Land Hunting

 We had been hiking for 45 minutes up a steep rutted mountain road before we finally got to one of the properties on our must-see list. We couldn’t drive our car up to it, we needed a ATV or a good sturdy 4×4 truck to do the job. So, basically, the road was hardly passable, who knows what one would do in Winter under snow and ice. Maybe it was the endorphins from the exercise or the magic of the mountains themselves, but up on the 4200′ peak with 360 degree views of Appalachia sprawling as far as the eye could see I started weeping. We could live here? We started brainstorming how we could make it work. We became inspired by the idea that we could build a place not only to live in, but to share with others. The landscape made for an ideal retreat setting, and we started imagining off-grid hobbit-like earthen homes complete with living roofs smattered across the property resembling a fantastical Tolkien scene. We had many questions about the lay of the land so we called our real estate agent Tom from Landcrazy.com to come look at it with us. Remaining true to his firm’s name he suggested we go up the next morning to see the sunrise. So we met him in pitch-darkness at 6 am, and started back up that road with our headlamps. We made it up to the top just in time on that particularly freezing morning to watch in awe as the pink and violet rays lit up the hundred or so peaks we could see in every direction. Ok, we were officially intoxicated. It had only been two weeks since landing in Asheville, but we were chomping at the bit. We made an offer, and went promptly into due diligence.  
   

It wasn’t just the view that made the property attractive. It also had many of the features on our list of requirements: Year-round spring, meadow and forest, southern exposure, and within 25 minutes to Asheville (but not including the time it took to get up or down the dirt road). Before lining up consultations with experts to figure out things like electricity, septic, grading, and so forth, I spent a few solid days researching zoning regulations. I made the fatal discovery that the property was within a special zoning for ridge-top protection which effectively foiled our plans. Without spending a dime on the other inquiries, we backed out and went back to the drawing board in our land search with a fresh perspective.

We now had a more concrete plan for our future home, and we wanted to find a beautiful place that we could also share with others.  We also realized that we would never find another property that was as pristine as that first one while also being accessible, not zoned out of our plans and within our budget. But I now have a strong appreciation for those zoning ordinances. That land is too beautiful for any kind of development, even little earthen huts. All of the properties around it have been put into conservancy and I wouldn’t be surprised if the owner ends up doing the same with his.

It was not very long before we found a much more user-friendly spot, just outside of a little town we love called Marshall. Twenty five minutes from downtown Asheville, five from Marshall (people who live there call it “Magic Town, NC”), nestled in a little hollow (or “holler” as its called in Appalachia), awaits our future home. We’ve spent about four days out of every week for the past month and a half getting to know the land and really taking advantage of our due diligence time. It is totally private, has Southeastern exposure which is ideal for building passive solar housing, a few springs, creek, septic, electricity, a big old tobacco barn, pastures, woods, and its chock full of wild edible/medicinal/useful plants. Some are highly invasive species. But I am learning that a great method to help control the invasives is to take advantage and eat ’em (much more on that in a future post). Another very successful tactic is to unleash goats on them, which we also intend to do. The forest has been logged sometime in the past 40 or so years, and is definitely in transition. We are excited to help it heal, and to apply what we will be learning from ecology, forestry and permaculture to stewarding our land and turning it into a place where trees, plants, birds, deer, goats, sheep, insects, fungi, and humans can all thrive.

Now, time for me to divulge its downside. Every property within our budget has had one: be it a crazy rutted road for access, huge power lines, a cell tower, no privacy, or steep slopes, etc.  For this one, on the other side of the mountain, out of view, probably about 5-7 miles away there is a landfill where several law enforcement agencies practice shooting and do their yearly qualifications. It’s not everyday, and not that loud, only one person ever shoots at a time, but very occasionally we hear semi-auto and automatic weapons being fired. This was not disclosed by the seller, who claimed they were unaware of it. We were able to renegotiate the price and save quite a bit of money. Other good news is that an indoor range is being built for the agencies currently shooting at the landfill, and we may hear even less shooting in the future. We really had to consider how big of a deal the presence of the sound is to us, especially compared to other properties with their own issues. The thing is, these are the rural mountains of Western North Carolina. There will be guns. Heck, we will likely get some of our own, as we start delving into hunting (the most ethical way to eat meat in our opinion).

So that is that, and we close on the property this Friday, the 29th of May. Which also happens to be our son August’s first birthday! We will be going home and we will have so much to celebrate.

Advertisements

Lift-off

Two years ago I watched a film that changed my life. I am one of those suckers who can really let a good documentary punch me in the gut, but this was different. This film, about sustainable farming, was an epiphany. As a Los Angeles based actress, I never had any particular interest in farming as an occupation.  I am, however, passionate about my food and where it comes from. So along with working at farmers’ markets on the weekends to get to know the people who grew my food, I had started growing some of my own vegetables. When I watched this film, I was brought to such ridiculous awestruck tears as I witnessed this thing of beauty called a “forest garden.” A forest of food, designed so that everything works together in a closed system requiring very little human input: no weeding, no tilling, no fertilizing, no pesticides. Most of the human work is simply harvesting the bounty. One acre of this Eden could feed ten people, which is twice the yield of a conventional monoculture farm. The particular one featured in the film contains more that 500 species of edible plants that host a diverse population of wildlife and insects that keeps everything in balance. It seemed too good to be true, or like some sort of anomaly. But this was all made possible by thoughtful observation of wild, rugged nature, which tends to thrive without modern human intervention. I fell madly in love with the very romantic concept of land stewardship, a way of living cooperatively with nature as opposed to attempting to dominate it. To be truly healthy is to live in and support a healthy ecosystem. I was like Varuca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate factory, I wanted that, and I wanted it NOW.

I realized that food is my religion. Not only do I love growing, cooking and eating it, but I worship good food as communion with the divine. It’s how we are made, how we build ourselves and our environment. Its the currency of life. To eat consciously is to be aware of life and death as part of a single whole that cycles through time. I can live in a way that supports this great force that lets us exist for this small moment to taste its deliciousness, or I can bite the hand that feeds me, break the cycle of life and death by removing ingredients from the mix for the next go around and turning them into useless waste. I can foster biodiversity and opportunity, or I can force monoculture upon our soil and weaken the bed of life. My happiness and sense of self-worth are wrapped up in this cycle, and I want to keep it spinning.

I became pregnant with my first son a month later. He is now nine months old, and since becoming pregnant, Ryan (my husband) and I have found our big life plans being put on fast forward. We are currently packing up and getting ready to move across the country to the mountains of Western North Carolina. We have always seen living on some land with animals, a garden and backyard access to good hiking as a goal for the future–maybe when we retire, we thought. Actually, after seeing that documentary I had devised a 10-year plan to build a forest garden on my 1/4 acre lot in the San Fernando Valley. It was a noble plan. I have huge respect for the urban homestead movement, and folks such as those at The Growing Home  are paving the way in sustainable living within the urban grid. But somewhere along the line while I was pregnant we started clicking around on landwatch.com, and we became enchanted with the idea that we could live more affordably outside of Los Angeles and have access to trees and streams! Also, I was yearning to be a part of a community that shared a love for taking care of it’s natural home. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I was beginning to feel like books and youtube were not enough for me. I needed regular hands-on learning from actual people right in front of me. Our research brought places like Portland OR, Austin TX and Missoula MT to our attention, but then once we started learning about Asheville NC, we got really excited. This is a place that loves artisanal food. DIY culture and self-sufficiency are big there and have a long history in Appalachia. There is a major Permaculture community, and people are getting their heads together and making the place a hub of innovation. When our son was 5 months-old we booked a flight out there to check it out. We couldn’t believe how welcomed we felt. We actually made several friends in the mere week we were there, found some job leads, and fell in love with those Blue Ridge Mountains. So, feeling a little crazy and a lot YOLO, we made our decision. As soon as we got back to LA we started getting our house ready for sale, and now here we are, getting rid of most of our stuff and putting the essentials in boxes.

We plan on starting from scratch in our new home, to literally hand-build our new life from the ground up. We will be building a cob house from the materials already present on our land once we find and purchase it. Much more on this later. We thank you for following our story. As we research, develop new skills and build our adventure, we hope that our experiences will be of some value to those who are interested in taking a similar journey or are simply curious about the same things we are such as: homesteading, natural building, permaculture, food forests, vegetable gardening, chickens, goats, foraging, medicinal plants, slow food, nutrient dense cooking, fermentation, and natural birth. We also encourage feedback and welcome advice and comments from anyone who’d like to add their two cents. As I said, we have a lot to learn, and we hope that our blog can be a space for learning and collaboration around these topics.

Saying goodbye to friends and family and jumping into the unknown is not easy. The life we’ve made here is what is making our future possible, and we are so grateful for the support of our loved ones. Without them, we wouldn’t have the courage to take this leap. We see this blog as another way to keep in touch and keep y’all up to date with our crazy new life. Thank you so  much for reading!