Sycamore Hollow: the Joys and Sorrows of Homesteading in Tennessee

We can all profit from the lessons the Allen family learned during the six years they devoted to homesteading in Tennessee.


| November/December 1980



066 homesteading in tennessee - prize catch, bountiful garden

TOP: Dick and his two sons showing off a prize catch. BOTTOM: The soil wasn't good when they started, but after an infusion of hay, manure, leaves, and sawdust  their French intensive garden became a bountiful success.


DICK ALLEN

 It's been six years since my family and I put down roots in Tennessee's beautiful Sycamore Hollow. And let me tell you right now that we don't regret a single one of the moments that made up our days homesteading in Tennessee. The past years have been among the richest we have yet experienced.

Nevertheless, we've decided to leave. We're putting our 30-acre rustic farm — and the passive solar, earth-sheltered home that we built ourselves — up for sale even though we don't know where we'll go once the place is sold.

To understand our story — and the reasons for our "shocking" change of direction — you have to go back to that day, years ago, when my wife Kris and I, along with two other couples, pooled our assets to buy a 160-acre plot in northern Tennessee. At that time, each family had one young child (and hopes for more). Lots of other folks were beginning to settle into the area, too. In fact, over 100 people came to our first Thanksgiving party! Such promising beginnings made us feel certain that more families would soon join our land-sharing trio, and that — in a matter of a year or two — the surrounding region would grow into a real community, perhaps with its own alternative school and food co-op!

But that initial year turned out to be the high point — rather than merely the beginning — of the region's homesteading movement. Since then, the overall population of our immediate locale has slowly declined and, here in Sycamore Hollow, Kris and I and our two boys have had to go it alone for the past two years.

There are many reasons why our former neighbors failed to stay on in these parts (after all, homesteading is never easy!), but two problems seem to have influenced almost every family that left. For one, jobs are hard to come by in this rural region. Many of our friends had trouble making enough money to keep their homesteads going. And, for another, a lot of people out here ended up feeling too isolated and alone. (Our own farm, for instance, is a mile back from the nearest through road! )

The job problem didn't affect Kris and me too much because our candlemaking and pottery have enabled us to tap into the city economy for income — by selling our wares through urban shops and craft shows — and then to bring our money back to our home in the country. (Not surprisingly, most of our friends who have stayed in the region support themselves by means of their crafts.)





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