We grew up in California and Wisconsin, two thousand miles apart, but still suburbia. Our families were friends, and visited every couple of years. Over one glorious winter break, just before college, we fell in love, and over the subsequent months we talked to each other about everything: hopes and dreams, family expectations, values and morals, philosophy, all the problems with the world around us, and how we wanted to fix them. After we’d both graduated from the same college, after Daniel finished a masters degree and Miranda apprenticed at a dance company, after we were married, after we’d moved into a house and had our first child, we went back to looking at the big questions: what can and should we do with the time that we have? What can we leave for our children?
We knew our suburban lifestyle was directly threatening the livability of the planet. Like many people, we wanted to find ways to mitigate and reverse that threat. We had the desire and means to have more than two children, but the suburbs are built around the assumption of families of four. We feared the massive societal upheavals that climate change coupled with growing inequality seemed to make inevitable. We wanted the means to survive and thrive in an increasingly unstable world. We wanted to give our children something tangible in addition to knowledge, family, and culture. How could we accomplish all that?
Miranda had a crazy dream when she was 10: run away with her friends in covered wagons to live in holes under trees deep in a forest where they would raise children, grow food, and make clothes and furniture. Little House on the Prairie meets My Side of the Mountain. With the trends of urban and suburban homesteading on the rise and a group of friends who were new mothers interested in making things and managing food production, Miranda talked wistfully of buying land together and having a little compound out in the middle of nowhere where everyone would raise and share all the food and childcare with a carbon neutral footprint. Normal dreams that mothers of small children have while #enjoyingeverymoment of running after toddlers who are merrily destroying household cleanliness and parental sanity.
Our first attempt at realizing this dream was to buy a normal suburban house and transform it into a food producing, solar panelled, level two car charging experiment in suburban living for a homesteading large family. We found a real estate agent through friends and started viewing properties. Eventually, we viewed a house with a yard large enough for play, a large vegetable garden, and chickens. It had 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom and was about 1100sqft, but it also had a toilet in the garage which Miranda thought could be turned into a second bathroom. There was plenty of natural light, it was painted, and outside there were raised beds connected to drip lines. We fell in love with the house and location as soon as we found it, bid on it immediately, and then went on a trip. We found out that our bid was accepted the day Miranda turned 30, had a horrible stomach flu, and we were on the road heading back from our trip. Despite the rocky start, buying the house was a fairly normal first-time home buyer transaction: our real estate agent helped us through a mountain of papers and inspections and at the end of a month, our family of 4 was moving into our first house.
The house was good for us. We got to know and like many of our neighbors, host parties for friends and family, make playdates for our kids, and live a short 1.5 miles from Miranda’s parents. While living in that house, we added 2 more children to our family, did a lot of DIY home repairs, remodelled with a contractor, got and raised chickens, participated in our community, gained leadership roles, and sent our kids to activities. We ate vegetables from the garden and eggs from our chickens, but we felt limited by our space. We couldn’t keep bees. We didn’t have enough space for a large dog. We couldn’t keep dairy animals or raise enough chickens to meet our meat needs. We couldn’t go off-grid. We were over-scheduled. We thought about trying to turn our vegetable garden into a business, but plants alone just didn’t interest us, nor did it seem like a realistic way to pay for the time that managing such an endeavor would take.
We went back to talking about our dreams and ambitions and how we wanted to be raising our kids. We researched, went about our lives, experimented, researchedsomemore, and we arrived at a goal: buy land. Land is a resource, a tangible thing that can be passed from one generation to the next. Many hands make light work, and our large family makes sense in the context of a farm. With enough land in the right location, land can be a source of food. With the right building techniques, a house on land can be a refuge from disaster. If you are outside the city, you aren’t reliant on city infrastructure to work. If you don’t have any debt, your land cannot be taken from you by a bank. With the right land, we could be in a situation to opt out of the systems that have created climate change and to make our lifestyle counteract and mitigate its impact. We had our goal: build a regenerative farm, debt-free, off-grid, carbon negative, with diverse income that originates from the sun, managed together as a family. Such a farm will last as a legacy for our children and grandchildren. From there, we can work to fix the rest of the world.
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingles Wilder
- Make the Bread Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
- Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin
- The Urban Farmer by Curtis Allen Stone
- Holistic Management by Alan Savory
- Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown
- Food Inc.
- The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management
- Quivara Coalition
- Biggest Little Farm