Modern Homesteading and Sustainable Farming Expert
Even though she has written on topics as far flung as scuba diving and Chitimacha Indian basketry, Gwen’s favorite beat is rural living. For almost two decades she was the communications specialist for the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
, translating sustainable agriculture research results into stories farmers can actually use. Upon retiring in 2010, she began writing about her experiences as a community organizer on behalf of homeless pets in her county.
Pike County, Georgia, a rolling rural landscape in the foothills of the Pine Mountain range. Small farms and homesteads grace the hillsides. Grazing cattle, hay fields, pecan groves, and peach orchards line the country roads. However, the pastoral beauty is marred by the number of homeless pets abandoned on roadsides to starve or fall victim to traffic, predators and disease. The pet overpopulation is due to a culture that doesn’t value sterilization of companion animals or regulations about pet ownership. Even though an elderly woman was killed by roaming dogs in 2007, the county still has no animal control regulations or even a county shelter.
Farming and Rural Living Background:
Gwen grew up in rural Louisiana where self-sufficiency was a given, so the back-to-earth movement of the early 70s was just a short jaunt for her. She and then-partner Calvin Voisin built a houseboat and returned to the Atchafalaya Swamp of their ancestors. There was so little information about the things they were doing that she began writing as a way to help others who were also pursuing a self-sufficient lifestyle.
Gwen’s first article for Mother Earth News was published in 1982. Barge on a Bayou described the details of building a monstrous floating house without power tools. Thanks to those details, which even included some financial specs, measurements and dates, Gwen was able to use the old article as framework for a chapter in her memoir Atchafalaya Houseboat (2006, LSU Press). A documentary based on Gwen’s book was produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting in 2008. Most PBS stations air it about twice a year.
Gwen’s sense of curiosity has always outweighed her fear of failure. This imbalance has led her into many jobs and personal pursuits for which she was not remotely qualified.
Current Projects and Other Fun Facts:
Gwen and her husband Preston raise most of their own food with the help of horse manure, chickens, and earthworms. They also buy from Pike County’s Market on the Square, which they helped organize. The market, along with The First Saturday Dancers
an old-time dance group Gwen started, makes up the core of their social life. The best of times happens when the two groups overlap. As she puts it, “How can you top an evening spent dancing with the farmer who grows your food?”
See What Gwen's Been Writing About Lately:
Whether buying or selling, or just looking for good conversation, Market on the Square is the place to be on Saturday mornings in Pike County, Georgia.
Now that she lives in Georgia instead of the Louisiana swamp, Gwen appreciates not having to haul manure for her garden by boat.