It's 10 a.m. Deep notes of roasted coffee scent the air of an Atlanta coffee shop. Kimberly Coburn, founder of the Homestead Atlanta, sits cross-legged on a weathered maroon couch. A wide window behind her frames the vivid green trees outside. It's an ideal backdrop. Since the age of 14, Coburn has been a fan of the John C. Campbell Folk School, a North Carolina nonprofit founded to preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains. The school's catalog is filled with photos and descriptions of metal-smithing, basket-weaving, and foraging classes. "It's like my porn," Coburn admits. After graduating from Northwestern in 2006, Coburn returned to Atlanta and landed a job in advertising. She realized that there wasn't anywhere like the John C. Campbell Folk School in Atlanta, so Coburn decided to do what she does best. She made one.
At first, the idea of urban homesteading was more like a fairy tale set way up in North Carolina. But eventually, her desire to connect with the land got the better of her. In 2010, Coburn co-founded Crop Mob Atlanta, a group of landless, "wannabe farmers" who donated their time to work within the local agrarian community. Through Crop Mob, Coburn cultivated a network of dedicated artisans and farmers and the Homestead Atlanta was born.
Operating out of donated spaces throughout the city, Coburn's educational collective is dedicated to teaching the art of self-reliant, authentic living. Anywhere from four to seven times a month — depending on instructor availability — Coburn organizes workshops such as humane chicken-butchering, leather belt-making, and small space gardening. Each gathering is designed to help city-dwellers rediscover what homesteaders call forgotten or heritage skills.
"I think a lot of people are disenchanted with the current state of affairs," she says, describing the mentally draining effect of being confined to computer screens and cubicles. At the end of the day, Coburn wants people to walk away saying, "Look at this thing I'm holding in my hands that I just made. It wasn't here before, and now it's a thing that I created."
The instructors make it a success, Coburn says, with their dedication and infectious passion. She often jokes that the whole arrangement is a Ponzi scheme, a way to further her personal pursuit of urban folk life.
In the future, Coburn hopes to open a center to house knitting circles, film screenings, and equipment shares and someday become a nonprofit. In October, Homesteaders will participate in the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire, an offshoot of the crafty Maker Faire festival launched in the Bay Area in 2006.
"As an Atlanta native, it's cool, because, I feel like Atlanta was kind of lame for a long time (not to hate on my own city). It was a convention town that didn't have a whole lot of personality," Coburn says. "We're coming out of that now and realizing that we can be the green hub of the Southeast. We're owning that."