Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A bit about us.

Who we are.

People tell us that we are some of the most ambitious, hardworking people they know; that we are incredible for experimenting and not being scared of trying new things. They are amazed that I wake up and make bread or can a batch of jam, then go to work all day, then make dinner and a dessert or make another batch of jam. They love that we are following our hearts. They enjoy hearing about our adventures in canning and dehydrating, growing a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, raising our own meat, our own eggs, making beef jerky, prosciutto, cheese, crème fraiche, yogurt, pate. We love saving our own seeds and starting seedlings. Everyone is always drooling on facebook with our posts of gourmet cooking and baking, and our friends love attending our dinner parties that we have many times a year. I usually have about 15 sewing, beading, crafty projects going at once and Stephane is always building something out in the yard or fixing something in the house.  We keep dreaming of what is to come next.  Basically if we dream it, one of us will have the answer to move forward, but it is usually a joined effort.

Stephane and I have known each other for almost 15 years and we will be married 2 years in July. Even 15 years ago we started a garden in the backyard where Stephane’s father used to garden. After we bought our first house (in San Leandro)  with 0.16 of an acre, we brought all the existing fruit trees back to life and tripled the amount of fruit trees on the property. We planted a huge garden most of the year and even made our first hoop house. I even started experimenting with canning and dehydrating.

We were together for almost 5 years and loved each other so much, but we both had some growing up to do.  I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to get my Bachelor of University Studies at the University of New Mexico in Communicating Conservation Business. I also have my AA in Business Administration. While I was there I traveled through their Study Abroad Program and went to Sweden. I had my apartment there for 9 months, but ended up going to several countries: Denmark, Finland, Russia, Holland, Spain, Italy and spent a lot of time in France.  I learned an incredible amount about myself and what I am capable of. After returning I finished up my degree through the National Study Abroad Program at Southern Oregon University and almost got my Nonprofit Management Certificate (missing 2 classes and volunteer work). I always planned to finish but I believe the program deteriorated in the crash of the economy.

Not too long after I graduated, Stephane and I found each other again. While I was gone, Stephane had furthered his plumbing abilities and had bought another house (in Manteca). We then sold our first house and bought a beautiful home in Novato with a tiny backyard. It backed up to a hill and everyone thought we were crazy for terracing the entire hillside. We filled it with paths, stairs, fruit trees and anything we wanted to eat. Early on, a deer ate about a third of our garden in an afternoon. I came home from work the next day to Stephane and his worker swinging from ropes and putting up a 6 foot chain link fence. We never had problems with deer again.

The incredible thing about Stephane is that he doesn’t let anything hold him back. If we need something, he will dream up how to solve the problem. He is so incredibly handy, has great common sense, and can build anything he sets out to do! Makes life incredibly joyous and easy when you have someone that can help realize our dreams!

Where did we come from?

I believe Stephane has always been like that. He used to ride “mobilets” (mo-ped) when he was little through the snow and they would break down and he would find a way to fix them. His family of 2 brothers and 2 sisters is from France. His father was a baker and his mother an incredible seamstress. Stephane started working in the bakery at a very young age. When we started dating, he actually taught me how to knead bread and make piecrust! He still loves making the crust as I make the filling.

His family came over to California when he was 14. The only thing he knew how to say was “piece of string” and he didn’t even know what it meant. Now he speaks French, English, and Spanish! Early on, he learned English by watching TV, and started working in his father’s bakery. He later changed his focus to plumbing. He started working in a plumbing supply house, then moved to residential and commercial plumbing, then wells and pumps, then remodels and new construction plumbing and heating. On all these construction sites, he taught himself Spanish.

But what did we know about farming? 

Sure, I lived on a farm when I was from the ages of 3-6 and had a chicken I named Favorite. We raised rabbits and had a whole flock of laying hens and an ornery rooster; we actually named him Ornery. We had a beautiful garden and life in the country. My Father was a cabinet maker/ carpenter and then went on to CDF and fought forest fires. My Momma was an interior designer and a crafty Mom. She was raised in the country all her life and did 4-H, gardened, canned, baked, cooked, sewed, and frequently went to my great-grandmother’s ranch where they had an incredible farm house, bunk houses for the cowboys, barns, a cookhouse too, and acres and acres of land and cattle. My grandma and grandpa still have a large garden today, tons of fruit trees and they still can, dehydrate, cook, and bake and my grandma is 80! They are really incredible.

And Stephane used to make his own toys and scavenge for food in the nearby fields of the French countryside. He even kept a duck under his bed (for a very short time) until his Mom found it, and made him take it back to the pond. His mom was raised by her grandparents on a farm and was taught to work hard. They raised their own animals and made almost everything from scratch. I guess you could say we have farming and hard work in our genes. 

What we are doing.

A year ago in December we started looking for places with land. We wanted a homestead. We wanted animals and to raise our own food - a place where we could be completely sustainable and live as much off the grid as possible - a place where we could put all our love into and keep expanding. But we needed to be realistic and look for a home near our work.

We finally settled on a home in Vallejo with a third of an acre.  When we bought the place in December 2010, it was a foreclosure without a kitchen and the house really needed some love. It had linoleum turned up in the bathrooms and one toilet was actually slanted so bad that you felt you were sailing on the ocean. There was absolutely no landscaping except for 9 beautiful fruit trees. It didn’t even have a surrounding fence to keep our Boston Terrier confined in the back yard (when he needed to be). In just over a year, we have worked hard on the inside of the house - putting in a new kitchen, mostly new bathrooms with all new tile or linoleum, all new paint, and designing our place into our home. Outside we now have 35 fruit trees, several vegetable gardens, grapes and berries, 22 laying chickens, a couple roosters, a turkey, 28 rabbits, a pond, a hen house, a turkey house, a goat house, and a hay house. We also raise/process our own meat chickens (20 at a time) and we also had a goat that we ended up eating and making prosciutto with. We tried to find a friend for him but it was at the height of summer and everyone wanted $350 or more for their goats and we ended up getting Billy for $75 because someone was moving. It was actually a really good test because neither one of us had had goat before and we both ended up really liking it. We also raised 2 guinea hens but found they were so incredibly noisy and much better on our dinner table.

A couple months ago we brought home Molly and Simon; twin goats – a boy and girl! And we just got a free Momma Nigerian Dwarf goat from my homesteading list serve. We have ordered 2 families of bees, 10 Muscovy ducks, and 2 more turkeys that are all arriving in April.

But now we have run into a problem. We wanted to raise a family of pigs and found that we couldn’t raise them on our land. Even though I think our neighbors wouldn’t mind, we wanted to move to a place where we were unrestricted by these types of things. We had also been talking about how fast we were outgrowing our land. We put so much love and effort into making a home for us and our animals (and plants) that we wanted a place that could sustain us for more than a couple of years. We have also found that we absolutely love raising our own animals.

What are we good at?

We are good at a lot of things and the things we don’t know how to do…we research. I buy books and read every chance I get. I subscribe to farming magazines: Mother Earth News, Urban Farm, Hobby Farm, and Countryside. We watch YouTube videos and search the Internet. I have joined Facebook groups and Homesteading list serves so I can direct my questions to fellow homesteaders. I created a Meet Up group for 30 Something Dames where we get together and sew aprons, have clothing swaps, go antiquing, can jam, and make cheese. I take classes or go to conferences such as the National Heirloom Festival or the Food and Farm Conference.

We are incredibly resourceful and are always garage-saleing or getting items off freecycle. My friends are always commenting on my clothes or other items and they laugh when I say “it’s from a garage sale” because I constantly say that. They are amazed at what we find and what we build for almost next to nothing. Stephane is always getting free items from construction sites and bringing home duel pane windows and beautiful toilets because “it wasn’t their style.”

I am able to can at a discounted price because I get the majority of my canning jars, lids, etc. from garage sales. I even get beautiful baskets so I can pack them with fruits, veggies, eggs, and homemade goods when I visit my friends.

We were able to make our animal houses out of recycled wood and even found rabbit wire and fencing for next to nothing at garage sales, freecycle, and craigslist.

Where are we going?

We would love to find a farm that we can grow into; a place with at least 5 acres with land partly surrounding it, so that one-day we could purchase or lease more. It doesn’t need to have a house on it, but that would be nice. We can always build one to put on it. Stephane now has his General Contractors license. Would be nice if water and electricity were already there, but if needed, Stephane can put a well in. We would love to live off a well if that is possible. We also want to own this land. With all the love we put into a place, we need to own our land. We would love land behind us - the ranching/farm land with green rolling hills. We love that it is close to farming communities and ag land, but not next to high spray areas.

Our dream is to have a CSA. We have kind of been running our own family/friend CSA. I pack fruits, veggies, eggs and goodies for anyone visiting. But we would love to take it and turn it into something big; a real CSA. We love so many things; we could start out small to experiment but then could expand as we get better, bigger.

I have been working at my job for almost 4 years. I am an office manager / facilitator for my boss who is a best-selling author and workshop presenter. I manage 2 websites, do all the marketing materials, graphic design, manage retail and whole products, all the social networking, taxes, among a million other things. I also get to work from home. I love my job and think that it has prepared me to do what we love best: Farming. I think that we will be incredibly successful at it, especially with both of our backgrounds. I could continue to work at my job while Stephane would run the farm. I would do all the marketing materials and business side of things, but would also garden and take care of the animals in the morning or afternoon/evenings and weekends.

Our Ultimate Dream.

We see our ultimate dream as living off the land. Looking around we see a beautiful farm house with solar panels, that will hold several children and our family members as they come to visit. We see green pastures and a couple rolling hills and gardens bursting with scrumptious things to eat. We see at least 2-3 acres of orchards of fruit and nut trees. Bees are buzzing around, making more food for us to eat. We see goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, ducks, a herd of sheep and their llama protector, and a few cows. We see barns and buildings and a field of hay and alfalfa for the animals. We will have a root cellar and ponds, and swimming pool would be nice (for after those long hot days of gardening or out with the animals).

We will have a thriving CSA business where we sell all sorts of meats, veggies, fruits, honey, canned goods, as well as cheese and ice cream. We even would have a weekly menu so people could order a homemade dinner or baked treat (2 each to choose from). We would sell to local restaurants that want quality food that we call “Beyond Organic.” Food that is happy, healthy and nourishing. Food that has lived a happy, free life and was killed in a humane way.

We see children and schools coming to learn that meat doesn’t come from saran wrap or McDonalds. That a carrot plucked from the ground or that a warm sun ripened tomato is so incredibly different and sweet tasting than that lump of tasteless coal you get from the grocery store.

We could even have a second house for a bed and breakfast. Where people could come experience farm life and eat our good food. There might even be a couple of places to park a trailer or RV for those that are traveling with their homes. These could even house traveling farm helpers that want to do a work exchange with us.

So many possibilities!

To give you a better idea of what we would like to do in the future, we really like what these 2 farms are doing. (They both produce and create several things and operate in a sustainable way, so they are giving back to the land): 

1.     Sea Breeze Farm: http://www.seabreezefarm.net/index.html
2.     Polyface Farms http://www.polyfacefarms.com/

Just a little bit about us. ;-)

~Shanon and Stephane


  1. You and Stephane are two amazing people and I love reading about your home/farm. I love your Facebook posts too! Love ya! Diana Schlott

  2. Hello Shanon, Diana sent me a link to your blog. The reason she did is because you are living MY dream :). Every single word above (and I read every single one) could have been written by me. Well, with a couple exceptions (you're young, for example), but trust me, you and I have a lot in common. And I'm so interested and encouraged by your positive focus on your dreams/life. I am going to look for you on Facebook if you don't mind so I can follow you there too. You have mentioned many resources that I want to follow up on.

    A bit about me: We currently have 5 laying hens. We live in Sugar Grove, IL, about 50 miles west of Chicago. But we are originally from So. Calif. I ALWAYS wanted to live on a farm and my husband too. At various times in our married life, we have raised pigs, goats, ducks, geese, chickens, pigeons, etc...I have always been an animal lover and horse person too. Sidenote: Have you read The Dirty Life? You would appreciate it, I know you would. But I've always loved making things from scratch: Bread (years ago I even ground my own wheat), pasta, good whole/real food, and I now run my own soapmaking business - www.bigfatsoap.com. It's a three year old company and I've also just added candles to my offerings. I'm longing (dying for) my own farm and my husband is on board, but I worry that we're nearly too old - and he is currently on a long term project in Houston :( boooo! Home only on weekends, but it does pay the bills and allow me to work at my business full time. My big thing is pasturing animals, like Polyface farms does - so I figure we probably need at least 20-40 acres, which is doable in the midwest. We're looking at SW Michigan so we can be near our kids and grandkids, who are here in the Chicago area. Michigan is beautiful and fruit is their main crop, rather than the creepy GMO corn/soybeans that surround us. I want many more chickens - heritage breeds, to raise, not just my few hens. But even though we have nearly an acre of land, our neighbors would not appreciate a goat, although I'm tempted. We grow a large garden from heritage organic seeds. We are sort of 'the oddballs' in our neighborhood and most of our neighbors love it, a couple do not. We'd sure love to not have neighbors and live at least mostly off the grid. Another book that I read that was enlightening to me was Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. In the two books I've mentioned (and I research and read everything I can get my hands on, much like you do) I learned much about myself, as I reassessed what I'm able and willing to do and why. Both inspired me to go for it.

    Ok, enough about me for now. I am so happy that Diana 'introduced' us. You inspire me! Thank you!!! And best wishes to you both - you'll have it all because you are dreaming in details :).

    I also knew June. So I feel like I know you already.

    Debbie Richards

    1. Hello Debbie.

      Thank you so much for your beautiful letter! So sorry it has taken me a bit to get back to you. Life goes by so fast. ;-) Very nice to meet you. So sorry to hear that some of your neighbors think of you as the "oddball" and wouldn't want a goat nearby. If you do decide to get goats, you should get 2 since they are herd animals and one would get really lonely. I would also get 2 females since you can milk them and make soap, cheese, ice cream, etc AND the boys can be noisy (or at least ours have been). So strange that the boys on the farms are loud and mean. Almost want to kick the boys out completely! ;-) I think I have read the first chapter of The Dirty Life on my kindle but I have been reading farm books every chance I get. I also started reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and think it is great but once again started reading about our upcoming animals. This month we are getting bees, Muscovy ducks and 2 more turkeys so lots to read about and plan. Stephane is even digging up an old pond that was buried by the previous owners. He even found the bridge buried in it! The ducks are going to love swimming in the pond.

      I love that you have a soap and candle company! I have always wanted to learn how to make soap. I actually have a friend who makes it and thinking about asking her to teach my meet up group how to make it. She gave me 4 bars of her soap and I absolutely loved it.

      Love that you knew June. That is very sweet. She is really missed.

      Well, time to go feed the animals. Keep on dreaming and being the "oddball". The neighbors boundaries need to be pushed so they can step out of their comfort zone. Just find what is legal for you to have, treat your animals right, and maybe put the animals on the other side of your property (away from the other "oddballs") to keep the peace. ;-)

      Happy homesteading and crafting!