Life in LA
I grew up in Maryland and traveled a bit, while Wendy grew up in England and traveled extensively. We both lived in a variety of places as adults and eventually met in Los Angeles, CA while volunteering with a local dog rescue organization.
We quickly found common ground and got married in 2014. Wendy’s a great cook and spends her free time making soap, knitting, and crocheting. I’m not a great cook and like to spend time woodworking, fermenting food, and caring for animals. While in LA, we canned, made bread, gardened, and experimented with roasting coffee beans (disaster!), creating bone meal from scraps (not so great either), and making jam from our own grapes (winner!). We used to read Urban Farm and Hobby Farms magazines on a regular basis and looked forward to the day—not knowing if or when it may come—that we’d be able to try the things we were learning about.
We put a lot of thought into where our food was coming from—its impact on the people and animals involved, our health, and the health of our planet. We ordered organic grains in bulk, stored them in spin buckets, and ground them as needed. We sought products from pastured animals and paid a premium for it, ultimately consuming less to keep our budget intact. We produced about 10% of our food via a small garden, some fruit trees, and chickens (for eggs, not meat). We raised our own turkey one year for Thanksgiving and dreamed about becoming primarily self-sufficient one day, growing and raising the majority of our food and having more time to spend on homesteading-related hobbies.
We spent our honeymoon in Central California, where we toured a biodynamic winery and learned how the farm “employs” sheep to aerate the soil, uses companion planting, and encourages owls to make the vineyard their home. On the long, boring, drive home along I-5 we had lots of time to discuss our aspirations. We talked about having a family and how we both wanted to stay home with our kids. This led to a simple but ultimately life-altering question: How can we both stay at home and raise our children?
Sure, we had no experience beyond our tiny suburban plot. And we had always assumed it’d be more likely to cost us money than make us money. But it felt right. We didn’t question whether we wanted to do it, just whether we could. Could we support ourselves? What about health insurance and retirement? Would we end up having even less time with our kids because we’d be even busier? We spent several weeks thinking through solutions and eventually realized that YES, it was possible!
All we had to do was change everything about our lives to achieve it.
Since our primary goal was to spend more time with family, we didn’t want to launch an endeavor that would result in working more hours than we already were. Based on our research, it appeared most people who were farming the way we wanted to were struggling to remain financially viable despite working long hours. As we looked for a way to keep our costs low so our income could also be low, we decided we weren’t comfortable relying solely on our farm products.
But we had visited farms and realized agri-tourism might be a nice addition. Armed with a better idea of what we wanted to achieve, we began looking for properties we could afford to buy outright using whatever money we’d receive from selling our house in LA. We needed the land to be located somewhere tourists would like to stay, and to keep costs down, we also needed a temperate climate with rainfall throughout the year to ensure we could keep our animals on pasture rather than having to buy and feed hay.
We scoured the United States and couldn’t find the right match: We couldn’t afford land where tourists wanted to visit. And even if we could, we still had the high cost of health insurance and medical bills to consider. What to do….
Then it occurred to me: “Would you want to move back to Europe?” I asked Wendy, suddenly realizing a huge portion of the world was open to us due to her British citizenship. Wendy said she’d consider it, so we opened the search to all European countries who recognized same-sex marriage.
And as it turns out, the French countryside is a perfect fit. The price of farmland suits our budget, there’s good rainfall and a temperate climate, healthcare is affordable and highly rated, the culture appreciates real food, and the French Government prioritizes regenerative agriculture over factory farming. There are also small schools and villages, and a pace of life that resonates with us.
Should We Really Do This?
Let’s be honest. This isn’t normal. I worked for the U.S. Government and Wendy worked for an airline. We had steady jobs with predictable hours and a decent income. In June of 2015, we’d begun fostering a baby girl and in September, a baby boy joined us. If all went well, they’d be joining our family permanently. We had close friends in LA and three senior dogs. Was it really a good idea to round everyone up, ship out, and take a chance on something completely new?
There were lots of reasons not to do it. But once we had clearly envisioned this alternate life of ours, there was no going back. We knew we’d always regret not trying. So we committed to the idea and made a plan.
Ready, Set, Go!
I let my employer know I’d be leaving in a year or so, and Wendy phased out of her job so she could stay home with the kids after her family leave ended. We saved as much as we could for the move and after the state of California finalized our children’s adoptions in November 2016, we were able to shift into the final stages of our move.
Driving across country was a bucket-list item for both of us, so we decided to loop that into the move. After all, the kids weren’t in school yet and when else would we be able to travel for an extended period without putting our responsibilities on hold? So we bought a travel trailer, had a hitch put on the minivan, sold our house, then set off in May of 2017 and explored national parks for seven months—as “seven souls in a closet” as one of our friends put it. Yes, it was a squeeze with two adults, two toddlers, and three dogs in an 18-ft travel trailer, but we wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
We ended our road trip in Maryland, pulling into my parents’ house in a December snow storm. After visiting with them for a while, our family of seven hopped flights to Spain to visit with Wendy’s family. Then in April, we began renting a place in the French countryside to get a sense for different communities and find the perfect place for us. A few months later, we purchased a 16-hectare (40-acre) property in the Haute-Vienne department and are currently working on setting up our farm.
I’ll add to our story when there’s more to share.
Thanks for visiting,