I suppose the fact that Williams-Sonoma, popular peddler of covetable cookery accouterment, is now selling handcrafted chicken coops to the tune of $900, backyard beekeeping starter kits (complete with fashionable veiled helmet), and shiitake mushroom logs is a definite sign that modern day homesteading isn’t just an au courant movement amongst the hip 'n’ thrifty foodie set and a way of life for more serious backyard farmers — it’s officially mainstream and available soon at a mall near you.
Launched just today in the wake of some serious hype, Agrarian from Williams-Sonoma is a collection of nearly 300 DIY tools and supplies catering to customers who, according to an official press release, “want to go beyond cooking by cultivating a healthy awareness of where their food comes from.” Or, as pointed out by market analyst Laura Champine, the new line will also appeal to the surprising number of six-figure earners with second homes who are "open to bee-keeping." Alrighty then.
In addition to the aforementioned chicken coops, beekeeping kits, and shiitake mushrooms logs, Agrarian includes heirloom seeds courtesy Beekman 1802 and Fire Escape Farms, gardening tools from Brit cookbook authoress and designer Sophie Conran, European canning and preserving supplies, Kombucha-making paraphernalia, and vintage Hungarian bathtub planters. And in addition to the wide selection of relevant literature for sale, there's also a robust selection of online gardening and homesteading resources — "Guides to help bring the homegrown and homemade to your everyday table" — that Williams-Sonoma shoppers can consult in the event that they need the low down on growing zones and egg yields.
And just wait … there’s even an MNN connection: Atlanta-based Farmer D, friend of MNN and host of the “In the Field” video series (definitely worth checking out if you didn’t catch them when they were first released), is behind the collection’s cedar raised planter beds and planters. Farmer D (aka Daron Joffe) also appeared as one of MNN’s “40 Farmers Under 40."
Of course, the fact that Williams-Sonoma is now offering cheese-making kits and vintage trowels alongside La Creuset cookware and prohibitively priced kitchen gadgets has garnered a diverse array of reactions ranging from pleased-as-punch over at Edible Brooklyn (“… nothing warms our hearts like somebody learning to grow their own tomatoes or make their own ricotta”) to reliably snarky over at Grist where Sarah Laskow writes: “I’m all for backyard agriculture. But if you’re spending hundreds of dollars (I’m guessing at the price point here) on a chicken coop that’s then shipped across the country, you should probably assume you’re doing more to shore up the powerful forces of consumerism than to help the local food movement or the planet.”
I'm not entirely surprised by the move, considering that West Elm, the Williams-Sonoma-owned home furnishings retailer, has been mighty successful in upping its indie cred the past couple of years by collaborating with an assortment of rising designers and eco-minded artisans. The whole thing reminds me slightly of Urban Outfitters' similarly well-curated foray into outdoor living/gardening land, Terrain, except Agrarian is both more utilitarian and self-conscious.
What do you think of this new venture from Williams-Sonoma? Would you buy, let's say, organic fertilizer or a garden allotment kit from the same place where you salivate over high-end blenders and Wüsthof knives? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section. The full Agrarian range is now available online and will be hitting selecting Williams-Sonoma stores within the coming days.
Also on MNN: Things you can make instead of buying