HANNAH & JESSE
ROUGH DRAFT FARMSTEAD
Chicago & New York City to Bugtussle, Tennessee
To get to Hannah Crabtree and Jesse Frost’s Rough Draft Farmstead you drive along the Kentucky and Tennessee border, up and down rolling hills, past expansive farming operations and over a flowing creek bed. Their homestead stands proudly in the tangle of ongoing projects: reclaiming farmland, finishing their cold frame, building an outdoor kitchen, etc. In their previous city professions, Jesse was a sommelier at a wine store in New York City and Hannah was an artist in Chicago. They both decided that they didn’t want to spend the next chapter of their lives in the city and moved back to their home state of Kentucky to learn to farm. Fate brought them together, interning on the same farm, and the pair became instantly inseparable. After a few years of learning the ropes, they purchased three acres of land from a farming mentor to build their first home and start their own CSA, in the dry county town of Bugtussle, Kentucky. With limited means available from their meager income as farmhands, the couple set up a successful crowd-funding project to buy the materials to build their efficient off-grid dwelling. Their capital campaign raised $5,000, enough to build their home using lots of reclaimed materials, sweat equity and the help of friendly neighbors. They decided to forgo the costly steps of including electricity, septic and running water in the initial stage but they hope to someday soon add some modern comforts to their home. Instead they rely on coolers and the shade beneath their house to keep food fresh, the creek to wash themselves and their clothes/diapers/dishes, and the wood stove to keep their house warm in the winter and free of mold in the sweltering, damp summer months. Once Hannah and Jesse finished their home, they set to work reclaiming the pasture and farmland from years of overgrowth. By hand, the two of them have made great strides towards clearing the brush and reinvigorating the land and soils. They keep pigs, chickens and have incorporated rotational grazing to prep their farmland for crops. They started a CSA, one of the only pesticide-free operations in their area, supplying clean food for their community. This year the couple welcomed their son Further to the mix, which has slowed things down a bit, but they haven’t let the joys and responsibilities of parenthood disrupt their progress. Each day, with Further tucked into his sling on Hannah’s hip, they work their fields, feed their animals and tick away at their endless list of home projects, until the sun dips below the horizon. Hannah and Jesse have completely transformed their lives, living remotely and simply, they have built a blissful and self-sufficient existence, and a working farm that will continue to grow and evolve each year. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Jesse: I was working in a boutique wine shop in New York City that specialized in organic and biodynamic wines. Through that job I met many winemakers who inspired me to want to make my own wine, or something like it. At the time I was also becoming intensely aware of how detached I was from my food. I didn't really know where food came from, or how to grow anything. I couldn't even keep a basil plant alive, and I didn't like that. It made me feel insecure and helpless. Farming seemed like a reasonable answer to that, and to making my own wines. Being from Kentucky, I pursued internships in and around the state. That's how I wound up in Bugtussle.
Hannah: I had a similar experience to Jesse's - I was living and working in Chicago when I met some urban beekeepers. Once I became fascinated with bees, it led me down a path to food production and farming. I thought about trying to learn how to grow food and keep bees - and it made sense to learn about this not in Chicago, but back where I was from in Kentucky. I think this also coincided with me getting older, feeling a pull to be closer to family instead of traipsing around the world. I searched WWOOF for farms in Kentucky that also had bees, and that is how I found Bugtussle.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Jesse: For me the hardest part was the physicality of the job. I immediately enjoyed it, but it definitely left me wondering if I was even capable of becoming a farmer. Eventually I built the muscle, but it didn't come quick. It took work. Later on, the hardest part was taking on all the stress of farming - especially running a CSA. It was one thing to just help someone out with their CSA, and a whole other to do it all yourself. This was a big lesson for me.
Hannah: Leaving the city was initially hard for me because I felt like a bit of a failure. I had spent my life traveling and getting as far away from Kentucky as possible. I always felt sorry for my friends who ended up moving back to where they grew up, or who never left in the first place. I had to go through a huge shift in my mindset - realizing that big cities are not "better" than small towns - and that coming home is not failing, especially when you are coming home to make your home and life better. Later on, after being in the country, it was the hard work, the lack of running water, no electricity and the isolation that took some getting used to.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Jesse: I was very surprised by how sweet and welcoming the locals were. I don't know what I expected, but I felt like an outsider coming to the country with my tight jeans, beard and lack of accent, but they made me feel like I belonged. In fact, Hannah and I have become very close with our neighbors over the last few years, and we often work right alongside them. They called us every day to see if our baby had arrived yet and brought us gifts when he was born.
Hannah: I also adore our neighbors. I think I was expecting to be sort of ostracized for being different, but that is just not the case. In fact, when I think about it, I lived for years in an apartment building - literally sleeping a few feet away from my neighbors, living in the same building with dozens of people - and I never got to know any of them. They were strangers. Now, we are intimately close with our neighbors, who sometimes live miles away. I find much more community in the country than I felt in the city.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Jesse: It's hard to get used to cooking every single meal, but the dining options out here are just, well, lacking. And the ones that aren't are an hour away. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss a fresh slice of pizza, a bagel, a pint of beer (we're in a dry county), or a nice cup of coffee. And when we go to the city, we do sometimes, unabashedly, indulge a little.
Hannah: In the summer, we have a swimming hole so it is no big deal - but I do miss a hot shower during the winter months. These conveniences of the city - running out to grab a quick lunch, making a cup of coffee, washing dishes - all of these things are completely different when the nearest restaurant is 45 minutes away and when you have to heat up water on the woodstove.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Jesse: I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about a urban farm, but the truth is when I think about it, it always comes down to three things for me.
1) Our farm looks crazy and I like it that way - I don't want to hear from some neighbor frustrated with the mess.
2) I like keeping noisy animals and a roaming dog.
3) I like having an outhouse.
Hannah: Often times when we are visiting friends in Nashville or Louisville, we have little moments of "Oh, we could live here." But those moments definitely pass when come home. Or when we spent a few days in the city and start feeling sick from eating out too much or over-stimulated by all the lights, TV commercials, and Internet usage. I think we get enough "urban existence" through our occasional visits to town, without needing to actually live there.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Jesse: Self-sufficiency. I like knowing that if the power goes out, if all the water pipes in the land blow up, we're fine. We have food and water and warmth. This winter we had a lot of really rough, cold weather. I called my mother after one rough storm and I expected her to be worried. She said, "Oh, I worry less about you out there than anybody." I really like that.
Hannah: Constantly being outdoors, constantly feeling physically fit and energized, constantly in awe of all the small miracles in nature. We are together as a family literally 24 hours a day - which maybe sounds like torture to some but really works for us. And we have a lot of privacy to do whatever we want on our farm - no one cares if we make too much noise with the chainsaw or if we build an insane looking tool shed in the front yard.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Jesse: If you plan to make your living off growing food, or raising animals, consider an internship. There is so much to learn, it is well worth it to do that learning on someone else's dime.
Hannah: Give yourself time to get used to it - it can be a huge transition. And don't feel like a failure if there are things you miss about the city. I don't think it has to be an all or nothing kind of thing - "All things having to do with the city are evil and everything is in the country is pure and good." Find the balance that works for you.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Jesse: Coffee, beer and bookstores.
Hannah: A hot shower, ice cream and Goodwill.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Jesse: At first, my inspirations were very philosophical. I read a lot of Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, etc. Not that I still don't love those things, but I grow increasingly inspired by other small farmers who are making it work in whatever way they can. I like the scrappiness. I like the creativity that comes out of it. It has become a great passion of ours to help small farmers get on land, or raise money. Other young farmers are where I draw my greatest inspiration.
Hannah: The people we feed and the young farmers who reach out to us inspire me constantly. It is easy to forget in the day-to-day, especially on those really tough days, why we are doing this. So having our customers showing us pictures of the meals they cook with our carrots, or a sweet email from a young couple moving to the country to start a farm like ours - that makes me look around and see this place and this life as I did when I first came - see how amazing and beautiful it is.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away
from the city?
Jesse: I've definitely slowed down. Not a lot, but a noticeable amount. If our neighbors come by I no longer want to jump out of my skin when they want to hang out for an hour and talk on a sunny work day. I've slowed down and learned to appreciate the world around me considerably more. I don't love the phrase, "Living in the moment," but I do sort of understand it more now.
Hannah: Physically, I am much stronger, and Jesse and I never really get sick anymore - whereas it seemed like in the city everyone is constantly "not feeling well" or getting over a cold. Personally, I am still the same person in some sense, but that young girl who wanted to travel constantly, never settle down and avoid getting stuck in one place, is now very permanently sticking her roots into a piece of land with her husband and child.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Jesse: My days start early. I get up an hour or two before the sun comes up to write. Then, after sunrise, I feed the pigs and chickens, and then we cook breakfast. Work starts shortly after breakfast, usually around 7 a.m., and we usually work until the late evening - with a lunch break - depending on the weather and time of year. In the city, I stayed up a lot later and didn't get nearly as much sun or exercise, but how it truly differs - it's perfectly okay to go to bed at 8 p.m.
Hannah: Jesse described it well, except my days also currently involve a dozen or so breastfeeding sessions and lots of washing of diapers.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Jesse: Well, I'm a lot grubbier here, and I mean that affectionately. In the city I took a shower every day. We don't even have a shower here - bathing is a pot of water on the wood stove in the winter and the creek in the summer. Oh, and our toilet is a bucket. Wouldn't have done that in the city. However, I don't get sick nearly as much as I used to here. I caught the flu a couple years ago and I think that's the last time I really got sick. A big change from city living where I was sick more often than not, it seemed. I attribute my health to dirt.
Hannah: Other than the bathroom and lack of shower stuff, probably a general inattention to appearance. I was much more aware or attentive to how I looked in the city - out here, clothing is more practical than stylish. There is no point in wearing nice things when I am likely to be covered in cow manure by the end of the day. I have been even known to wear Crocs when working in the garden, which is still a little bit upsetting to me. But it is very freeing to just throw on whatever and go about your day.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Jesse: Definitely the garden, I like to go there after a long market day, pick up a hoe and cultivate for a couple hours. It grounds me. It calms me down from all the talking and coffee. I need the garden.
Hannah: Outside. All the time.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Jesse: I think there is this idea that the countryside is just a bunch of conservative, gun-loving rednecks, and okay, to a certain extent that may be. But most of the people around here are wonderful humans. Truly. I would want people to understand how important it is to build a relationship with your neighbors, and not judge them for the way they farm, or vote. You quickly find how intelligent they are, how sincere, and how thoughtful. Plus, they will bend over backward to help you.
Hannah: What Jesse said, definitely.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Jesse: We would like to have running water and plastic on our high tunnel. After two years of living here without either, I feel like this is a reasonable goal.
Hannah: We are looking forward to a solid growing season with 10 more CSA members than last year. Also, after downsizing at the end of last season when our son was born, we are trying to limit our livestock this year to just pigs. Trying to keep it simple. Pigs and vegetables. If we can stay away from Craigslist maybe we can achieve this!