Dreaming of 5 Acres

And is it possible that anyone who reads this blog isn’t dreaming of 5 acres?

But if you had the chance – would you? Uproot your family, leave the secure real estate of the city with its conveniences and many friends and activities? Trade it all for isolation and the unknown?

The risk of gardening at 400 feet in elevation? (I know, you in Colorado at 6512 feet are scoffing but the sun actually shines there!)

The risk that bears will break into the henhouse or come crash your marshmallow roasts?  That deer will eat all your vegetables?

What would you do with 5 wooded acres?

And how could you use 5 wooded acres to strengthen food security back in the city for others without access to 5 acres?

Is 5 acres enough?  Too much?

If things work out I will be finding out. Sometime late next week I should know for certain that we will be leaving the city for 5 wooded acres at 400′ past Ames Lake, populated by bears and deer.

This last year I’ve swung back and forth on this decision. It’s not possible for everyone in the city to leave it and we can’t all afford to. That pains me just as much as the argument that real food is too expensive, that locavores are silly, and that this food movement is elitist. It’s urban sprawl at its worst – the idea of 5 acres per family, or even 1 acre per family is part of why we have lost so much farmland in the last 50 years.

But here’s what I’m thinking: On that 5 acres I intend to start the first COA (community owned agriculture for those who have joined me since last fall). It will be small, maybe 4-5 other families who live in the city. I won’t grow produce for you, I will demand that you do that in the city and I will provide as much knowledge and hand-holding as possible. What I can do for you is prove this model and provide you with what you cannot do in the city – a home for livestock. A place for community. A retreat. Staycations.  Hopefully a template that can be recreated anywhere despite political or economical climates.

I don’t want to farm 5 acres by myself. I want to go on vacation every year and spend more time with my family. I want to get back to blogging. I want to grow old gracefully, and not the haggard, sleepless aging of someone with too much to do and no support. I’m looking for those families who are interested in the COA but have more time than money. I’m especially interested in those families with small kids who need support. Those families who sacrificed a second income in order to raise a family. If this is you please let me know.

Here’s what I’m not interested in: Commercial farming. Spending all my time growing annual vegetables. Selling raw milk products when the FDA has mandating they will shut down X number of raw milk dairies per year. Naysayers.

What does this mean for this blog? More experiments, especially in early variety vegetables grown in part shade conditions. If you read Cliff Mass’ blog you know we may well be in for a 30 year cooling trend in the Pacific NW so these experiments will benefit us all! More experiments with perennial or reseeding vegetables so that I don’t spend much time gardening. More cute baby goat, rabbit, chick, duckling and perhaps some turkey and pig pictures. More permaculture, vermiculture and compost. In short, more poop. And hopefully more whimsey because I’ve missed it this winter.

You will also be seeing a new template as soon as I can figure it out.  Easier access to old posts that probably contain gardening or cooking or philosophical content that is highly relevant to those with small city lots.

And you’ll be seeing new content from my co-author, Joshua McNichols who lives on a small city lot in Ballard and has no plans to leave it.  He rocks.  He remembers to focus his camera.  If he says something you can rest assured he has thought about all sides of it for a long time, interviewed, researched and mastered it.  He’s jiggy like that.

As for me, I’m ready to kick up my bloomers and maybe even do that in the course of a cartwheel or two. I’m ready. Are you?

20 Responses to Dreaming of 5 Acres

  1. You go girl! Sounds wonderful, and if those are the real photos – gorgeous home and setting.

  2. Wow, that sounds so fabulous. Good for you! And I’m excited for from-Ballard updates as well. :) I want to hop on with you and say YES to the COA, but I am still new at this, learning how to plant kale before it gets eaten by my slugs or chickens or something else. One day, though.

  3. Yay, glad it might be happening!

    From experience I will say you’ll miss the city much less than you think. My daughter is kind of mad though when I told her we could walk to sushi at our city house…she was 9 months when we moved and didn’t have a say in the matter ;)

    Wooded, though, Annette? Do you have any clear land at all? (I’m not being a naysayer so much as being practical: you PNWers have such frightfully little sun as it is, and growing only mushrooms will take you only so far.) One clear acre would be a dream for you, though, so half of one would be almost as good.

  4. “more poop” is exactly right! You make me smile :) . I hope this is everything your family wants it to be!

  5. Congrats! I was wondering if we were going to be hearing something like this from you since you didn’t post last Thursday blog hop. :)
    I hope to someday join you. And I would also want a property that has some woods on it. I love the idea of having some wooded area, but would want at least 2 or 3 acres of cleared property so that I would have space for an orchard and garden. I also want to keep my smaller animals away from the edges of a forest where predators would have easier access to them. :)
    I can’t wait for the posts and updates.

  6. Excited for what is next! Sad you are leaving Seattle. Thanks for making your blog better. Just starting out on the journey in the city.

  7. Renee, it is – absolutely amazing. There is even a grass roofed hut in the garage that will be perfect for small kids to play in or for guest stays.
    Reading, that is the beauty of ducks in the PNW – they eat the slugs but not the greens! I’ve also found that planting trap crops around things (my slugs particularly love turnip greens and focus on those first) really helps, as does starting cold weather crops first indoors then putting them out before the slugs hatch. Good luck! And feel free to ask questions anytime. I am intimately familiar with garden failures…
    El, there is a central 1.5 acre cleared now but I plan to clear some more trees to open up an orchard and food forest. It’s perfect surrounded by woods for privacy but having that central meadow. And I appreciate wisdom – there is a big difference between that and naysaying!
    Myrnie I hope so too! We’ve all agreed to give it a try but I’ve definitely been driving the bus.
    Waggie, I’m looking into the predator issue heavily. There are bears everywhere, as evidenced by signs and strewn garbage. There will most definitely be a lockdown area because I don’t want to be endangering neighbors or my family by increasing the bear population!
    Joanna, thanks! I will be 45 minutes from Seattle and planning to do some experiments specifically geared towards city gardeners because I’ll finally have the space to do them! I may end up supplying early variety starts to the farm coop for barter, and I would love to do a tiny garden and experiment with crop yields to see just what is the minimum space a tiny garden would need to feed a family. I’m geeky like that.

  8. That all sounds great. I would love a 5-20 acre place myself. However I know that is not what my husband has in mind, at all. I also do worry about deer/rabbits/woodchucks getting into my garden and decimating it. Having had that experience in the past, it makes me nervous, I admit it.

  9. Congratulations! We did just this about four years ago – our five acres is pasture land, at a high elevation in western washington. We are not trying to make any money, but to homestead. Goats, chickens, and a decent garden. Not sure what I would do with wooded acreage, but as you are also in Western WA, why not try mushrooms? My sis and her husband drill holes in fallen logs and inoculate with shitakes and oyster mushrooms. Makes a nice crop for home consumption, but I but you could up the production to allow for some sales, too!

  10. I looked up where Ames Lake is today and totally love that area! We have thought about living out that way too and looked at a spot out on Tolt Hill Road last year. We couldn’t sell our house though and so we are still in the city. We only have 3000sf lot and I would love to know how to maximize it to feed my family more. Looking forward to your ideas.

  11. Suzanne, nor mine. That is why I sold it as the mountain retreat and am looking for others to help me so he doesn’t have to! They have been gardening in this spot for 20 years and have a nice deer fence – I am worried about bears and livestock and have a lot to learn though!
    Aimee, I’ve definitely thought of mushrooms! It’s not all shaded and we need to clear a row of trees near the house so I’ll be packing stuff in where I can – I’ve had good practice doing that! Rabbits will do well in full shade as well.
    Joanna the RE market is heating back up again with school coming to an end – you should try again! I’ve heard there will be another dip in housing prices this summer. It might be possible to hit it right on both the selling and buying end. But in the meantime keep maximizing that space! I have a lot in the book about ways to do this and I hope it’s useful!

  12. Very exciting! You’ll be out in my neck of the woods, I’m just off Union Hill.

    There is at least one bear, a bob cat, many deer and a lot of other smaller wild creatures. Definitely different challenges from the city, right now I’m battling the moles….elusive and destructive.

    I like your idea of helping families that value being connected the each other and the land. Good for you.

  13. Blessings and luck to you on this!

    I have to admit, I think I’d find five acres intimidating, especially to start. One acre would be easy. The house in which I grew up sat on an acre plot. My mom did a lot of gardening and when she was my age she was indeed enamored of the idea of taking care of a lot of her own food needs. (apples, trees, falling, I know, can’t escape family lines *smiles*) The small vegetable garden in the back brought in a LOT of food.

    The community owned ag idea sounds like something that should really catch on. I don’t necessarily think everyone moving to their own parcel of land is going to help the world now, with all the people in it. But learning to use smaller spaces, boxes, and bringing a lot more green to cities which could use it to cool down? An idea needed now. :)

    • Soli I’m looking forward to the challenge. I have definitely maxed out my 1/5 acre here but the trick I think is to still start with small areas and not try to start everything at once. I also love the idea that I will have help from my city families!

  14. I’m looking forward to the next stage of your adventure, Annette. Congrats on the imminent move. And it was great to meet you in Seattle last week!

    • Tovar it was so great to meet you in person – thank you for giving me the chance! I can’t wait for your book to come out.

  15. I’m so excited for you, Annette! We talk about doing pretty much the same thing, but we haven’t gotten as far down that road as you. We want room for our son to roam and explore, room for a large garden (instead of our sun-deprived lot in BT), and a chance to get away from the city. For us it would have to be a part-time thing until my husband can retire–weekends and partial weeks worked remotely, but some time still in the city every week.

    Your new home looks idyllic, and I wish you all the best. If you figure out good ways to grow in part-shade, I’ll be listening with rapt attention. We’ve pretty much given up gardening at our house because of too much shade and too many failed crops. We’ve found that we can grow artichokes and greens well; most other things are iffy. The combination of too much shade and too little warmth has been hard!


    • Nancy I just stumbled into this place while looking for communal property. Somehow the stars aligned because before this I had never even thought of leaving the city! I will be experimenting with full shade but you are on the right track with greens – anything that wants to go to seed readily. Wild greens are the best (Territorial seed has a wild lettuce blend). Arugula, Italian chicories, huckleberries, alpine strawberries. You can also grow things in containers on a wheeled cart and move them around to get more sunlight. Maxing out your sun spots by growing vertically and succession sowing help a lot as well.

      Shady spots also work well for things like meat rabbits, chickens, compost, dairy goats, mushrooms…not all food is vegetative.

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