Abandoning One Dream for Another
The last 6 months have been a whirlwind of changes for me and my family. I am sure COVID has made many of you rethink your life and your careers as well. COVID forced me to swap one dream for another. I was working hard to start my commercial kitchen and help other chefs get started in the business but in the end I decided I needed to get back to my roots on the land where I can secure my families future. The hospitality industry has been heavily disrupted this year. Many chefs who once had reliable jobs saw them evaporate before their eyes. I just don’t feel secure staying in that industry at this time. Every since I was a kid I wanted to have my own farm and raise all my own food. This year pushed me and my family to make that dream real. I have never felt so insecure about feeding and caring for my family. I am a person who always has to keep a backup because I have an irrational fear of not having something I need. I was in panic when I couldn’t get toilet paper, paper towel, eggs, milk and even more frightening flour and sugar. I was very lucky because I had a freezer full of meat and a well stocked pantry so I didn’t feel the stress for a good month in to the pandemic hording. When I did start getting low on staples I became very angry that people were purchasing far more than they needed making it hard to find even the basics. I never wanted to feel that helpless when trying to care for my family, again. That pushed my search for the land that my family and my extended family could live on and supply most of our food year round. If you are wondering why use permaculture methods? I will do an in-depth article on why but in short I believe you should take care of you land to not only keep it fertile and healthy but you should do everything you can to improve that fertility and be a good steward of the land.
I had been looking for this land for over 4 years. I had a few requirements that turned out to be much harder to find than I would every have dreamed. The first requirement was the distance from my husband and I’s office. We don’t always work from the office but we didn’t want too long of a drive when we do. I wanted at least 20 acres so I would have enough land to graze cattle and other livestock and have space for 3 families homes and not be on top of one another. I wanted a piece of land that allowed for us to have our own entrances and be able to space our homes out to give us each our own privacy. The price had to be within our reach. I was looking for $10k and acre or less. If it was in a flood plain it had to have safe areas where you could build and escape in case of huge floods. Here in Texas that can be a real issue and I was surprised how many pieces of land were almost entirely in a flood plains and would have left us no escape route in case of emergencies. I would not have felt safe building there. An item that was not a must but would be a nice perk was if the land had a water source whether it was a lake, pond, stream or river. The one thing that I wanted most of all is for the land to have elevation change enough to give us a view of the horizon. When I arrived here in Texas, the first thing that just blew my mind was the ability to see the horizon all around me. I had finally found “Big Sky Country”. Coming from a part of the country where you could only see to the next stand of trees, this was quite a shock and I immediately was envious of every house I saw up on a hillside. That view become as required but seemed out of reach.
The Actual Land
In the end I got more than I ever dreamed of in this piece of land, only 45 minutes from our office. It has it’s issues but nothing that would change my mind about it. I didn’t even realize how many of my requirements this land covered until we visited the land. From the satellite view I could tell it ticked almost all my boxes. It is 32 acres so it was plenty big for everyone to have their space. In case you wonder who the other families are, my oldest daughter and her husband is one and the other is my sister and her family. My sister and her husband share my families dream of being self sustainable from the land. My daughter wants a space to continue her rescue work. We want to be together but we each need our own space for privacy and for developing our dreams. This land is perfect for this because not only is it large but it has street access from both sides so we can each have our drive and spread to opposing corners of the property. A flood plain does run through the land but it in the very middle where a stream runs and well away from the elevated areas where we will be building our houses and barns. This stream isn’t always a flowing stream but areas of it are deep enough that it holds water for many months without rain. That is a great backup water source for plants and animals. The makeup of the land is ideal for my plans. About 50% of the property is southward sloping so it gets lots of sun and hopefully stays warmer in our cooler months. It has a mix of woods and pasture land. The woods has had no management so there are a lot of downed trees which I plan to chip for compost and paths. The pasture area has had animals grazing on it but not intensively so it isn’t compacted and looks to be some good farm soil. The real kicker for this land was pointed out to us by our realtor when she first arrived on the property. She said, “I see why you picked this piece of land”, and pointed to the top of the hill on the other side of the property. We actually had no idea that hill was there. We had only seen the land from google maps and you can’t see elevation changes like this. Once we saw the view from that hilltop.. We were sold. This property had already ticked all the other boxes and finding the one thing I knew would be the hardest to fine was a dream come true.
The Research and off Grid
I am so excited to get started on this land. I have so many plans being researched and notes taken. I try my hardest not to go into a new venture without doing all the research possible. It isn’t until I have practically become an expert that I make decisions. I have been researching Keyline design, regenerative agriculture, permaculture, homesteading in general and the animals and breeds that will work best in this south Texas heat. In addition to all that I also want to be as close to off-grid as possible. We will be putting in rain water collection and solar. I am looking forward to working a small solar panel farm into my garden to provide partial shade in the hottest parts of the day. For me the Keyline design is one of the most important things here in the very beginning of my planning stage because I need to figure out where the house and future buildings will go. I want to make sure there are no regrets in the future about the decisions I am making now. At this time I have 5 months until I can expect our house to be done so I have that time to read and research and seek out people to ask questions.
The Plans for Animals
After our house is in place the second most important building will be our garage/barn where we can have a woodworking workshop, store my garden tools, start chicks and a place to store animal feeds. I will be bringing in goats to clear out our over grown scrub areas with a plan to raise a small amount of goats in the future and have a dairy program for milk and cheeses. I am currently designing an open air hybrid chicken coop and rabbit pens. I like some of the ideas online allowing the chickens to forage below the rabbits in a deep litter system. The litter gains not only from the chicken but the rabbits and maximizes the nutrients available in the compost that will be feeding my gardens. I am building the pen close to my market gardens so that the rabbits and chickens can be my clean-up crew for all the weeds, overgrowth and finished plants. This will greatly reduce the commercial feed required and historically I have noticed that animals fed scraps from my herb and garden scraps have been much more healthy and hearty. I will be starting with laying hens so that I can start building my farm stand offerings. I will be doing pastured meat birds as soon as we get an area built out for butchering and a cold storage for the meat. The rabbits will be an immediate meat & income source. Personally rabbit is one of my favorite meats and the easiest to butcher. Chickens are quicker from birth to butcher but they take a little more process with scalding and plucking rather than just pulling off a skin. Not to mention the bunnies are easy to sell for extra income. My long term plans will be for adding ducks, sheep, pigs and cattle. I am not in a rush to get any of this done because things always work out better if you let them grow organically as opportunities come to light.
The Plans for Gardens
I spent so much time in the garden as a child that my grandfather called me pumpkin and my grandmother called me her garden fairy. Of everything in this new adventure, I am most excited about my garden and forestry plans. I grew up in the land of till gardens and I had never heard of permaculture, agroforestry, or even no-till beds. I have been reading and researching regenerative agriculture and permaculture methods for the last year and I am ready to use my knowledge. Depending on how smoothly our move goes and the weather I might start my market gardens as soon as I am sure the construction crew won’t be destroying all my work. That will also depend on my Keyline design research I am doing now because I need to do some work to be sure run off from the top of the hill goes down into the pond and not washing out my gardens. I have so much land that I want to do a little bit of everything. I will be starting with my cut flower beds which will be along the fence and accessible to visitors. My herb beds will be close to the house because I will be gathering from them most often. I will have the standard market gardens with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, greens and more. I usually grow unusual varieties like Burgundy beans, Purple long beans, and other colorful and nutritious varieties. I will be reaching out to farmers markets and chefs in the area to see what niche’s I can fill in the local market. The plan is to eventually put in mushrooms, grapes, citrus, fruit and nut trees plus some berries to round out our CSA offerings.
My goals for this farm is to be mostly self sustainable not only in food but water and electricity. I tend to grow items that are hard to get in the grocery store or heritage varieties of plants and animals. I want to be the person you come to for exotic or extreme high quality meats, produce and fruit. We have a small out building that is ideally located along the road and beside the drive. It is perfect to turn into our Farm Stand. Our road is rather busy on weekends thanks to a popular campground/tubing spot is just down the road. I am going to try to use my BBQ expertise to create picnic baskets that people can just pickup on their way to or from the campgrounds. I am hoping I can use these two ventures to build one another. I would love to have some “You Pick” options for cut flowers and berries and possibly other fruit in the future. Eventually I want to setup an a la cart CSA and add meat options to my offerings once we get a proper butcher setup.
After reading all that you can see that I have a lot that I want to get done. Luckily I have a good amount of time to get my planning done before any construction starts on the property. I am buying and reading a lot of books and watching a lot of videos. I will be using my existing Culinary Gardens Facebook group to keep you up to date on the planting side of the Farm. Culinary Life Homestead and Permaculture Farm Facebook site is up and working while I work on the website. I will soon start updating that group with our homestead progress and full farm plans. I will be starting with the topography and Keyline design so if you are interested in any of that like those Facebook groups to stay informed. I will try to keep active with new and updated recipes but I am sure you will see much more activity once we are settled in our new house.
Thanks for sharing our journey!