March of 2020, my husband, Sean, and I, along with our six children, were eagerly anticipating the coming spring and preparing for another year on the farm. We had created over a decade of memories there. We had developed a successful horse-powered permaculture business, providing a variety of healthy foods to our local customers; a very busy horsedrawn carriage service; and an educational program offering a variety of internships, tours and clinics on our farm. Our black walnut sap season was wrapping up, the snows were thawing, goat kidding season was fast approaching, and the green grass was just poking through the soil. Then, the nation declared Covid-19 an official pandemic, and the world as we knew it suddenly ceased to exist.
A view of some of the gardens and pastures at the original farm.
Our state quickly became one of a handful that placed some of the strictest rules on its citizens, shutting down both public and private businesses, and closing school doors. Our state placed additional restrictions on the agricultural sector, making it difficult, if not impossible, for businesses like ours to remain in existence. Many permanently shut down. Some went bankrupt under mounting debt, while others retired or moved out of state.
For our family, the changes became an opportunity for us to re-evaluate
everything. At first, we saw it as a challenge to test the skills we had learned through the years. As we lost increasing numbers of carriage contracts and scheduled educational events, we began to re-evaluate our priorities.
Danielle working with a recently wild mustang in her TIP training and adoption program.
I was finally able to find time to train horses
again, particularly wild horses through the Bureau of Land Management. Gentling these “Living Legends” had always been a passion of mine, but farming and raising a family had pulled me away. We quickly found our Trainer Incentive Program (TIP) gentled mustangs in high demand.
We also determined we wanted to continue educating others
. The old saying “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime” was a concept we took literally. We loved teaching skills to help others become more self-sufficient. The many shutdowns had created an economic situation where people needed to learn such skills. By creating educational videos and posting online through YouTube, we soon had enough viewers that we began generating a little income to help replace some of what we had lost. By spring of 2021, one year into the pandemic, Sean and I realized we desired to truly start over. We loved what we had, but it was time for a bigger step to really re-focus on our priorities of God, family, farming and educating others, as well as accomplishing some personal goals we had shelved for many years.
We held many family meetings, where everyone offered their dream list
. We assembled a list that described our ideal property, though we felt it was impossible to meet all the criteria. Sean wanted south-facing slopes so he could finally build his passive-solar, off-grid dream home. I wanted room for an improved horse training set up. One child wanted more access to better athletic opportunities (requiring a populated area), while another wanted hunting timber (requiring rural). The rest of the list included things like fresh-water sources, limited building restrictions and easier access to a BLM mustang holding facility. The clincher — what made us realize this was an “impossible list”— was when Sean said he was tired of maintaining our long driveway, and he wanted a county-maintained road that dead-ended at the property, so he could have less to maintain. I told him “Good luck with that one!”
After the Londrigan’s purchased their new property, one of the first steps required was to create a driveway to enter the property.
It took only about two months of searching, but believe it or not, we found our piece of land
, with nice slopes, rolling hills, creeks, just 40 minutes from a BLM holding facility and 20 minutes from national forest trails. It was almost entirely hardwood timber (great for milling and building), so rural that no internet service was offered, yet located only 20 minutes from a populated area with great social and athletic opportunities. What sealed the deal, though, was the discovery that a 1/2 mile, paved, county maintained road dead-ended right at the property, meaning we only had to develop and maintain about 800 feet of driveway.
Danielle Londrigan driving a team of Belgian geldings from their farm, plowing the gardens at a local historic site,as part of an educational program.
The new property included 50 acres of timberland, providing a clean slate from which to build their new home and farm facility.
In fact, the biggest downside of the property was that a previous owner had been a hoarder of every piece of scrap you can imagine! As a result, about 2 acres of the property was basically a junkyard in the overgrown timber that would need sorting through and cleaning out. Fortunately, it did not interfere with our planned building sites, so that job could wait a while!
About two acres of the new property contained five dilapidated and collapsing structures, in addition to many piles of random junk, including old windows, doors, metal scraps, appliances, carpets, toilets, over 100 tires, and even an old car!
That spring, we began selling off everything we could. The day the horses were sold and loaded onto someone else’s trailer was one of the hardest — really making us question our decision. Without any type of tractor, skid-steer, or other heavy equipment, we had no idea how we would continue running a farm in the interim. We didn’t have to worry about it very long.
A trail was cleared by hand through the brush and
timber, to allow a temporary electric fence and some
fence panels to be installed (seen in background). The goats were given a quick, temporary, portable structure created by cutting an old water tank in half.
Life suddenly became a whirlwind. By mid-June 2021, our farm was under contract, we had purchased 50 acres of raw timber, and it was time for this new journey to begin! We started researching, sketching our structures and discussing goals. We decided to test out our “pioneering” skills. Granted, with all our modern conveniences, we are not so naive as to think modern pioneer life has any comparison to the true pioneers, however, we did look forward to having some insights into starting a new way of life with more simplistic, self-sustaining practices.
A chicken coop was created by setting up fence panels, with a cattle panel forming a dome roof and covered by a tarp. Inside, a large cage allowed the Londrigans to gradually release their guineas on the new property, while the larger coop area contained the food, water, and nest boxes for the chickens and guineas. The gate was left partially open to allow the poultry to range freely, while a log and bucket provided an improvised guard to prevent the goats from getting into the coop. All the animals were protected by a livestock guardian dog to prevent predation in this naturalized area.
We purchased a 30-foot RV trailer that would become our home for the foreseeable future. We had to really evaluate wants, luxuries and needs. Every item we could spare was sold or given away, so we could fit the remainder into a 40-foot-longby- 8-foot-wide metal shipping container we planned to rent for the new property, until we had a house built. At the same time, due to nationwide supply shortages, we decided to take some of the building supplies we had laying around. Since we didn’t know how many seasons would see us living in the RV, as we packed, each box had to be labeled for longer term storage in the inaccessible rear of the container or shorter term storage toward the front (where it was more available if needed later). Items in the RV had to be severely limited to only the absolute essentials, which was a challenge with seven people planning to live in roughly 250 square feet of space (one child left for college over the summer). Clothing was limited to an eight-day supply (one extra outfit for each person), as we would be traveling into town only once a week for a laundromat.
A 40-foot-by-8-foot shipping container provided storage for household belongings until the new home was built.
A 30-foot-long RV became the temporary home for the family.
Initially, we planned to sell off all livestock since we had no facilities, but the children voted to keep a handful of hens for an egg supply and two dairy goats plus two spring doelings to provide us with fresh milk.
Since we were moving to rural country with a heavy presence of predators such as raccoon, bobcat, coyote and even the occasional cougar, we decided to keep one of our livestock guardian dogs as well, to ensure the safety of the goats and hens. A few visits to the new property quickly proved that there was also an annual plague of chiggers and ticks, so we also opted to catch and transplant some of our guineas to assist with bug control. Warnings of mice infesting RVs convinced us to take our four barn cats as well. Finally, we took our indoor pet dog, just because she was part of the family. We decided a few hours spent setting up secure, if temporary, facilities for the animals at the new property would allow us to settle into a routine quickly once we moved there permanently.
A makeshift outhouse using sawdust and a 5-gallon bucket supplemented the RV bathroom, eliminating the need for a septic system for the RV, and allowing for environmently-friendy composting.
We spent the first half of summer researching, packing and preparing. We even had some “trial runs” living in the RV parked in the farm driveway, so we could best learn what items we did and didn’t need. We decided to purchase a nice grill for outdoor cooking, since it was too hot to be cooking indoors for the summer season. We discovered camper beds are way too hard for full-time use, so we purchased memory-foam mattress toppers for each bed. We learned to organize a small space. Sean did his research and purchased an appropriately-sized solar power system to supply us with electricity. We developed a plan for water and a compost outhouse facility (aka, a 5-gallon bucket in a tent, essentially). After getting our trailer thoroughly stuck in the clay mud at the new property, we hired an excavator to come in and build us a gravel driveway before we made the official move. We arranged things, then rearranged things, until time ran out. Finally, on July 29, 2021, we officially changed our address — even though our new property’s address was so new, it didn’t even register in most GPS systems, posing a few challenges in itself!
This new series of “Starting Over” will chronicle some of the opportunities, life lessons and reflections our family experiences on our journey as we start over in the coming months.