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KIRSTEN & PATRICK

HOMESTEADERS

Various Cities to Liberty, Maine

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To get to Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and Patrick Jackson’s 200-year old Hostile Valley Homestead, you meander along country byways, up a steep gravel road lined with woods, onto a hilltop clearing. Their farm spans both sides of the road, barn on one side and home on the other. Fortunately, the only traffic is from the daily mail delivery and the one neighbor who lives past them. A self-proclaimed “goose lady”, Kirsten’s mixed heritage flock of geese offer a noisy greeting for passersby. When Kirsten and Patrick first saw this historic farm in late summer of 2015, they knew instantly it was where they were meant to be. For Patrick, Hostile Valley meant leaving his corporate career behind and starting a new venture in agriculture. For Kirsten, Hostile Valley gave her the space she needed to live out her dream of raising goats and geese, and building a sustainable homestead. Leaving a cushy suburban in-town existence and moving into a dilapidated farm would scare away most without vision and thick skin, but Kirsten and Patrick were up for the challenge.

 

The winter of 2015/16, with too many projects that needed attention on their new property and not enough time to get the house ready to move in, they opted to commute several times a week to the farm to work and continued to live in their home in the suburbs. Both raised in Maine, they knew the harsh weather they were in for when they moved full time to their Hostile Valley Farm in the late summer of 2016. They immediately got to work batten down the hatches for their first winter. That winter they lived in two rooms of their farmhouse and insulated all the doors and windows to ensure the place would stay warm through freezing temperatures. With no functional bathroom, they used a bucket for their business and took the occasional shower at a friend’s house. In their unheated barn, they set up a functional kitchen, which meant hoofing it through the snow each morning for coffee, and cooking meals in coats, gloves and hats. For their first year living on the farm, they focused their efforts on fixing the barn and getting their animals set up and comfortable. It wasn’t until year two that they prioritized their own comforts and began working on their home.

 

Urban Exodus visited Kirsten and Patrick twice, once in fall of 2017 when they were preparing for their first winter, and then one year later in the fall of 2018, when they were in the final stages of renovating their home. Their progress in one year was immediately visible. Acres of overgrown land had been cleared, the barn resided with cedar shingles, and their previously run-down Cape was restored with a new metal roof, windows, front door and back deck. Kirsten and Patrick did nearly all of the renovation work themselves, which was rewarding and cost efficient, but meant for a long project as they learned along the way. This summer they moved out of their house entirely and into a tent in the yard so they could live away from the construction mess. After two years of living without a functioning bathroom, they just plumbed and finished their upstairs toilet, shower and sink. While the couple had grown accustomed to living without, they fully appreciate their new working bathroom and their expanding square footage. They are hustling to complete construction before the first snowflakes fall.

 

Once their house is finished and the winter winds down, they will focus on phase three – making their homestead work for itself. Their future plans involve planting acres of elderberries and possibly making their own line of CBD infused elderberry elixirs and tonics. They will also begin breeding and milking their goats to make goat milk products, and start a rare heritage geese breeding program. Patrick has retired from the corporate world and works full-time on their farm now. Kirsten continues to work a full-time job as a sales manager and makes the 45-minute commute four times a week. Since moving to Hostile Valley, Kirsten has somehow managed to fit freelance writing into her very busy schedule. She has written two books, A Modern Homesteader's Guide to Keeping Geese released in 2017, and So You Want to Be a Modern Homesteader: All The Dirt on Living the Good Life is releasing in November 2018. She also writes articles for Mother Earth News, Grit and Hobby Farms.

 

At the end of a long day Kirsten loves to take her herd of goats out for a little frolic in the fields. Her beloved bottle-fed goat Lucky usually leads the pack, leaping higher than seems possible for his squatty black Nigerian Dwarf frame. While they haven’t had much free time in the last two years to sit back and reflect, Patrick and Kirsten take pleasure out of the physical and intellectual labors of restoring their historic farm. When feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending "to do" list, a walk through the small generational cemetery where the previous stewards of this beautiful land are buried helps refocus their efforts and remember to enjoy whatever each day holds. They look forward to finding a rhythm to their days once the renovation projects are complete. Until that day comes, the simple accomplishment they feel just being able to take a shower or make coffee in the morning without having to run across the street to the barn is more than enough to get them through this development phase. (Click here to jump to their interview)

 

www.hostilevalleyliving.com

 

{ AUTUMN 2017 }

 

{ AUTUMN 2018 }

 

What inspired you to move to the country and start your homestead?

When we first started our relationship almost eight years ago, one of the first things we did was take a tour of local Maine creameries and dream about possibly making goat cheese someday. That vision changed a lot over the years, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve known we wanted to get rural for a long time.

I grew up in rural Maine, and I must admit that I spent much of my youth desperate to get to the city where I thought all the cool things happened. I actually went to college in a pretty rural place also, but I ventured into Boston and New York as much as I could, and I learned almost immediately it wasn’t the place for me. After that, I ended up living in suburbia with my partner, Patrick, really unsure of what to do next.

Patrick, on the other hand, has lived all around the world in major cities. There were many factors for him wanting to move to the country, including providing a more wholesome life for his children and taking his own health into consideration. He also, being the more entrepreneurial of the two of us, saw the opportunity for having a more fulfilling lifestyle while still being able to make a living financially. And, let’s face it, we both wanted goats!

We were actively looking for the right place to start our farm for almost two years. In that time, we totally outgrew our suburban home. The week before our big move, animal control came to our door to let me know that if a goose was hit by a car, we’d be responsible for the damages. We couldn’t wait to leave.

 

Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?

For us the initial challenge was how rough the property we were moving to was. There was no electricity, no running water, and of course no plumbing. We were working on a tight budget and bootstrapping a lot of solutions, and we couldn’t put all that together right away. The house is totally on the back burner for us, the barn was our first priority to fix up and make livable for our animals and after that we looked to the fields for our crops. So, we still don’t have a toilet or an indoor shower. I was worried that these things would bother me, but I do not even notice their absence.

We’re also farther from a lot of modern amenities, we have to plan our weekly grocery shopping and feed store trips more carefully. Everything just takes a little bit longer to reach us, or a little bit more effort to go out of the way and get.

Ironically, I will say I expected more privacy from rural living. Neighbors here are friendly and supportive, but one of the inspirations in my longing for the country was a wish for solitude, and it is surprising how many people just stop by to say hello on a given day.  

 

What surprised you most about living rurally? Did it meet your expectations?

I would say the attention of the neighbors was the first surprise. I should not have been surprised, but I didn’t expect everyone around the property to stop by and see who had “bought the old Whitaker place”. The history around our farm is deep, and learning more about it from people who grew up around here has been fascinating.

Around here, one of our neighbors reports on any car that goes by that isn’t local. I hear a lot of other people talking about the community that bands together in a rural setting, and that is totally true - I just happen to be someone who really values my privacy, and sometimes I find that aspect of country life a bit stifling, surprisingly enough.

 

Perhaps more romantically, I never knew that the seasons would be so vivid here. When you are outside all day, every day, each little change in the seasons is an event. It isn’t just winter, spring, summer, and fall, it’s maple season and pussy willow season and then slowly tulips and daffodils, and so on.  

 

Would you ever go back to an urban existence? 

Heck no!

 

What do you appreciate the most about the life you’ve created here? 

The freedom. It really is like a dream life. Every day we get up to the sound of birds chirping in the woods, the eager faces of the goats and poultry greet us, and we spend the time we have working the land, building our home. Even the hardest work we have to do for this property is its own reward, because we are doing our own work, for our own future.

 

The smallest thing I appreciate the most is the outdoor shower. I can’t really describe how perfect it is to feel free, naked under the sun, and be able to look out on fields we’ve cleared and our animals happily grazing while showering off the dirt of a hard day’s work. You really feel like you are at one with nature and you are working with her to build your dreams.

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?

I think it is really important to think about why you want to move and to be realistic. It’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be remote and quiet and while you probably will have neighbors stopping by and a sense of community, you don’t have restaurants or social events unless you seek them out or travel for them. If you are realistic about the kind of lifestyle this will be, and you know that’s what you want, this can be a wonderful way of life.

 

Have you noticed a trend of more young people wanting to farm or be more self-sufficient? 

Absolutely. I have found way more young people interested in where their food comes from than at any other point in my life.  It is an important issue for the millennial generation, and it is certainly “trendy”. That’s the risk of moving out to the country, why I’d caution people to be realistic and do their research: it’s not as romantic as some Instagram feeds make it look. But having said that, it’s a great way of life and it puts you in tune with so many natural forces. I think it is crucial we understand where our food comes from, vegetables and meat, and that we have at least a basic understanding of how to feed and heal ourselves.  

 

It’s my personal opinion that too many people today rely on restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors to help them, and that might not always be available.  I’m not a “prepper” and I use all of those modern resources, but at the same time, I think it is important to have the ability to take care of yourself, even if it is not something you have to do on a day to day basis.  

 

You raise several types of animals on your homestead, which breed is your favorite?

The geese started it all. We got our first two geese in 2013, and they imprinted on us and became our fast companions.  We have twelve now, and I wrote a book on raising geese. I have a lot to thank them for, and they are a staple of our farm.  I think they set us apart, pulling down our road and seeing this elegant flock of geese running up from the fields with their wings widespread.

 

But the goats - the goats are the biggest hit on my social media, and they have a special spot in my heart. I’ve wanted goats for as long as I can remember and it is a treat to have them. This spring we had one baby goat whose mother rejected it, and we bottle fed him and I brought him to work every day - even to my work’s big summer open house - and it is hard not to think of him as my “baby”.  Raising any animal from a chick or a kid or a lamb, you see them grow up and their personalities form, and every animal has a distinct personality. There’s nothing like raising animals, it is truly a blessing that they let us be their friends and guardians.

 

For the record, we are not vegetarians, though none of our animals are raised for meat.  If we did raise animals for meat I would make an effort not to bond with those creatures as deeply. But all of our animals do serve a purpose, and we have selected them for their special skill sets: geese as guardians and weeders, chickens for eggs, goats for milk and to help us clear the land.   

 

Are there any books, blogs, etc. that you would recommend to someone wanting to start homesteading?

It is wonderful how many great resources are out there for people wanting to start a farm or homestead. I encourage folks to do a lot of research before getting started, especially with animals because their lives will be dependent on you. There is not one title or resource that I have found the most helpful for working with animals, I like delving into each particular creature fully and finding all the books I can on that animal’s care.  

 

The one book I read right after we moved that I found to be the perfect balance of a philosophy of rural life and a practical resource for realistic ideas of how to make a living was The Contrary Farmer by Gene Lodgsdon.  Lodgsdon isn’t really talking about making the change to farm life - he lived on a farm all his life - but he does talk about the beauty and satisfaction of rural living, and has smart and resourceful ideas of how to make a farm profitable in the modern age.  

 

Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?

For two years now I’ve been writing about farm living, homesteading, and offering advice based on my experiences. My first inspiration was from the geese, because I found there was simply no easy to find information on how to raise and care for geese. Since then I’ve expanded my writing work a great deal to cover other things I feel there is a need or a lack of knowledge. Each day to day experience on the farm can be translated into inspiration for a new writing project.

 

I started growing my own food out of a desire for self sufficiency. I do not want to be spending hundreds of dollars in order to be able to eat healthy and fresh, but more than that, I don’t want to be relying on anyone else to be providing me with my food or to rely on their word as to the origin and freshness of the food.  

 

Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?

Oh, absolutely. I had no idea this move would change me so much. I cannot quantify how much happier I am here. It is as if a weight has been lifted from my mind. I’m busier out here, doing work to keep our farm going, and there is a security in knowing every day that there is something to do. Sometimes I stand out on the front lawn at night and look over at the sunset, which is just beyond our barn, and listen to the chirrups and whistles of nature, and I just cannot believe that I am here. It’s not just made me happier, it has given me purpose in life.

 

I also simply don’t give a crap about a lot of judgements anymore. I used to worry about what people thought of what I was wearing or how much makeup I wore, and I just don’t have time to care about those things anymore. It is incredibly freeing.

 

Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired? 

I feel so fortunate that we were able to find a property with as much land as we have. I can find a secret spot up the mountain, or wander down to a seasonal waterfall in the springtime. But most of all I enjoy just sitting in front of the barn in the sunlight and watching the animals play. I could do that for hours and never get bored. Sitting in my garden is similar - in fact I could do that for longer because snacks are right there!

 

What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities? 

I think people assume that country living is easy, that it’s just hanging out in nature, sitting around watching the animals and enjoying fresh vegetables. To keep your animals happy and alive, to grow that fruit – that is going to take significant effort.

 

When we lived in suburbia, I could feel everyone judging us all the time. Here, no one bats an eye and everyone is willing to help. People gossip everywhere, and I’m sure that there is plenty of judgement behind closed doors about us, but folks don’t let it show and it is not a competition. I feel like in essence, everyone has more important things and their own lives to worry about.

 

What are your future plans/goals for the coming year? 

This next year – well, this next five or so years – promise to be very busy! We are finally able to start work on our house, which will be next summer’s big project. We have plans to expand our vegetable garden and to put in our first crops. The long term plan for the farm is to grow elderberries for medicinal use, since elderberries are a native Maine plant with amazing health benefits.  We also want to expand our goat operation to include milking them for cheese, creams, and caramels, and I would like to start actively breeding and selling heritage breed geese in the future. I will have a new book project starting this winter, and I want to start growing more herbs as well as vegetables.  

 

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