PHOTOGRAPHER & HOMESTEADER
Various Military Cities to Wardensville, West Virginia
To get to Deanna McCasland’s Homegrown Homestead, you wind down country roads through tiny townships, past streams and rivers, and finally down a long dirt road. At the end of the dirt road, past an old quarry, cow fields and goat pastures, stands the log cabin that Deanna shares with her husband and children. Deanna and her husband, a former U.S. Marine, spent the first chunk of their marriage hopping from one military city to the next. She shopped at big box stores, didn’t do much cooking and couldn’t keep a houseplant alive. When her husband’s military career ended Deanna decided it was time to leave that transient existence behind and plants roots in a place where they could build a happy, full and self-sufficient life in the country. They found their log cabin, with 22 acres of land, close to her husband’s new job and she set to work building their homestead. She knew very little about growing crops, preserving food and raising animals, other than her time spent in her youth on her grandparent’s farm, but she didn’t let that deter her. She devoured books, watched YouTube videos and Googled everything from making bread and soap to butchering animals. They create a majority of the food they consume now: produce from their garden, eggs from their chickens and meat from their animals and her husband’s hunting successes. In addition to managing their homestead, Deanna also home schools her children, Marleigh and Maddox, and runs a successful photography business. Her children are independent, articulate, curious, and wise beyond their years. They learn as much in their outdoor pursuits as they do in their schoolbooks each day. Her children each raise their own animals, help plant and tend the garden, and participate in the chore rotations on the farm. Deanna is a self-trained photographer and over the last five years she has built an impressive portfolio showcasing her personal style. She has shot for numerous publications and families, capturing light and people in a raw, effortless and magical way. Last month the couple welcomed their third child, Bear, to the family. Now as five, this incredible family continues to work towards building a beautiful and self-sufficient life in the mountains of West Virginia. (Click here to jump to her interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
My husband was born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia and I spent a big part of my childhood on my great grandparent's farm in South Carolina. Some of my best memories were made while I lived there. The joy of picking vegetables from the garden, the fresh eggs, pastured-raised meats, always having animals around and a sense of freedom that came along with that life, was what I wanted for my children. My kids always ask me to tell them stories of growing up on my great grandparent's farm and now they are building their own stories at our farm to tell their children someday.
We found our cabin on 22 acres of land in West Virginia. It was the perfect mix of both my husband's childhood and mine. My husband grew up working on farms and always admired the folks who had that lifestyle. We also are very passionate about our food and hate what the food industry is becoming. We are all or nothing kind of people and once we get an idea we run with it. I dont think farming was ever brought up when we first met, but somehow over the years this dream evolved and we chased it.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
The hardest part was growing roots where we didn't have any close family or friends. Once my husband got out of the military (having spent all of our marriage up to that point with the military telling us where we would live) we wanted to have freedom to pick anywhere we wanted. We wanted to start over completely and start a new life, so that is just what we did. Being a new family in a small town of just 300 people can be a bit hard at first because it seems that everyone is so close knit. We felt initially like outsiders, but over time we have formed many friendships here and they have been a huge help with our children and getting things going on the farm. We also didnt really have a clue of what we were doing when it came to the back bones of farming, but we are learning and getting better year by year. Our motto around here tends to be, "the best way to learn is to fail" and that is what we have been cycling. We are teaching ourselves along the way and have made so much progress in the short time we have been here.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
I think the biggest surprise is simply seeing what we are capable of. Before we moved out here we were so ridiculously spoiled by god coffee, nice restaurants and having a grocery store five minutes out the door. Our town is becoming a small tourist destination for people passing through and coming out to West Virginia for hunting or camping so we do have a few small diners and such. But if you need to buy something at a big box store or fill a Starbucks fix you need to drive about an hour over the mountain to get it. When we lived in the city I always said that I couldn't cook and now I make every meal from scratch. Everything from our meats, vegetables, and breads are harvested, processed, and made with our own two hands. I went through a time when we first got married where I would not touch raw meat and now I am helping process all of our own meats right in our yard and kitchen. I was actually vegetarian for seven years prior to this and I could barely keep a house plant alive. Now we are gardening and harvesting vegetables to last all year in a garden plot that is more square feet than our home and a newly built greenhouse. We are canning, sewing quits and clothes, knitting blankets and sweaters, making our own soaps, and doing everything out here by hand. I feel like while the rest of the world is moving forward, we are taking a step backwards, but it's a good thing. The trades I am learning out here are skills that are vanishing and if we don't teach our children how to connect to the land and the art of self-sufficiency, this rich lifestyle will eventually become extinct. We are evolving as humans and getting back to how things were done a long time ago. We are teaching ourselves how to do these things and learning through our experiences. Our children are right along for the ride as we home school them and they are learning things that will never be taught in a classroom. We are now getting ready to welcome our third baby into the world I am even more passionate about pushing forward with this life we have built. Seven years ago I would have never even uttered the words "homebirth" and now as we prepare for one I am so thankful for the woman this lifestyle has turned me into. We are living a rich life, a life how it used to be, before society got too comfortable and dependent on big agro and government subsidized farming. This lifestyle has met every expectation and more. I look forward to continuing to grow and get better at our homesteading skills over the years.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss most about the city?
The first year was a struggle. I will never forget having a severe breakdown moment after the first week of being here. It was in the middle of summer, bugs were everywhere, there is no air conditioning in our cabin so we were all grumpy and hot and it felt like nothing was going right. I was so frustrated and remember thinking, "what in the hell are we doing?" I walked out on the the front porch to get some fresh air and it was like the sky was putting on the show over the mountains. I remember thinking, "yep, this is worth it." Every bit of it is worth it and is making us stronger. Ripping off the Bandaid the city put on us and getting used to things not being as convenient was really the hardest part. The only thing I miss is being a stranger in my own town. Our tiny town has a population of 300. It feels like everyone knows you or knows something about you. Chances are when you run an errand in town you will see at least 10 people (or more) that you know. They are all very friendly and I do love our close-knit community, but sometimes there are days, especially being an introvert, where you just want to be a stranger again.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
I really don't think that I could. When we leave our farm to visit family, friends or for business, all I can think about is how I can't wait to get back. I love waking up every morning with a purpose; animals to feed and a garden to grow. This life is so incredibly fulfilling.
What do you appreciate most about life in the country?
I honestly appreciate it all. The lessons, the simplicity, the hard work and resting my head at the end of the day knowing I made a difference for my family.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to the country?
Do it. It is a hard life, but it's a good life. If you are truly passionate about this kind of lifestyle then don't waste anymore time putting it off.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Starbucks, get what I need from the store and get back to the country as fast as possible.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I am deeply moved and inspired by the mundane and raw lifestyle we live. I try to convey that same honesty in my images.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Most definitely! I feel like all artists evolve and respond to their surroundings. When our lifestyle changed drastically, so did my inner self and that evolution manifested in my images.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you couldn't do the city?
YES! Before, I would have never been okay with shoveling chucken poop, preparing goats to give birth, caring for stinky pigs first thing in the morning or processing wild game in my kitchen.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Our home and land inspires me on a daily basis. There is always something growing, changing, being born or hatched. The cycle of life and nature are all around us. I'm not sure how anyone could live with these daily miracles and not feel inspired at the end of the day.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
As cliche' as this may sound, there are a lot of jokes that surround the people of West Virginia. I myself, even made them before moving here. I actually told my husband when we first got together, "I'll live anywhere, BUT West Virginia." In all honesty, West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states I have ever been to, has the nicest people I have ever met and I don't ever think I could live anywhere else now that I am here. I want people to know that we aren't just some backwards country people. We are passionate, loving, smart, kind, and we love doing what we do. I love getting up first thing in the morning, enjoying a cup of coffee while the sun comes up over the mountain in front of our cabin, tending to animals, working hard until night fall and getting to do it all over again the next day.
And yes, we do have all of our teeth.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
This year we added pigs and started growing new vegetables that we haven't grown in the past. We also finished building a really large green house to prolong our gardening season and a culinary and medicinal herb garden. Next on our list is home birthing our baby in August and learning to go on with our farm work with a newborn added into the mix. Next year our big goals are beef and diary cows and honey bees. We will also be setting up at a local farmers market to sell our produce, goat milk soaps, cheeses, organic potted herbs, homemade breads and eggs. We are very excited about the things to come!