The Big Decision: Picking Our Home Site

Reader Contribution by Karrie Steely

Remember that classic Steinbeck book, “Of Mice and Men”? Sometimes, when I think about my dream of having a farm of my own, a dialog between Lennie and George starts playing in my head. It starts with George …

“OK. Someday – we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and …”

“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouts. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George.”

Wheat field on the new home site.

I still have to pinch myself to know it’s real, because after all those years of dreaming, that dream is actually coming true! Patience and hard work are paying off, after long last. My partner and I have each always had a dream like this, years before we met. To build a sustainable house in the country on a peaceful acreage, making it unique and practical and a place to call home, a place to put down roots.

When we met, we realized that we had (among other things) that common dream with a lot of overlap in the details. Now we’re taking our first steps. We know it isn’t going to be easy. There’s going to be a LOT of hard work and disagreements in the process. We’re both creative and hard-working, and neither of us would back away from an opportunity to learn and to create something amazing. There’s no such thing as “can’t.” This is going to be a great experience. It will test and strengthen our relationship. I have a feeling it will never be a finished project. There will always be improvements and additions, but that’s what keeps us busy and happy.

The wide open fields of home.

We’ve talked and planned quite a bit about the house itself, but one of the first big decisions is the location. We want somewhere not too close but not too far away from town, where the business, workshop and studio are located. We need a year-round clean water source. The exposure needs a lot of sun for solar panels, but should be sheltered from wind. We want a beautiful view. And we need our privacy, way out away hundreds of miles from the madding crowds. I’m sure there are other points that we discussed, but these are the big ones.

Our main energy sources are going to be solar, wood and propane. The property we settled on is on the electric grid, but we don’t plan on using it much. The house well will have a solar-powered pump. We’ll install a septic tank for black water, and direct grey water to a leech field. We’ll grow soy or sunflowers for oil to fuel machinery. He already has a processor set up in the shop that heats and smashes oil seeds and extracts the oil, which he uses for diesel engines (I’ll write an article about that down the road).

Pasture residents on the old homestead site.

When we set out to pick the property, our first choice was a 160-acre quarter. It had pasture, a little farmland, and a beautiful strip of creek bottom with rocky outcroppings and small cliffs. Even at an offer to trade two quarters (320 acres total) for it, the owner didn’t want to sell. So instead, we decided to choose one of the two quarters that he already owns to build our homestead on. Each is 160 acres with 2/3 farmland and 1/3 native pasture. One is the original homestead that his great-grandparents homesteaded in the 1800s, and the other is the farm that he grew up on. Both have old outbuildings, barns and houses that are no longer livable.

Ultimately we chose the property where he grew up for a few reasons. It is closer to town on a maintained road, has a good well, lovely rolling hills and three ponds. The home site will sit close to the top of a hill looking down a gently sloping valley to the main pond, and looks over the larger valley where town is, several miles away.

An aerial view of our farm. The home site will be in the dip in the road running from the right of the photo to the runway.

We’ll make our own creek meandering from the home site down to the pond, and plant it with fruit trees and native fruit trees and bushes to make our own natural creek and riparian area. We’ll plant about 20 to 30 acres of sunflowers or soy for oil seed, and also wheat to use and sell.

The old house is still there on a hill to one side, but it isn’t livable and will be used for storage. There are also several outbuildings full of old farm stuff (his own history and that of his family) that is fascinating to go through and look at. It’s a lifetime of material for art projects, like old barn wood, old metal, old jars, etc. The hangar (built out of a small schoolhouse he moved here several years ago) is on the hill to the other side, and the runway is beyond that. (He’s been a pilot for years, and it will be great to have his plane right outside the door.)

I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little nervous about this whole project. Partly because it’s huge, and partly because it’s a culmination of a lifetime of dreams. But we’re both more excited than anything, and can’t wait to jump into this new adventure!

Invention of the week – This week it was a scaffold. We needed to fix the roof peak of the shop, since the old fiberglass material was falling apart. A raccoon fell through one night and wreaked havoc in the shop, pulling out insulation, knocking things off of shelves everywhere, and chewing through a water line. He needed a scaffold to install insulation inside the shop and replace the peak.

It will be invaluable when we are building the house. He welded together an extendable frame, put expanded wire on for the flooring, and made removable rails. It can be picked up either in the middle or by the end by the forks of the skidsteer.

  • Published on Jul 9, 2014
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