Before moving to the country, my husband, Troy, and I were part of the Nova Rat Race.
We lived in Northern Virginia (“Nova” as it’s known locally) with about thirteen trillion other residents. They say it’s a place for young professionals to start a career and grow in their field. The truth is, you have to have a career in order to afford to live there. We each worked full-time jobs in order to afford our mortgage, part-time daycare for only one child, and monthly food and utility bills. If I had to sum up what life in Nova was with one short phrase, that phrase would be “expensive and busy”.
There are certainly some perks to living in Nova. For one, it’s hard to run out of things to do. There is always an abundance of activities to entertain people of most ages at basically any time of the day or night. There are endless job opportunities for those looking, and there are always people willing to work. There’s something for everyone… Unless, of course, what you’re looking for is a simpler life.
Things there are constantly hectic. Everyone seems to need to be somewhere, now. If they’re not late for work, they’re late for an appointment, or to pick up a kid, or to pick up their food order. Everyone is in a rush and on the road, they will definitely let you know it—honking their horn, cutting you off in traffic, or showing you their favorite finger. Yes, it seems everyone is in go-go-go mode in Nova and constantly on the move… unless, of course, they’re in dead-stopped traffic during rush hour, which used to be twice a day, but has gradually become more often than not.
After living in Nova for the majority of our lives, Troy and I were, simply put, “over it”. We were “over” working our tails off and still not being able to save any money. We were “over” having someone else raise our kid. We were “over” the rudeness of locals. We were “over” the traffic. We were “over” the constant construction. We were growing more and more annoyed with the area but didn’t have much of a solution.
One day, Troy approached me with an idea. “We should move to the country”, he said. “I want a lot of land in the middle of nowhere.”
I was up for a new adventure, and the thought of moving had crossed my mind before, but I was envisioning relocating to a local small town, maybe still commuting to work but having a smaller mortgage for a bigger backyard, and less traffic near home. Troy had a different idea altogether and had a growing interest in becoming “self-sufficient”: he wanted to get out of “the ‘burbs” and learn how to homestead.
I had a lot of reservations about this plan. The idea of raising our own cute and fluffy chickens only to slaughter them for food was a disturbing thought. The “garden” in our backyard was limited to us trying to keep a potted tomato plant alive on our deck (we were only mildly successful; the plant grew OK, but we never got to taste the fruit—the squirrels took it all. I didn’t even know squirrels ate tomatoes. Weren’t they just supposed to eat nuts?). Could we really grow our own meat and produce successfully?
I had to admit, I was intrigued. No, I didn’t want any part of butchering animals, but the idea of having some chickens to have our own eggs sounded kind of fun. I also wanted to know the feeling of having a successful garden and the joy of walking outside and picking a snack right off the vine, or creating a dish from ingredients I grew. Once, years before, I purchased a passion plant and grew it until it fruited. The flowers were beautiful, and there was a satisfaction I had never felt before when I finally was able to harvest and eat the fruit. It wasn’t great—I think I picked it too early—but it felt like an accomplishment. Maybe gardening would be that, tenfold. I wanted to find out.
You might be wondering why we didn’t implement some of these things where we were in the suburbs; why did we have to move to grow a garden or have some poultry? At the time, we lived in a small house on a lot the size of a postage stamp in a huge neighborhood. We had a strict HOA that handed out violation notices like candy on Halloween. We were once penalized for chipped paint on our gable vent (I had to look up what the heck a gable vent was before I could correct the problem). They were not about to allow residents to have any sort of egg-laying birds reside on their property, nor any vegetable or fruit garden in the front yard (how unsightly!).
Unfortunately our house was very front-yard heavy, with a back yard just large enough to provide a bathroom space for our two dogs. If we wanted to live the life we envisioned, we would have to get out of our neighborhood and away from any HOA’s. In order to find a place with enough land we could afford and without the restrictions of neighborhood governments, we would have to get out of Nova entirely.
But where could we go?
Troy and I actually printed out a map of the United States and grabbed a pen. We sat down at our kitchen table and began to discuss where we would move, referencing the map.
“Well, it’s too cold up here,” my husband said as we crossed out the top of the country.
“Too hot down here, I’d still like to have seasons,” I said and the bottom of the map was slashed through with ink.
“Too prone to earthquakes here,” …an X through the west coast.
“I’d rather not deal with twisters,” …bye-bye Tornado Alley.
“This state is too flat… so are these. This one’s too mountainous… but I want to be close to the mountains, and maybe within a few hours’ drive from a beach, or at least a large lake. This area has too much crime. This area is too expensive. I’d like to live where people still have a decent amount of personal freedoms…”
The map had scribbles all over it when we were through, but some places remained untouched. With the map as our guide, we began to make serious plans to visit different locations with the prospect of moving in mind. Over the next several months we visited Prescott, AZ, Knoxville, TN, Asheville, NC, Raleigh, NC, and many other places along the way…
In the end, we found a happy place almost exactly where we started – just two hours south of Nova, about a half-hour outside the city of Charlottesville, VA. As it turned out, Virginia already offered everything we wanted: beautiful mountains and a seaside only hours apart, outdoor activities abound, a decent amount of personal liberties, and best yet, a sizable and affordable place in the country for us to start our dream homestead—we just had to find it first.
It took us about half a year to decide on the Charlottesville area and six more months to start trying to look for a property to buy. The longer we were taking to find a place, the more eager we were to leave Nova. It felt like a new adventure was right in front of us but we couldn’t reach it, the proverbial carrot in front of a horse. We were striking out in our search to find the perfect mix of house, land, and location, and we were growing impatient. It felt like it had been a lifetime since we made the decision to relocate. In actuality, it was only a year, but we were more than ready to leave the suburbs.
To add a little pressure to the situation, the housing market in our area suddenly grew very “hot” and our realtor advised us to get ready to sell if we wanted to make a great profit. We decided to take a leap of faith and move without first finding a home to buy. Our Nova home went under contract in 13 days at only $5,000 under the asking price. During closing, we set ourselves up with a small one-story rental house outside of Charlottesville while we continued to house hunt.
We were moved within a month of selling our home. My husband took a job in the city as a mechanic (his trade) and I transitioned from a full-time paid employee into life as a stay-at-home mom. We didn’t own a new place yet, but we were really enjoying the slower-paced life. I loved the abundance of time I suddenly had to explore the new area with my son in tow. We went to many parks, playgrounds, and hiking trails. Everywhere we traveled, I enjoyed the views of a rolling countryside, a plethora of trees, and distant mountains along the way– a welcome change from buildings, tail lights, and traffic cones. We were falling in love with the area and ever more eager to find our permanent location.
Finally, after another 5 months of renting, our new home came on the market. It was a ranch style with a basement, similar to our house in Nova but a few hundred square feet larger, and with one enormous difference: whereas our Nova house sat on a mere 0.14 acres, this home was situated on over 9!
We had all the room in the world to build our garden and raise our chickens and began to realize the possibilities of running a duck business off our own homestead (which we did eventually do). Even better, the property was zoned agricultural—no HOA, minimal building restrictions, and by-rights to do things like hunt your own land or have a seriously decent amount of livestock or open a park, or daycare, or, heck, even a private gun club without having to ask anyone’s permission.
Best of all, the property was extremely affordable. The asking price on this home was about 100 grand cheaper than the house we just sold. We had more than enough for a down payment, plus some left over to update a couple of things around the home and build a coop. We put in an offer right away.
Nearly eight years later, we reside in the same home. We have raised a ton of ducks and also ran a duck egg business for a couple of years (our ducks’ eggs were being eaten in restaurants around Charlottesville and even served to celebrities like the members of Dave Matthews Band—what a claim to fame we have!). Additionally, we were able to use our ducks as a way to connect to the local community, hosting “meet and greets” with the birds in exchange for donations to various charities.
We have also grown many gardens over the years and even sold some of our produce at our own farm stand on our property and at local farmers’ markets. We’ve expanded into raising different types of fowl including chickens, quail, geese, and turkeys. I’ve learned how to forage for some foods, can berries and tomatoes, and even how to pickle quail eggs.
Troy still works full-time, but he now operates his own business. His wages were enough that I could continue to stay home, and eventually we decided to expand our family since we no longer had to pay for outrageously priced daycare. We went on to have two more boys, growing our family of 3 into a family of 5, and my “occupation” has evolved from stay-at-home mom to a full-time mom, farmer, and teacher as I now have the joy and honor of homeschooling my small brood.
Though I’ve still yet to butcher my own birds (Troy can’t say the same), I am enjoying having them around and consuming the eggs they make for us in our little symbiotic relationship. Admittedly, I also have enjoyed a bacon-wrapped quail or two, thanks to Troy and his ability to do what I cannot yet stomach.
Regarding the garden, as it turns out, growing that little passion fruit plant was just a tiny, small taste of the satisfaction I now get from growing an abundance of produce that helps feed my entire family (and sometimes the birds, too).
A 9-acre farm, a boatload of birds, and 3 crazy boys are a lot to keep up with, but Troy and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We both agree we would never move back to Nova. We’ve found happiness moving to the country and learning to homestead. I can’t think of any scenario where we would trade this lifestyle for any other.