After dreaming for years of starting a homestead, living frugally, working hard, saving, and searching for land, if finally happened. We found a home and land and started our homesteading life. This is the story of finding our homestead. Welcome to Willow Tree Farm.
Saving Our Money
Five years ago we were moving into a suburban townhouse in northern Virginia. It wasn’t what we wanted, but it was what we could afford. I had left my full-time work to stay home with our new baby and two older children. Carl’s family and his federal government salary and benefits were what kept us in the very crowded, very expensive Washington, DC area.
At the time, we considered the townhouse a temporary home. We would live as frugally as we could, save as much as we could, and begin to learn the homesteading skills necessary to increase our self-sufficiency.
We had a five-year plan. At the end of five years, my oldest would be 14 and ready for high school, my middle child would be ten, and my youngest would be turning five. It seemed like the end of five years might be a good transition time for everyone.
Our dream was to find some affordable land with a modest home. We wanted to be in or near the mountains, and part of a community that cared about sustainable food and local economies. We hoped that we could find a supportive homeschooling community.
Making the Decision to Move
After five years, thinking about leaving was harder than we had imagined. There was the perceived sense of security with Carl’s federal income and benefits, and the carrot-on-a-stick promise of a good retirement if he stuck it out another 10+ years. We had the comfort of family close by. A network of friends. The security of the known versus the unknown.
We had been doing informal property searches in various places for years, sort of trying on different ideas. “I wonder what it would be like to live here…” And we would explore the pros and cons of different geographic areas. Two years ago we had narrowed it down to the Charlottesville and surrounding areas. “Someday, when we move…” We would daydream about our future home and plans.
But circumstances changed, and we were pushed to make a decision. When Carl lost his job, we decided that we would stay for six months. If after six months he didn’t find a comparable job, we would make our move.
In January, when we were still on the fence about making the big move and starting the process of putting our home up for sale, finding rentals, and searching for jobs in the Charlottesville area, I came across a for sale listing one afternoon. It was in our price range, 35 minutes from Charlottesville, and from the photos it had a lovely view of the mountains.
I remember examining Google maps (part of our process for elimination), and feeling excited about the land and surrounding area. It was in a little town called Nellysford. It was not far from Charlottesville, had a really interesting community center, an amazing winter farmer’s market and an even better summer market. And the small private school sounded like it was created by homeschoolers.
But we still had decisions to make, and the home was quickly forgotten. Besides, we knew we would want to rent for a while and get to know the area better before we jumped into such a big decision as purchasing a home. And of course, Carl was still unemployed – no time to be buying a house.
Making the Move
By February, Carl had been unemployed for six months and we made our decision. It was scary, and more than a little overwhelming. I think the most difficult part was breaking the news to family.
But once we made our decision and informed the family, things happened quickly. By March we were living in a rental 30 minutes from Charlottesville. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but we were only a few miles from the home I had seen for sale back in January. Although we were not looking to buy (we had just signed a one year lease), we kept up our research by looking at properties in the counties surrounding Charlottesville.
Searching for Land
By April we had sold our townhouse and after seven months of unemployment, Carl had a new job in Charlottesville. Feeling more confident about our situation, we continued to look at properties and began narrowing our search down to three counties. Many weeks I would do a “drive-by” where I would simply visit the area of a sale listing and if it looked good, I would set up an appointment with a realtor to see inside the home.
But most often, there were reasons not to pursue the listings. I saw some great places, but none were right. Sometimes the home was what we wanted, and the land was no good (or it was in a bad place). Sometimes the land was perfect but the home was no good. We had a budget, and if the house needed more work than we could afford (even at a reduced sale price), I wouldn’t consider it.
It was exhausting, mentally and physically. It was also discouraging. Sometimes I wondered if we were being too picky or unrealistic. But it was important to get this right and not settle, because we hoped to make this our last home. We wanted to invest emotionally as well as financially in this last home.
In the meantime, we were becoming more and more attached to the area we were living in.
During this time, I was having my hours reduced at my part-time work-from-home position, and was considering taking a new job. This would mean the girls would have to attend school full-time, and the ideal private school, the one that was perfect for our homeschooling family, was 10 minutes from where we were renting.
Whereas before we were looking for a realistic commute to the city of Charlottesville, our choices were now becoming more limited with the possibility of sending the girls to school.
It was about this time that I saw the same house listing I had seen back in January. The one that happened to be right down the road. I did a drive by and felt excited. I called my agent right away and told her I had to see this property. After I had seen it back in January, it had been under contract for several months. But the contract fell through, and it had just gone back on the market again.
Carl and I went with our realtor. We visited the home, spent time inside and out, then went home to sleep on it. We made an offer the next day. That was the end of June. Slogging through a short sale with a monstrous entity like Bank of America takes months. But we weren’t in a hurry. I continued to see other properties during this time, but they simply confirmed what I already knew – this was the one.
From the outside, the house doesn’t look like much. And truly it is small and simple. But definitely capable of comfortably housing my family. And with just a few changes (someday), it could be more than comfortable, it could be wonderful.
But it is the land that speaks most to me. Each and every time I have visited, I could feel myself relax, and breathe deeper. It is perfect. The embrace of the trees along the eastern and northern boundaries and behind the house offer a sense of security and comfort. And the open spaces to the west inspire an opening up within me.
The land is not far from the Rockfish River that passes through this little “valley”, and the area has likely been part of a flood plain. There is a small creek that meanders along two sides of the property. The soil is well-drained, with a gentle slope (if you are looking for it) that travels away from the house.
As a child, I remember admiring our neighbor’s willow tree. I asked my parents why we couldn’t plant a beautiful willow in our yard. “The strong roots travel a long way out from the trunk, and might damage the house foundation,” my father replied in his usual pragmatic way. I don’t know if it’s true that willows have long penetrating roots, but if it is, then I wish the same for our life here. That we may put down long, strong roots that will hold us steady in the strongest of storms.
This place is neither farm nor homestead. But I can see in my mind’s eye the fruit trees, chickens, vegetable, flower, and herb gardens. There will be sweat, hard work, mistakes, and disappointments. But there will also be beauty, health, abundance, and joy.
Wherever my children may go as adults, whatever lifestyle they choose, I hope that they will be able to return to this place and find a sense of peace, and a sense of home that comforts them.