper scrapes in worm bins to increase the fertility of their sandy soil. Glass bottle walkways, a cement bag mosaic outdoor shower, a trellis built out of old Naval crates, plastic bag insulation; they have cleverly repurposed many materials that would’ve otherwise ended up in a landfill. The tiny house out back that was originally going to be their primary dwelling is now home to a climbing wall for their daughter and office space for Brian. Brian and Nicole both have full time jobs, Brian as a computer engineer and Nicole as a hair stylist. Juggling parenthood, work and expanding their homesteading projects hasn’t been easy, but they have taken a permaculture approach to their Urban Haven. Although the initial build-out of their solar, irrigation and aquaponic systems and the construction of their growing beds required a lot of sweat equity, they now only spend a couple of hours a week maintaining their edible oasis. Their PermyOBle Oasis has inspired millions of people worldwide after a video of their friend made of their homestead went viral on the internet. It is their hope that by sharing their journey of becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient with other city dwellers they can inspire and inform people to get creative and find ways to grow their own food, even when they have very little space and time available. (Click here to jump to their interview)
Tell us a little bit about your Permyoble Oasis? How has it evolved over the years?
The project launched 3 years ago when I purchased the house with the plan of building a tiny-home to live in while renting out the main house to friends to cover costs, live more communally, and have a canvas for sustainable projects. Six months later myself, my now wife Nicole, and soon thereafter little girl have become the inhabitants of the main house and the tiny house has become my office, climbing cave and experimental technology center. Fortunately our best friends (including their 20 month old) who lived in the house moved next door and we have kept our community flourishing.
What inspired you to bring farming and gardening to your city existence?
We wanted to be as responsible as we could with our consumption and waste, minimize any negative impact on this planet, and provide as natural an environment to live in for us and our daughter that included regenerative living systems (not only food production but a home for the raccoons, possums, skunks, birds, fish, insects and micro-biology that flourish on our small 3,500 sqft parcel).
What has been the most challenging part about bringing elements of country living to your urban environment? What has been the most rewarding part?
The most challenging has been finding the time to put into the various systems, both in maintenance and in making improvements. When you try to use repurposed material and generate your own soil nutrients (composting our own and our neighbors waste) and micro-biology it's a lengthy process. Having the time and patience to find the right material and make the best use of limited space takes a lot of premeditated thought (in 3 years we have rebuilt areas of the property several times continuing to evolve with the changing landscape and our own evolving needs - especially with a child).
The most rewarding has been watching the property transform and enjoying the fruits and vegetables we produce. It has also been a space where friends and family have been able to gather and work on projects together.
What has been the reaction of others to PermyOBle Oasis?
Nothing but positive support. Our friends and family have been a huge part of making the entire project a success and this was by no means an individual effort. What excites us is being able to share the property as a living space as well as a learning tool that we hope inspires others to take on their own projects, small or large.
What do you appreciate the most about life in Ocean Beach?
It is a mixed community (although gentrification is well under way) of progressive minded people in a beautiful part of San Diego. It is a relatively big-chain free beach town with establishments like the People's Food Coop that bring people together.
Would you ever consider moving to the country?
Absolutely. One dream is to have a larger property with more of what we have started here at PermyOBle, including chickens, bees, mushrooms, and more. We love the mountains and can definitely see moving to a slower paced place, but for now we couldn't be happier with where we are.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of growing his or her own food in their backyard?
Just do it. Whatever interests you most. Don't wait for your own property or for things to be perfect. Just dive in and get your hands dirty, involve community and have fun with it.
Have you noticed a recent change in San Diego’s appreciation for urban farming and/or a surge in urban farms?
We definitely see more gardens, solar panels, rainwater catchment systems, community focused projects and general mindfulness in the OB and San Diego community, and the world. On small and large scales people continue to recognize the challenges we face and explore innovative sustainably minded solutions. We of course also see the opposite but we are confident mindfulness on the importance of the health of this planet will prevail.
Do you have any books, podcasts, websites, etc. that you would recommend to people wanting to grow their own food and become more sustainable and self-sufficient?
We love books but they are no replacement for hands on interactive learning. Don't be afraid to pay for local workshops and support local teachers and artists because it's the people working hard to make a living while positively changing the world that need our direct support. For books, any of Mollison, Holmgren's or other permaculture books, the Earthship website and Earthship Biotecture (go do a build if you can), but mostly hands on real-life experience.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
The tiny-house is becoming a climbing cave and technology center (thanks to Lumafi) which will utilize new technology to help monitor and automate the type of sustainable agriculture systems to make home gardens and more comprehensive permaculture systems more viable. We also hope to add chickens, rebuild the Aquaponics system, and one day get bees.