We’re Chris and Beth, and this blog is about our journey to turn 20 acres in east Tennessee into a homestead.
One of our first conversations as a couple was about life goals: we both wanted to own land. Raise and rescue animals, grow food and flowers (Beth), hunt and fish (Chris), camp, hike, forage, build stuff.
We thought it was a far-off dream, but in the first couple years of our relationship, watching our city’s population soar to 2.5 million, we craved a slower pace. When Chris’ work asked him to handle regional work in Tennessee, it was a welcome invitation to try something new sooner than expected.
A weekend trip helped us decide on the Knoxville area. The beauty of the smoky mountains, cheesy fun of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and proximity to cities like Asheville and Knoxville would make it easier to leave our urban comfort zone.
We wanted to rent land first. If country living weren’t for us, or if we missed friends and family – as well as walking to the gym and a 5-minute drive to 5 grocery stores – we could roll back to the city. We contacted rural rental agencies and scoured online listings for “farms for rent,” or at least acreage with liveable structures.
The rule of farms for rent quickly revealed itself: acreage connected to rental houses is usually rented separately for horses, cattle, hay, and even other renters in mobile homes and campers. People monetize acreage until the cows come home…er, until they don’t need cows to turn a profit. After owning land, we also now understand it would be risky to rent to people who might not know how to keep nature under control. Maintaining land takes more money and time than most sane renters would invest.
We were growing discouraged when we came across a strange but oddly right-for-us Craigslist ad for a geodesic dome near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its 5 wooded acres weren’t good for chickens, goats, or gardening, so that part of our plan would have to wait. In the meantime, we’d learn about building alternative housing, since the dome was livable but not quite finished.
We realized right away that we loved geodesic domes, rural life, and east Tennessee. Our new plan was to purchase land nearby and build our own dome home. The search for land started in late summer. We made an offer as fall color started and closed on our very own 20 acres as the wind took the leaves off the trees.
At the founding of this blog, we were still renting the [never finished] geodesic dome as we began to settle our land, which needed everything from a driveway to power and water. One of our fields was so full of saplings and thorns it was difficult to walk across. The other was kudzu.
In the coming year, we learned about forestry and field maintenance, got a running start on infrastructure, planned the dome home and bought a kit, and had a metal polebarn built for dry storage. The year after that, we turned the barn into a barndominium, a cozy stopgap to let us ride out the contractor shortage that delayed construction of our dome. Moving onsite let us invest in our own land instead of paying rent and begin food cultivation and landscaping in earnest. After carefully watching where the sun moved throughout the day, we dove into planting food and raising animals.
Settling raw land is the hardest thing we’ve ever done. We’ve pushed through yellowjacket attacks, heat exhaustion, pulled muscles, and smashed thumbs to finish projects ahead of harsh weather and make the most of weekend equipment rentals. We’ve worked 9-hour nights on the land after 9-hour days at our jobs. We’ve compensated for lack of experience with optimism, flexibility, research, listening skills, and a fearlessness for looking stupid. The morning we woke up on our land for the first time, every dent, scratch, splinter, sting, and sleepless night became worth it. It’s a deeply satisfying life.
If your dreams look anything like ours, we hope sharing our experiences will be helpful. You may want to start with the following posts, and please feel free to contact us with questions.
The Costs of Settling Raw Land