Grit Blogs > Soggy Island Farm

Laying Down Roots

A Photo Of Sara Schultz"I feel like I've been taking speed all day every day," I said.

Justin said, "It's called happiness."

This afternoon while hoeing the garden, I thought how good it was to be in the earth, in the air, smelling and feeling everything. It's no stretch to say that sitting in front of a screen in a dark windowless office all day isn’t natural. It's depressing at minimum. Unhealthy too. Later after covering myself in dirt, I hopped in the shower, rinsing off the evidence of my efforts, and thought maybe I should decide how much I need to make each year and shoot for that. Working for “enough” so I have freedom to do what I want.

We call our place Soggy Island Farm, a name that came to me in a dream at the Mother Earth News Fair (along with a jingle!) But it's not really a farm. It’s a tiny 1937 Sears & Roebuck kit house sitting on a half-acre lot on Hatteras Island, forty miles off the coast of North Carolina in a place called the Outer Banks. It's as remote as you can get in a lot of ways and still stay in the lower 48, aside from some sort of mountain hut. If you haven’t lived out east, you probably haven’t heard of it. Hatteras Island is a barrier island with 4,000 total year-round residents, and in hurricane alley. But, during its lifetime our house has never taken water. His grandpa built the house and it's been in the family ever since, with Justin taking over eight years ago and myself joining him this year. In the backyard his grandpa tended a massive garden, which we’ve been working on restoring, as well as a lot of little projects, both of us crazy into sustainability and simple living. Justin's a graphic artist and works from home and I'm only doing fill-in stints (as an optometrist) which leaves us a lot of freedom to do what we want.

Sears 1937
1937 Sears & Roebuck kit house  

The two of us came from rural families. He from the Outer Banks and myself from the Midwest. My mom and dad were both farm kids and instilled in us the value of self-sufficiency. Growing up, our side yard was a massive garden that we tended ourselves. Rows, straight as an arrow marked with lines of taut string over the crops: peas, beans, potatoes, carrots. We did a lot by hand- canning, homemade clothes, and solar panels propped up behind the house looking like abandoned box springs. During the summers my sisters and I spent our days biking and climbing trees, picking a carrot or raspberry from the garden when the urge hit us. To this day, I prefer a carrot with a little dirt on it.

It's thrilling to be back in the soil. Gardening makes me acutely aware of the changing seasons. Fall is the time of year I've traditionally reserved for dark thoughts of winter to come. The leaves crumpling up and drifting to the earth, leaving barren trees. The anniversary of my dad's death. Long dark days. But this year it's been different. This year, I'm ready for colder weather and the changing of life that goes along with the seasons. On the first of November, I'll be a permanent resident on the island of Hatteras. We've been working on the house for the last ten months, but now it'll be my home.

Justin and I are homesteading the house and our relationship. We are mostly kindred souls with strong work ethic and the propensity to eat vegetables and wear old clothes forever. We're pretty cheap, and have the same child-like wonder when approaching new projects. We like music and art and documentaries. After years of complicated relationships, this is so easy. Even with all this island chaos surrounding us and the threat of high seas and hurricanes, we are solid footing together and we'll weather the tests of time.

In this blog, I plan to chronicle our projects as we take them on, as well as offer up some writing on the feeling of life on the island. I welcome advice and comments, and hope to learn by sharing.

SJ Ocean
Justin and myself on the Carolina Coast  

Thank you for reading.