The first time we saw the land that is now Winter Farm, we were newly married and living in Des Moines. At the time, my husband spent the occasional Saturday playing baseball with an historic 1880’s team and each year they travelled to Missouri to play against another team at Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site. We decided to make the trip with the team and afterwards, to visit my parents who lived in nearby Kansas City.
The trip went well and though I can’t remember who won the game that year, I do remember admiring the view of the surrounding countryside with my husband. The shady field where they played sits atop a hill, and from there, rolling green hills of woods and pastures and horse farms stretched to the horizon. Though we didn’t know it yet, the future Winter Farm lay nestled in those hills.
After the game, we returned to our tiny 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of Des Moines. Our building was crammed between another apartment complex and a small shopping center with a dry-cleaner, grocery store, coffee shop, and Chinese restaurant. We had everything we needed within walking distance, but we still dreamed of owning our own place and of having more space.
We were reading lots of history and philosophy at the time and longed for what we perceived were simpler times. At a used bookstore we found a copy of Back to Basics, which is essentially a Readers’ Digest guide to homesteading. We studied illustrations of how to build barns and fences and fire-heated hot tubs (no joke). We tried out recipes for canning homemade jams and jellies and pickles. And we read directions about composting and companion planting. The fruits of self-sufficiency called to us in our little city apartment and we dreamed of a place in the country where we could practice all that building and canning and hot tub sitting.
A few years later, after both accepting jobs in the Kansas City area, the land now known as Winter Farm came up for sale. It was during the economic crisis of 2009 and the sellers had just drastically lowered the price. We knew that it was close to the site of that baseball game years before and, recalling the beauty of the area, decided to visit the house along with 2 others.
The first property we saw with our realtor was a tiny house that sat on 10 acres. It also sat at the top of our price range. The land was well-fenced but it lacked any sort of character and the house, though recently remodeled, felt cramped and awkward. There was no barn, only a very small pond, and the detached garage looked as if it might blow over during the next storm. In addition, it shared a driveway with the neighbors, who had broken-down cars and trash littering their yard. One of their dogs barked ferociously at us as we left the house.
The second property was an old farmhouse on a quiet 8 acres and it was the most affordable of the homes we would visit that day. The house was surrounded by beautiful old oak and maple trees. From the outside, it was a cute blue farmhouse. On the inside, however, it was dated and dark. The floor plan was haphazard and revealed the slapdash efforts of some long-ago family who added a room each time a baby was born. It was clear that it would require major remodeling. We liked the land though and considered that we might have to put in more work than we’d planned to make our dream home a reality.
Finally, we arrived at the third property. As we drove up the long driveway, we admired the faded red barn (with which you are already familiar if you’ve read this post) and a pear tree heavy with fruit. The house, however, was not necessarily attractive to us from the outside. It was a 1960s raised ranch and lacked the farmhouse charm of the previous two homes.
However, after a quick tour we were pleased to find that its uninspiring exterior betrayed a warm and inviting interior. A combination of real hardwood floors, a bright and cheery window seat, and a family room with wall to wall built-in bookshelves convinced us that this house, though not what we’d been picturing, would do just fine.
We headed outside to explore the 20 acres around the house. The front half of the property sloped gently to a small creek where tall trees blocked the view of the road and separated it from the recently hayed pastures. The back half of the property, starting just behind the barn, dropped towards a secluded lower field surrounded by trees on three sides. Another creek crossed the back corner of the property and a large pond sat on a terrace between the barn and the field. We could see fish swimming underneath the clear water.
My husband and I stood on the hill next to the barn that day and decided to make an offer on the house. It was the perfect place for us to start our life in the country and we held hands and said it prayer that it would be ours.
Two kids, 23 chickens, and 5 growing seasons later, we’ve learned a lot about the “simple” life we envisioned for ourselves here. Most days, our life here on Winter Farm resembles something between Thoreau’s Walden and the T.V. show Green Acres. In my next post I’ll share some of the triumphs and trials we’ve faced since moving to the country.