In June 2004, my wife, Summer, and I arrived at the 40 vacant acres of grass and woods we had just purchased, nestled in the hills of southwest Wisconsin. Summer was six months pregnant, and we had our work cut out for us to get a warm shelter built before the cold set in. We came with high hopes and a solid work ethic. We also brought with us feelings of freedom, concern from our families, and anxiety over what we were about to embark upon. Both of us had been preparing for this step since we were teenagers, saving money and acquiring skills. We worked on conventional and organic farms, learning old-fashioned skills, natural building techniques, and various arts and crafts (including blacksmithing and fiber arts). We also held several intern positions, participated in WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and lived enough on other people’s land that we knew we wanted to have our own. As an artist, it had always been my dream to arrive on vacant land and gradually build up my homestead, a lifelong creation.
Our wish list for our dream property included privacy, a quiet road, 20 to 60 acres that were half tillable/half wooded, and, most importantly, a clean spring. Finding all these attributes was not easy, and we looked at more than 40 properties over five months. When we found a parcel that met most of our wishes, our only hesitation was that it was 30 miles from the main social center in the area. In exchange for being so far out, however, we landed amid a thriving Amish community. This was a major attraction for us because we knew people in the community would have rural living skills we could learn. We would also have a direct connection to their horse-drawn lifestyle, and the possibility of borrowing horses and equipment until we got a team of our own.
During the land search process, we started to design the home that we planned to build. It was a small, simple, straw bale structure that I planned to build in a couple of months. Well, more than five years later, we’re still putting the finishing touches on the house. One of the best bits of advice came from my older sister, who suggested I start by building the walk-out concrete foundation and putting on a temporary roof for the first winter. That gave us three solid walls, and I then framed the south-facing fourth wall, which is 80 percent windows. We could then start early the following spring and frame out the rest of the house without such pressure. This made it possible for us to get a dwelling built by October (our baby was born Oct. 6). Throughout that first winter, we had the time to design and build the home we wanted, using the materials we wanted, without having to rush or make compromises because of time constraints.
[Read the rest at Motherearthnews.com]