Should I Go Rural to Get Closer to My Food?

posted in: Experience, Seattle-ing | 43

In the spirit of pursuing things that matter in the new year, I’ve been distilling my priorities. I am the type of person whose home reflects the state of her inner monologue. If my home is clean and orderly, so is my head and heart. I can work, cook, and generally have a more positive outlook. I love my current house, but I’m starting to grow restless.

I am fortunate to live in a single-family home that is very near the nucleus of Seattle and all she has to offer. I can be at Pike Place Market in five minutes flat. I do much of my shopping there, from farm-fresh eggs to esoteric cuts of meat like veal shins and Moulard duck legs to foraged produce such as fiddlehead ferns or morel mushrooms. On the rare occasions when I can’t get what I need at Pike Place, it’s likely that Uwajimaya, the most well-stocked Asian grocer in the Northwest, will have it. I am there at least three times a week, and they keep me in pig’s heads, Buddha’s hands and chicken feet as well as pea shoots, yamaimo potatoes and all manner of sea creatures, from urchins to smelt roe.

If many of the foods I just mentioned sound like astronaut kibble to you, chances are you don’t live in a city that is cresting the extended orgasmic wave of the farm-to-table movement. The ironic paradox here is that the deeper our appreciation for food grows, the more we want to take part in cultivating it before it hits the market. People in the woods and on the prairie produce this food and yet the vast majority of it winds up in the smoggy core of some urban epicenter. I try to take my three-year-old outside the city to see where his food comes from as often as I can, and every time I do, I lament my lack of control over what I put into my own body, but especially his. For example, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find raw milk in Seattle, and I’m told we’re fortunate to have it at all compared with other places across the country.

Sure, I have my little pea patch wherein I try and fail at tomatoes every year and I grow a passel of potatoes big enough to make pommes du terre de Robuchon for four people, but it’s quite the hobbyists endeavor. I yearn to get my hands dirty. I am eager to feel the warm pulse of a goat teat excreting milk beneath my fingers. I hunger lustily for space.

And there are more practical concerns. Our house has no garage and is open and lofty, which means it lacks storage. My (un)healthy obsession with kitchen appliances is steadily encroaching into the living room and office. My husband is annoyed that we share our bedroom with my curing chamber, but I really have no place else to put it. I’m clueless as to where the meat slicer, cryovac and combi oven I’m steadily saving for will live.

Of course there is the whole motherhood thing, too. In two years I’ll send Bentley to school. If he went to public school in our neighborhood, he would be attending the lowest-rated elementary in the state. We could probably scrape together the pennies to pay for an obscenely-expensive private school, but I’m not sure I want him growing up that way.  Even if we take measures to ensure that he doesn’t develop a sense of entitlement, there would likely be other kids at a posh school like that whose parents’ values don’t match ours.

A logical option might be suburbia, and for a time I tried to wrap my mind around that. As a family we drove around neighborhoods in “good school districts” and saw houses that were indiscernible from the one next door or down the block. I grew depressed at the thought of that soul-crushing life. I am certainly not condemning people who send their children to private school or live in ticky tacky houses, I just know if it comes down to it and I wind up in either of those positions for the sake of my child, it won’t feel right.

Last weekend we spent an afternoon in the car hunting for character in the suburbs. We came home dejected. And then my husband got on the computer and found an intriguing homestead deep in the woods. On five acres. With a lake pond. It’s a half an hour east of downtown Seattle, which is really not too far. And it’s in an excellent school district. The exterior of the home is copper and it was built by an architect with an appreciation for modern design. The inside is unfinished- a classic case of a home built during the boom but then the bottom dropped and the money ran out before completion. This is a great thing for people like us. I have very specific needs in a kitchen. The kitchen in this house has enough space that I could install commercial appliances without dwarfing the room. And who are we kidding here; I also have specific needs in a closet. Just because we might move to the country doesn’t mean mama is retiring the stilettos!

There are some problems. Much of the lot is considered “wetland” thus making clearing difficult in order to do any large-scale gardening. But the house has a large “green roof” that is meant to host the garden. I’m frantically trying to learn about the legalities of raising goats and chickens on a wetland, because if we move out there, that would be a huge part of it for me.

We found out yesterday that someone else was putting an offer on the place, so we scrambled to get ours together too. It’s been submitted- fingers crossed! Apparently we won’t hear anything for 60 days, as it’s a short sale subject to the bank’s approval, so now we wait.

I plan to pass the next two months assessing our needs. Is it selfish or trite for me to want to get closer to my food? Will I really be able to live so far away from all the little things that make creating cockamamie cuisine possible? Would I be a better mom if I bought a Koolaid house on a culdesac with a picket fence in the ‘burbs? And the most important question of all: does Hunter make wellington boots in chartreuse, and if so, how do I get my damn hands on a pair?

I suspect this quandary is not unique to my family. Do you have aspirations for a more serene life? I’m curious to hear whether anyone has taken the plunge, and if so, do you love it? If you desire a life like this and you haven’t “bought the farm” yet, why not?

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43 Responses

  1. Lauren Rasmussen

    Hard quesstion. I’m not sure what I would do.

    I commented on your question presented at the party last night. I think I might be the only one here who freaks out when sheep are outside her window. I once asked ” what is that noise?” I was laughed at of course. But my CSI fueled imagination always thinks that the country is so isolated.

    That said- people did use to have Country houses in Enlgand and visit them and have great parties where everyone had to sleep over. That part of it always seemed great. I hope you get youtpr dream kitchen. Take care and nice to meet you!

    p.s. Seattle school ratings tell only part of the story.

  2. Like clockwork, once or twice a year (for the last 10 years) my husband will say this: “What do you think about moving to the coast so we can build a house? Then we can have some goats and pigs and chickens. You’d really like it.” The thing is, I have never thought I would ever enjoy a life like that full time but it is beginning to grow on me. I would be no farther away from SF so I wouldn’t be giving much up in the way of access to city life but we haven’t made the commitment just yet. But every time we visit this place, I get lost in fantasies of building that home and having a much different life than I’m living now (yes, a bigger closet for my shoes and a bigger kitchen appeals to me, too). I think it has something to do with the need for change (from your other post)–haven’t felt as antsy about changing some things as I have in the last year but maybe it’s because I just had a milestone birthday. Who knows–maybe one day we’ll actually end up doing it.

    Good luck on your offer–it looks like a lovely place. As for the Hunter Wellies, I’ve seen a pale lime green that comes very close!

  3. Juliette

    Hi Linda, I absolutely love your blog. This particular post caught my attention and I was compelled to comment. I was the child of city, foodie, folk living in the burbs. My parents hearts were in the city, but the space, the schools, the nature, the work, brought them to the eastside. I managed to benefit from all of features, but also felt very much a seattlite. We were in seattle almost every weekend. I have the fondest memories of our family ritual of visiting capitol hill to get a slice of pizza at pagliacci’s, followed by sitting and reading in Baliey Coy bookstore, followed by a caramel sunday and italian soda’s at the Dilettante, then a trip down to Pike place to go shopping for dinner at home. I learned practiced riding my bike in our cul-de-ac, but I learned for the first time at red square on the UW campus. My parents just chose not to let the 20 minute commute scare them- it’s just across the bridge! And really were successful in incorporating the city into our lives. Also, there is some amazing eating and food shopping in the suburbs. My parents are both immigrants and there is a huge immigrant community making for amazing, locally family owned small grocers!You will find multiple stores that specialize in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, indian, brazillian- you name it. Lots of fun to discover for you and your kids. Good luck and good eating!

  4. Linda, you should be thrilled to move even just slightly into the country. We bought the farm two years ago. While we weren’t in the city, we desired a better school district for our kids, even more after paying for 3 kids private school. We have space to raise our own chickens and beef. And while we lose power a little more, requiring a generator, the serenity and peacefulness to assess life and make changes is worth it. I hope your offer comes through!

  5. Not selfish at all. Brilliant really. I’m probably tooting my own horn as that is our reason for moving from Carnation to (rural) Stanwood. Both my wife and I were raised in the white ghetto (Bellevue Kirkland), and wanted different for out girls. We raised our own produce, eggs, chicken meat, honey and have plans for more. Feel free if you would like some suggested reading. For the suburban close to the food you eat experiance, hit Kevin Kossowan’s blog. Canada but so relevant!

    Linda Reply:

    @Adam Stevens, I may be hitting you up for advice too, when the time comes!

  6. Hi Linda –

    First, let me say it was a pleasure meeting you at SaMo IFBC. Second, I have to agree with others and tell you that this house is BEAUTIFUL. If you don’t get your hands on it, I will. :P

    We are fortunate to have a third of an acre in the ‘burbs Orange County, CA. One of my greatest joys is run out back, grab a basket of garden produce, swing through the coop to pick up some chicken eggs, then return to the kitchen and make a big meal. Couldn’t you imagine yourself saying “gotta run to the roof,” then come back with a bounty of boot?! You might even be able to house some chickens up there if the wetlands thing is problematic.

    Good luck to you – I look forward to hearing the ending!

    [K]

  7. It’s quite beautiful — looks like if you get it, you won’t have to sacrifice style and incredible architecture while being able to stretch your legs. Good luck!

  8. Vesa Becam

    I think one has to try these things out. I went from SF to Paris to the breton countryside. For a while, I was the wife of a country doctor in an old farmhouse that I renovated just so. The house was amazing, and we had a fishing port a mile away and farmers all around, and oh, I will never ever have a kitchen like that one again…. We had a a charming life, with lovely friends and a very engaging community, like a BBC series…. It was bucolic, it was pastoral, it was convivial, the food was amazing, and after a while, it was like Groundhog Day. But I think that if you don’t try you will never know…. Thank you for the wonderful blog!

    Linda Reply:

    @Vesa Becam, I love that description! Of course it’s something I’m yearning for now, but I see how the Groundhog Day thing might happen, and I’m cautious of it. I’m hoping I could balance it with travel, but hey, if it gets to that I’ll do what you apparently did and start a new chapter. Thanks for your insight.

  9. Linda,

    It looks amazing! While I sometimes bitch and moan about the lack of specialty ingredients where I live, it was a good educational experience for my son (who attended public school K-12 and is currently pulling straight A’s in college). I also like having a little bit of breathing room around me.

    We have 2 1/2 acres with a small pond (smaller than yours) on a private road so we hit a nice happy medium between city and rural. Despite having the space for the garden and chickens, work demanded most of my time, so I am just now getting around to the chickens. Husband is building a chicken coop (house) as we speak.

    Oh yes, if it becomes a reality, you will have to post pictures of both the kitchen AND your closet. My two favorite rooms in any house!

  10. You may be moving, and I don’t know how close to Ravenna you are, but I run a weekly raw milk drop at my house with milk from Dungeness Valley Creamery. I live a block from Third Place Books, and you’re welcome to join for as long as you’re around. The house you found is gorgeous!

  11. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the pic of the dining room/kitchen. I can. not. wait. to cook with you in that house! (Clearly, I’m inviting myself over. Of course, you’re more than welcome to put me to work milking goats or collecting eggs or digging ditches.)

  12. SALTY.
    Do it! I’m a Torontonian, big city living, yes, for 20 years. I have now lived in rural Virginia, with cows and corn, on a mile long road. I have never ever been happier. Each year is better, it’s sweeter, softer and so sultry to own 16 acres of your own land. There is nothing like it, even if the road and/or the bridge gets washed out a few times a year, and the sound of the cows in the middle of the night remind you exactly where you are. It is my soul. It would definitely be yours (and your family). No question. Please feel free to write to ask this fellow foodbuzz blogger anything you fancy. The house looks amazing! buona fortuna cara!

  13. Thanks for sharing this insightful post. My fingers are crossed for you. That house looks like a dream. I don’t think it is too much to ask to live closer to your food. Most of America has this problem. I live in Manhattan, and while I have the luxury of bountiful farmers’ markets, I certainly don’t have a yard to grow my own food. But I have a small terrace, which I successfully grew some tomatoes on last year. This year, I have big plans for a tall garden.

    I was visiting family in Wisconsin over the holidays, and I was overwhelmed by and reminded of the amount of farm land that flows throughout the state. Idyllic pictures aside, most of those farmers are growing single crops like corn for large agribusiness…so even if you can see where food is grown, it’s not necessarily being grown for your direct consumption.

    I’m rambling..sorry. Best of luck to you on the house. Keep us posted!

  14. I have been slowly inching my way away from the city over the past 5 years. I thought I would love city living, but as a student at UW, I began to hate the congestion, hate all the concrete and I yearned for open pastures and deep, wooded forests. The only thing I loved about living in Seattle was the grocery stores. My, were they amazing! A cook’s dream!

    But then I graduated and moved to Bellevue. I shopped at Whole Foods (and loved it!) but still, my heart was yearning for something more rural. My (now ex) fiancee switched jobs, so we moved out to Covington in hopes to one day buy a house around Lake Youngs, where you feel like you are in a rural area, but everything you would ever need is only 10-15 min (although, I learned the hard way that living there means shopping at grocery stores that are sub par).

    My ex and I broke up and I immediately moved further south, away from the city. I find the further away I get, the more relaxed I feel, and the better I feel about my food. My apartment overlooks a field that grows corn and pumpkins and there are about 10 different farms I can visit within a 15 min drive. Even though the grocery store I shop at is pretty good (on par with Metropolitan Market, but not PCC), I am slowly learning how to not rely on a grocery store to cook, but to cook with the seasons and be inspired by what is in the field. I am learning to be ok with picking recipes based on what I have on hand, not what I am wanting to cook. It’s difficult, but I feel much better about the food I eat.

    So my vote is to go rural! You will not regret it!

  15. I do hope this goes through for you and family. Bently would have a great time playing on the pond and around. You could even grow some fish… It kinda has a little look of your home in TF. I can see you all flash in this lovely modern home. Change is a good thing!::))

  16. What a wonderful house! I will keep my fingers crossed that this will all work out for you. I would love to one day be able to do the same. Best of luck!

  17. Sounds like a dream come true, and then some! And the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Half an hour from downtown is not that big a deal. In Miami, we do that without blinking – you have to drive half an hour to get to pretty much anything. Keeping my fingers crossed for you! xox

  18. DO IT!

    We have been steadily moving farther away from Seattle and while it’s not perfect, a recent stint in Olympia part-time made me crave the silence of home. You can figure out all the downsides but consider that you want to do what is in essence a home business. The kitchen is big enough to install cameras that you can operate from your computer for videos/photos. The copper castle look is insane.

    DO IT!

  19. It’s definitely my dream to live on a small farm, growing my own organic food and raising free range livestock. I’m only 26, not yet married, living with my fiance and 3 cats in a tiny apartment in an overpriced college town, working full time and trying to get into grad school. There’s still too much to accomplish before buying a house, but I’m getting closer. I don’t think I’ll ever aim for a place in the city or a ticky tacky home in the burbs. I’m already eyeing houses in the surrounding farmland that are undervalued because of the burst in the housing market bubble. You don’t need much to be a completely self-sufficient homesteader. One acre will be enough to have grains, a cow, vegetables, and pasture land on a rotating basis. Mother Earth News has been slowly feeding me information about country life and I’m totally being swayed: http://www.motherearthnews.com/modern-homesteading/self-sufficient-homestead-zm0z11zkon.aspx

    The home you’ve submitted an offer for looks AMAZING. It’s raw, a blank slate waiting for your family’s touch. I hope you get it. I’m looking forward to reading your blog posts on crazy goat antics and huge summer harvests. Thanks for paving the way. :)

    Jany@SuperCuteCookies Reply:

    @Xochi, Thank you for sharing such a wonderful web-site!

  20. John Costello

    I certainly don’t want to rain on your parade but moving back to nature is highly over-rated. People like to be around other people. The entire world is undergoing a massive urbanization. Second, no one cool lives out there. Third, the commute to anything worth doing except skiing. Fourth, the culture. Fifth, we’ll miss having stylish, successful people in the neighborhood. Oh yea, sixth once you have fixed one house why take the risk on fixing another house or better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

    Peter M. Reply:

    @John Costello, John: you are so correct. Maybe something with less obvious work and closer in. She can find a big kitchen anywhere and, for the record, she’s done the farm thimg.

  21. I say do it now…Whatever issues there are with the land and the house, you will figure them out. You will make it yours. The great thing about change is that you can ALWAYS change back…yes, of course that’s hard. But getting thru the hard stuff is what makes wearing chartreuse wellies all the more fun. .

  22. That place looks gorgeous!!! I hope it goes through for you guys!! I would love to raise/grow my own food, although I don’t know how good I would be at it!

  23. I am dying to raise my own food. We live near Seattle and actually have a significant amount of land. But an insignificant amount of sun. The next place we move will be flat, cleared, and sunny. End of story. As it is now, I’m tearing out half the lawn. It’s the only sun I’ve got. This house looks awesome! I hope you get it!

  24. LOVE IT! Fingers crossed for you! xo

  25. Gregory Wright

    Take your shot while you still can. Once the kids get into school, the clock ticks faster than you can believe and yanking them out where they are will just not work. Make your moves before the kids take over any more than they already have. Follow your bliss. As a parent, you’re moving to a better school district. GREAT for your son. And you’re still not so far from everything you currently love that you can’t go back for supplies any time. Plus…the pics of this house kick so much ass!

  26. Linda, this sounds like a fabulous option for you and your family. Sending many many good vibes your way. That house should be yours.

  27. What a fantastic house! Fingers crossed this works out for you, but if not this property, there will be another :)

  28. Go for it, you will always wonder if the right one got away.

  29. I grew up in the country with chickens, goats, pigs, and a huge garden. I haven’t lived in such a setting since I was a teenager, but I know now that it’s definitely where I want to be if and when I start a family. When I stayed with my sister-in-law during the trip to Oregon and hung out with her chickens and cooked with vegetables from the garden every day, it became very clear. That’s where I want to be again and that’s what I’m working toward. Good luck!

  30. how awesome!!! my fingers are crossed for you guys!!! that place just looks spectacular and what a great canvas for you to unleash all your creativity on?!!

  31. Well I just fed chickens and gathered eggs for the first time in my life today. And ate a lunch that was all grown within a short distance. I don’t know if it’s for me (especially being single), but I’m warming to the significant charms of the idea. Best of luck.

  32. A castle-like home in the wetlands? Sounds like an adventure waiting to happen. Get little galoshes for the goats and you’ll have it made. ;)

  33. If there are chartreuse wellie boots to be had, I am sure you will find them!

    Best of luck on new adventures, wherever you end up. I feel certain you could shake up even a staid suburb, if it came to that. Though surely Bentley deserves a few duck and goat buddies as playmates.

  34. You should go for it. We did, 5 1/2 years ago, and it made me the cook/blogger/gardener/parent I am today. Everything is a tradeoff, but when one is as passionate as you obviously are, you need to follow your heart. You wouldn’t have scrambled to make the offer if you didn’t already know you need it.

    Also, the unfinished look is very Dwell. Just leave it as is and save yourself a shitload of money.

  35. Wow! This is very cool. I love the photos of the house. And having your own pond would be fabulous. Yay! Will cross my fingers for you!

  36. Holy fuck!!!!!!! I love this..and just as we’ve been thinking of moving off our hill and closer in to the tiny town of Sonoma

  37. Caroline

    BEAUITFUL HOME! Sending good juju your way; good luck!

  38. Good luck with the house offer! I hope it works out for you. I went through the same thoughts 9 years ago when we sold our house in Seattle and moved to 20 acres in Cheney. I can tell you that I’ve never regretted it for a minute. I hope you feel the same. Having chickens and goats and horses made my life complete…oh and the gigantic garden too. :) I can see you loving growing your own food. The possibilities are endless. My fingers are crossed for you. Oh, and here’s your Wellies: http://www.polyvore.com/hunter_original_tall_rain_boot/thing?id=32169179

    xoxo
    Heather

  39. Such honesty and soul baring, I love it. Here’s the deal. Give up the city life honey, you won’t look back.

    We used to own a modern condo in the city with next to no storage but a banging kitchen (which was all I cared about). We spent $259,000 on 800 sq. ft. of awesomeness….that sat three storeys above the drive-thru of a 24-hour McDonalds. I kid you not. The day we moved in, we settled our heads on a amattress on the floor and opened the windows for a cool summer breeze, but what should waft in? The obscenely nauseating scent of grilling “burgers”. (I just threw up in my mouth a little). We had supreme buyers remorse and sold two years later after having Cohen. We needed space.

    We moved to townhouse and then to a huge house 45 minutes away from town on a swampy piece of land next a lake. Here is where my love for growing my own food and keeping chickens began. But it was too rural. No place to take the kids, no food for emergencies within a 20 minute drive.

    So we bit the bullet and moved our growing family to a semi-rural piece of land with a smallish house but a HUGE already built and landscaped yard. A 30′ x 15′ raised bed, plus a 4′ x 30′ raised bed, plus fruit trees, a strawberry patch, blueberries, grapes, etc. We then built our giant chicken run for 17 chickens (who now have free roam of the whole yard in winter).

    I’ll never live in the city again, as it’s only a 20 minute drive to the “big” city and a 5-10 minute drive to quaint little towns.

    Whatever you have to do to get that house Linda, do it! You will love every minute of learning the dirt and it’s wily ways.

    Our next step is a goat, so maybe you can delve first and let me know how it goes..

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