Friday, August 6, 2010

Castlewood, Virginia: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton, Blogging about Homesteading

Trav told me that the next farmers (homesteaders actually) we were set to meet with seemed like very private people who appreciated their remote location and solitude. We were especially grateful that they agreed to meet with us and when we met Mark at the head of their driveway we realized literally how prized their privacy is! Anna and Mark are truly trying to homestead, creating a system on their southwestern Virginia property that will supply all they need for food and sustenance. The most significance departure from a traditional homesteader is this: they blog about it every day, and they call it the Walden Effect.

We climbed aboard the golf-cart-slash-off-road-vehicle and Mark drove us quite a ways. He told us they had issues trying to keep a bridge on the driveway, and then we reached the moderate creek that flowed casually through our path. The cart managed it just fine (previous interviewers have fallen off...it's like a test for outsiders to traverse), but I imagined the issues they must have during heavy rainfall. Mark was gracious and friendly, answering all of our questions with quiet patience. Anna came out of their abode with offers of iced tea or water which we gladly accepted. It was plain to see right away that we were in the presence of 2 inventors, scientists, engineers, and proud gardeners as every structure seemed improved upon with a homemade touch.
The chickens live in a mobile chicken tractor (created skillfully out of scrap) and drink out of specialized chicken waterers that Mark created (see details on their blog site at the bottom of this post). He saw that farmers with only a small flock of chickens did not have efficient watering systems; the chickens could easily turn over their water or foul (pardon the pun!) it. So he put together a special chicken nipple that attaches to a water bottle that attaches to the wall of the chicken structure, and the chickens basically sip at their leisure. Mark's inventions provide a source of income for he and Anna; they sell them online and spoke of the importance of bringing money in from outside Appalachia. This is a financially depressed area, but the internet gives them a global consumer base to tap into, allowing them to trade goods and money elsewhere, ultimately stimulating their local economy. Southern Virginia is known for its incredible culture, history, hardworking folk, and extreme poverty.
Besides the chicken waterer there is the deer deterrent, which looks like a child's mobile and makes a rhythmic scrape-pong noise that startles the faint of heart (deer are notoriously faint of heart).
The garden was incredible and we snacked on sweet luscious raspberries as we toured. Anna has Egyptian walking onions that were as tall as our thighs, rising up in wavy twists and ending in oval purple seed pods (hopefully we can grow some too since she generously shared a few pods!). Notice them in their portrait up top.

Anna and Mark find contentment in providing themselves with almost everything they need, and living away from most folks. As welcoming as they were with us it was easy to see that they could pretty happily survive without seeing outsiders for a long time. They also have a well-kept blog that features new posts daily and also has the designs for Mark's inventions spelled out for anyone interested in trying to build their own. The blog is full of helpful stories and advice and pictures for anyone trying to grow produce, tend livestock, preserve food, be entertained, or learn something. Visit them at The Walden Effect.

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