We are Jeremy, Gwen and Amaya Lewis, a small family with some big dreams about farming. Our story is one that started when we met 15 years ago in high school but every step of the way has shaped us. Here’s a little about us and our background that we hope will serve as a good introduction to us and help to explain what we’re about, what we’re looking for.
As previously mentioned, we met in high school, where we shared classes and became close friends. One of the classes we shared was Natural Resources, part of our high school’s career tracking
‘Certificate of Advanced Mastery’ program. In this class a small group of us took off with a class project and extended it to a community project where we worked with the community and city planners to re-design a local park. The next year we worked in the Natural Resources programs’ greenhouse, growing hydroponic lettuce, which had a slight commercial operation selling heads of lettuce to teachers. When we left high school we found ourselves together. Jeremy couldn’t go to college right away, for financial reasons, so he got a job and gave himself the goal of becoming a manager before he was 24 and could apply for financial assistance to go to college. Gwen started her formal education and worked part-time. The next summer we spent all our off time transforming a backyard into a hydroponic vegetable garden. We grew giant vegetables and started on the journey of learning how to grow and make our own food.
The brother kittens we got that summer of 2004 just turned 11 and are cantankerous old man kitties now. In the time we’ve spent since then, Jeremy became a manager of a large videogames retail store. Gwen finished her Associates degree, focusing heavily on art and then went on to a trade school (to have a career to support art dreams). Partway into her year at trade school, Gwen found out we were pregnant. After finishing school, Gwen did some office work until having our daughter Amaya in February of 2009. Gwen continued doing some part-time administrative work but mostly stayed at home with our daughter. She wound up volunteering with radical parenting zine, “Hip Mama” for a few years and, working from home, became the publisher and then the editor before the magazine went from a collective rule back to its founding editor in 2013. She continues her passion for alternative press to this day by continuing to make mini-zines on diverse subjects and working on a manifesto she fondly calls “The Utopia Project”. In the fall of 2010, Jeremy started school at Oregon State University. He entered the Forestry program and focused on Land Management, creating his own option in Agroforestry. We had started to do a lot of research on food and nutrition and we had begun to realize that we wanted to raise a lot more of our own food ourselves; if we were going to continue eating meat it was going to be the cleanest meat we could find until we could raise it ourselves, if we were going to eat a lot of vegetables we wanted to be getting them as local and high quality as possible until we could grow them all ourselves. We had been growing food everywhere we had moved for years, from our hydroponic backyard garden to tiny container gardens on cramped apartment decks to an experimental hydroponic unit in the corner of Gwen’s mother’s yard. Jeremy started into the Forestry program as a career move, he wanted better job options, but by the time he was finished with the first year it was clear to us that we wanted to farm. He was still very interested in Forestry, however, and we became transfixed by the idea of Agroforestry as a sort of permaculture mixing of farm and forestry. During his summers, Jeremy worked in the field, as required by the Forestry program. He spent one summer working with a land owner who was working on his first commercial vegetable enterprise and another summer doing timber cruising with Starker Forests. He spent most of his college career in a work study position with the school’s Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative lab, tending to and propagating plants in in-door and out-door greenhouse environments. There are many ways land and plants, “forests”, “orchards”, “livestock”, - etc., can be managed and for many reasons, pleasure or profit. We have ideas for a farm with sustainable agriculture and rotational grazing practiced in the interior zones, ideas for permaculture orchards and a mixing of forestry in the inner and outer rings to help create microclimates and to encourage wildlife zones. We have spent years educating ourselves and practicing in garden plots. Towards the end of Jeremy’s college experience, we started talking about our own consulting business. We knew that we were leaving the university environment with a mountain of debt and that we’d need to have a source of income to pay that back and if we’d ever want a piece of land all our own - but we mostly want to work toward applying the knowledge that we have amassed and some of the ideas that we’ve come up with. We’ve discovered that we have a ton of ideas of things that can be done with the land, it just depends on the piece of land and each piece of land we see has different potentials and new possibilities. Before graduating, Jeremy made sure to take some landscaping and plant propagation courses so that we could be primed to do the work we most want to. The only thing that we wanted before we jumped into our own consulting business was a little more good old fashioned, hands-on experience.
In the year since Jeremy graduated from OSU we’ve been living as cheaply as possible with a community minded gentleman in northern Washington. When we moved here, Gwen was supposed to be set up with a job to support our financial needs and Jeremy was going to act as Land Manager in exchange for rent. When we got here things had diverted from the original plan. There was no easy, local job for Gwen and she had to range down to Seattle for semi-regular part-time employment. Struggling with finances and a breaking down car, Jeremy started working more and more as part-time greenhouse help for different medical and emerging recreational marijuana “502” grows. As a result he has learned a great deal more about initial greenhouse setup and management. As an extension of our own sustainable and natural interests, he has come up with a lot of ideas of how to grow different kinds of plants and beneficial insects harmoniously together in an environment even as small as a greenhouse room. We would love to have the opportunity to implement such designs but the folly of the capitalistic world is that everything is about the bottom line and people don’t want to experiment when they’re looking at their bank accounts - even when it could cost less and produce better quality plants. The greenhouse business Jeremy was most recently managing changed hands and the new owners had even less payroll options than the previous ones. (Got to watch that bottom line!) That’s fine, we are largely tired of working for other people now and are ready to work for ourselves. In the very least, we’d like to work with other people who are like-minded to us.
We are launching our own consulting business. (Please take a look at our first ad on Craigslist! http://skagit.craigslist.org/fgs/4991706326.html) We want to work with people who want to feed themselves but aren’t sure where to start with their own properties. We have set our initial rates as decidedly competitive within the landscape design market to start out because we’re just getting started as our own business and we want more practice. As excited as we are about starting our consulting business, we fully realize it’s really only a means to an end – a way for us to sell our knowledge and expertise as a way to continue to keep our heads above water in a terrifyingly monetary based world. We have become disenfranchised with the culture at large over the years and we know that we were meant to live on land and work with animals and plants but we significantly lack the monetary means to get on land within the oppressive land ownership system our civilization imposes. We also lack the faith in our economy and monetary system to spend the next thirty years of our lives saving towards what we want to do with our lives. Our very best option in the current monetary system would be for us to find a job as land managers, our natural calling, where we would be paid to live on and manage a piece of land. We’d like to experiment with Agroforestry and permaculture to create abundance and then share that abundance with the community around us. We have a plethora of ideas of things that can be done with land and we’re just waiting for the right piece of land to tell us what should be done with it. We just need to find the right situation.
Here’s some frank financial information which will have to be discussed with anyone who might want to employ us, as we are hoping to find someone to enter into a Land Management contract with, hopefully a land owner who has similar goals and interests to us. Financially, we’ve figured out that we need about $600/month to cover our base bills – car insurance, phones and minimally paying down debts, this figure excludes rent, which we would preferably avoid paying by living on the land we’re managing. We wind up spending about $500/month in food. (Food bills are less during the growing season and hopefully increasingly less as we grow and preserve more of our own food!) Who knows how much is reasonable to budget on our car at the moment, because it just hasn’t been functioning well and we realize that we may need to budget payments for a truck into our finances someday. To survive cheaply, but comfortably enough, we need to be making at least $1200/month, $1400/month would allow us to be comfortable and with $1600 we could actually save for things and almost act like normal, “middle class” American families. For educated, specialty land managers people might not think that’s a challenge to earn but we understand the challenge that the capitalist world puts upon everyone seeking to earn their own way and it can be tough for small business owners to spare that kind of payroll. Jeremy has spent the last year getting paid at the rates of $15 and $20/hour and it only takes 20 hours/week at $15/hour for us to make $1200/month. As a land manager, Jeremy would hope to make the higher rate of $20/hour and work directly with land improvement projects 15-20 hours per week. That’s just numbers and hourly rates, though. If we can find a Land Manager position where we can live on land and get a monthly salary or stipend that allows us to survive monetarily, we would spend almost all of our time working on the land and likely a fair site of our own money would go into land improvements that we would create experimentally during our “off” time. We are potentially willing to work out other work situations with people such as the one we entered into when we moved to the land where we presently reside. We were to trade work on the land (additional practice for us!) for rent and we started working on the land but our need for financial stability took us further from it for more and more of our time. For us, it’s just not enough to work on the land for free rent whenever we can spare a moment from the rest of our time spent scrambling for jobs that will bring us financial stability. This is not the Land Manager situation we were looking for and we have not been able to create very much financial stability. If we can be set up as Land Managers on a piece of land we’ll spend most of our time working on the land because it’s just the work we love to do. We have a ton of ideas and we would do everything in our power to make the land which sustains us thrive ecologically and even financially. Many of our ideas are business oriented and we would love to work with a small land owner or community to set up their own businesses or to help run the daily operations of a business they already have going. There are many combinations of work and payment options we are willing to cope with, we would even consider a work for rent option again if the land owners at least have material money for plants and projects and don’t mind a bit of creative experimentation. If the right situation came up where we’d be able to at least continue working on our consult business for our money aspect or secure a part-time job in close enough proximity, we can cope with lesser payment for our land management services. We’ll just be considering paid land management positions as first priority, because we have the knowledge, experience and drive to warrant a paid land management position and we dislike having to be away from the land in order to drum up funds for us to continue doing the work we love on the land. Seeking stability for our family is one of our reasons for seeking this kind of work. Speaking of family, Gwen has a brother, Aaron, who has been working in sustainable landscape design and rain garden/cistern installation in Seattle, his experience and expertise is an integral resource for our current small business plans, building our own land management and consulting business. Ideally, he’d like to farm with us, and if there’s enough space and paid work opportunities for him he is likely to consider coming along with us to a new land management opportunity, bringing his know-how and all his own amazing ideas. As a family with a 6 year old we need to prioritize our time so that we have both the time for work and the time to play, this is only another reason to seek a paid land management situation, it’s too hard to make enough time for family while trying to do work on land to pay rent and hold down jobs to drum up enough money to live. We need to be able to put all of our focus and energy into land management and related projects, rather than spending time off-site trying to scratch out a monetary living. We’d like to come into a situation where at least some of the work we are doing are things we are getting paid for.
If you’re still reading this and you think you might be (or know!) the land owner that we need to be in contact with, please send us an email or call us. We would love to meet up, see pieces of land and discuss options for the future.
Here is an incomplete list of some interests we’d like to continue pursuing:
Gardening: kitchen, tea herbs, vegetable and perennial(berries!), orcharding/food forests/Permaculture, Agroforestry, biodiversity, microclimate creation, terracing, raised beds and Hugelculture, cooking delicious foods, food preservation/fermentation (currently sustaining two kombucha mothers, brewing some plum brandy and a Dandelion beer), vermicomposting, Herbalism and Tea growing/harvesting, forestry and small-time milling small-time construction(raised beds/coldframes, worm bins, greenhouses, chicken coops, animal shelters, tree platforms and tiny houses), chickens and egg/meat production, rabbits and fiber/meat/fur, bees and honey/beeswax, livestock and rotational grazing, soil building, fiber production, mushroom cultivation, small businesses (farm stores/cafés), earth ovens, pottery, solar dryers, humanure, greywater, rain gardens, aquaculture, ponding, medical marijuana, living off-grid and alternative power systems
Even if your land does not have the extra one-two bedrooms we require, we are happy to live in a tent at first and work towards tiny-house construction. We have tiny house plans and a ton of other ideas.
The Greenhouse of the Future ebook by Francis Gendron