JASON & LORRAINE
SOW THE LAND
Los Angeles, California to the Blue Ridge region of North Carolina
A battle with cancer was the catalyst that emboldened Jason and Lorraine Contreras to analyze their lives and hone in on what would truly make them happy. They quickly realized that long work commutes, their lack of access to affordable, fresh, chemical-free produce and their inability to spend more time outside as a family because of their 50+ hour work weeks were standing in the way of living a happier and healthier life. They wanted to live a life that felt more rich, intentional and present. They were tired of staring at computer screens all day and not spending enough time with their daughter Penelope. Born and raised in the sprawling suburbs of Southern California, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave their large extended families and friends behind, but they were ready for a major life change and they knew that staying put wouldn’t allow them the freedom to grow and change the ways they needed to. Lorraine wanted to leave her high-profile fashion industry job and homeschool their daughter. Jason wanted to hone his self-taught woodworking skills and leave the 8-5 world behind. The expense of living in California was only attainable if they both worked full time. They would need to downsize their expenses considerably if they wanted to work less and live more. So, instead of getting discouraged they were proactive, spending many exhaustive hours researching locations around the country that had the qualities they were looking for; affordable, clean air and water, good soil, proximity to a small city with cultural offerings, mild seasons, and job opportunities.
A friend from Los Angeles who had moved to North Carolina several years earlier invited them to come for a visit. As soon as they arrived in the Blue Ridge mountains, they felt like they had come home. In April of 2016, Lorraine and Jason quit their jobs, sold their home and most of their belongings, and moved to a small community, a short drive away from Asheville, North Carolina. They planned to run Sow the Land, an online general store selling wooden wall hangings, spoons and cutting boards (made by Jason) and natural bath and wellness products (made by Lorraine). The Contreras bought a dilapidated trailer on 1.5 acres of fertile land and immediately got to work renovating their home and building their homestead. Now, walking into their 1,000 sqft mobile home feels like a fresh breath air - minimally appointed, light-filled and comfortable. They have worked hard to par down their possessions to only the essentials; records, books, cooking implements and tools. The only “clutter” is Penelope’s beloved rock, stick and feather collection that lines the bathroom sink. They built a greenhouse, a chicken coop, a garden shed, a wheelbarrow and numerous outdoor play stations for Penelope. Jason converted a 140 sqft shed into his woodshop.
Learning by books and trial and error, they have successfully begun to grow and raise a majority of the food they eat. They’ve even started a Sow the Land Youtube channel with instructional homesteading videos to inspire and teach those who are just starting out. With their significantly lower monthly expenses, Lorraine is now able to homeschool Penelope. In addition to their online store, Jason transforms school buses and vans into tiny homes with his friends from Blue Ridge Conversions and Terravan. The Contreras are now able to spend ample time as a family outside and Penelope is learning useful country skills that she would’ve never learned growing up in the suburbs of Southern California. On any given day she can be found in her outdoor “mud kitchen” cooking up something from her imagination or searching for salamanders in the stream that runs along their property line. Although quitting their jobs and moving across the country away from their family and friends wasn’t an easy decision, they couldn’t imagine returning back to the rat race again. They have found their bliss; living simply and enjoying the hard work and daily rhythms of country life. (Click here to jump to their interview)
Why did you decide to leave the city?
It started in 2009 when I (Jason) was diagnosed with cancer. I am now 9 years in remission. We started to look at nutrition and slowly began to cut out bad stuff in our diet. Then it kind of evolved from there. We began looking at how to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient. Then we started to look at our surrounding area with the traffic and smog. It was a combination of wanting to be out of the pollution and have more land to start a small homestead. Our goal was to live more intentionally and minimally.
Why did you choose Leicester, NC?
We chose Leicester because we felt that it was a more rural area than what we were used to but still close enough to a city (Asheville) with modern conveniences. We felt a good sense of community of like-minded people here.
What was the hardest part about making the transition from city to small town? What challenges came later?
Pairing down our stuff and getting rid of things we didn’t use was difficult. It took us a few years to slowly minimize our things before we moved. Also, being away from family has been hard. In California our families were about an hour from each other. It has been difficult not seeing them every week.
The challenges that came later were realizing that we really have to be intentional with meeting up with friends and going on play dates with our daughter.
How have your professional lives changed since moving away from the city?
I (Jason) was working as a Computer Drafter at a company for 16 years, and now I still do freelance from home. We have a small online home goods shop where we sell the things we make (my woodworking art and my wife's Apothecary line of products). We also have our own YouTube channel where make homesteading type videos and talk about leaving the city. Another thing I do is turn school buses into tiny homes on wheels. Being here has made us more creative with everything that we do professionally.
I (Lorraine) used to work in the fashion industry near Los Angeles, California. I worked really long hours and sat in over 2 hours of traffic daily. Now my hours are spent homeschooling our daughter, cooking all of meals from scratch, preserving the food we grow in our gardens and helping with the processing of our pasture-raised poultry.
What do you appreciate most about the life you’ve created here?
The time we have to spend together as a family. The best times are when we are in our garden snacking on the best food and forgetting to make dinner. Also, the people in the community that we have met are all so inspiring and very welcoming.
Is there anything you miss about living in a more urban area?
Sidewalks! We miss being able to go for a run around the neighborhood.
Would you ever consider moving back to a big city?
No, I don’t think so.
What advice do you have for people who want to leave the city but don’t know how to start planning their exit?
Start by downsizing your stuff. Figure out why you want to leave the city. If it’s because you want this homestead lifestyle then I would do the research. Start where you’re at by growing food in your backyard, take workshops and find like-minded people in the community who enjoy these same things.
Did you have any experience growing food prior to moving here?
We started growing food 6 years ago in our backyard. Both of us did not grow up with a garden or even knew how to grow food. We started with a few raised beds and it evolved from there.
What advice would you give to someone interested in growing their own food?
I would suggest to go to your local nursery or even a big box store and buy some plant starts. Then put them in the ground. That’s how we started. The beauty of growing your own food is that it doesn’t have to be perfect and every year you get better at it. In other words, just do it!
Do you notice a trend of young people wanting to leave city life behind? If yes, why do you think that is?
Yes, I think people are searching for more of a simpler life. We grew up being told that we had to go to college, buy a house with a white picket fence, have two cars and all this stuff. All this debt! That is exactly what we did. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that but I think more people are realizing that you don’t need any of that to be happy or successful.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
We have always heard that people in the country will not welcome new people to the area. We kind of had the mindset that nobody was going to welcome us into their community. We were so wrong! Everyone that we have met is so friendly.
Compared to where we are from in Southern California, the country here is a lot slower paced. People are not in a rush here. Slowing down is something we are trying to work on. We had people tell us that we were going to dislike slowing down but we honestly have really enjoyed it thus far.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Continue to work on our business and grow better food. Also to make more YouTube videos to share our story and help/inspire people to live a more self-sufficient life.