Updates on the Dragon Belly Farm Project
Scroll through to explore the history of this project, but down to the bottom for the most current update.
I can’t believe it is almost 20 years since we bought this land.
Life keeps changing. The land is beautiful and abundant and we are not currently on it. After seven years of looking, we did not have anyone with financial resources interested in being part of the community. I was still working in California at a new job that paid well in an area I could certainly live with until I could get back to the land. After almost three years of my living in California and running back to the farm whenever I had a break or vacation, and Brian living on the farm taking care of everything, sometimes renting out rooms in the house, but often living alone, we decided to have him join me in California so that one, we could be together, and two, we could earn more money to pay for our projects.
Just before he was scheduled to leave in June, we found what seemed like the perfect people to rent our house. They wanted a three year lease. This gave us time to maximize our savings…once again, and perhaps travel.
Another stumbling block has been dealing with county planning. As in many beautiful and desirable parts of the country with reasonable access to metropolitan areas, there is much emphasis on appropriate growth management. In the area we are in, there are both very strong groups of environmental activists and also a very vocal group of property rights activists. We consider ourselves bioregional environmentalists and want to develop the land in a way that we feel is beneficial for the land, the wildlife, agriculture and the community. Yet we also have to fit into regulatory guidelines.
Since we had so little financial resources left after purchasing the land on our own, completing seven years of projects on our own (planting orchards, excavating ponds, caring for animals, and other property improvements) without Brian earning an outside income, we did not want to risk have to “do it” more than once so we put off filing for permits. We were also delayed by an engineer we were working with who did not make us a high priority because we were going to “pay later.” The county also wasn’t sure how to classify us; they thought we were a Planned Unit Development as we did not want to subdivide the whole property but rather wanted to have home sites with land held in common.
This is a expensive way to do it. We were also waiting on more favorable septic system regulations which would allow us to use gray water. During this time, we went from being able to build as many house as we could provide septic for (septic is a definite challenge) to one house per five acres. On 39 acres, we expected to be able to have seven houses and cost estimates were based on that. Spring 1995, we did a lot line adjustment, leaving our current home and agricultural projects on 9 acres and creating a 30 acre parcel for a cluster of houses, more agriculture, and forests, and open spaces. Fall 1995, they put a moratorium on building and there is talk of our parcel being either one house per 20 acres–no more houses for us other than replacing the existing mobile home or perhaps one house per 10 acres, which would allow us three houses.
Though we would prefer the six houses to keep costs down, we feel we can “live with” the three if people can continue to have six additional shares and three larger community houses are built for those six shares. We were inspired by the group houses described in Rebuilding Community in America. As a house is defined as having one kitchen, one house could be built with two wings for two families with one kitchen and still meet the requirements. There could even be three or four wings if the home builders wanted to share with more owners or renters. If only three single family homes are built or any permutation thereof, housing costs will be greater–and community would be smaller. As of December, the GMA still has not been passed. We understand that after it is in place, we are supposed to contact them and tell them what we think our density should be. Obviously, we will ask for the one house/5 acre density.
Needless to say, all this takes financial resources. Before we can have renters, we need owners. We are looking for people with similar values to ours and money. There has been a tendency for us and “the movement” to attract many wonderful folks without the money or the ability to earn it in sufficient quantities to own land and build homes in the 90’s. We can build in environmentally sensitive ways: straw bale, rammed earth, earth bermed, pumicecrete, etc., but it still cost $50-70/square foot if you live in an area with building codes. Missouri does not have them. Land is relatively cheap in the mid-west and elsewhere. Washington seemed cheap next to California but still is $5000-$10,000/acre plus development costs.
Many people talk about being off the grid and that it would not make sense to use alternative energy sources if you were already on the grid. The climate of the Olympic Peninsula made developing solar resources questionable; wind is also problematic. We have water flow but I’m not sure there is sufficient drop and/or flow for water power. In June, after hearing Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute talk at the opening of the Solar Center of the Real Goods Company in Hopland, California, I realized that a community on the grid could produce alternative energy and sell it back to the power companies. He shared exciting new technologies involving hydrogen oxidation power cells for homes and cars which we will see shortly.
So . . . we though we had three years to see if we are still up to doing what we said we wanted to do. . . to find partners who want to share this dream. We are not willing to continue to hold the vision alone and have total financial responsibility for it. If you are financially able to participate in the development of this project, please contact us. . Since we have been in California, we have been contacted by several interested families. We look forward to future contact with them as well as communication from other interested folks.
We have also been meeting with people in the San Francisco South Bay area who are interested in cohousing to learn more about the process, network with others, and explore our options. We are also open to investors who believe in our project, continue to live in the city or elsewhere, and would like to join us on vacations. If your lifestyle choices have led you to limited financial resources but great agricultural and other skills, we would love to hear from you after our financial base is more stable. Due to the latest change in our situation (see below), there is a possibility of a need for a caretaker on the land. This would be appropriate for someone wanting to live simply and do agriculture. We have an orchard that needs to be cared for and are open to other agricultural based projects.
THEN, JUST BEFORE THANKSGIVING… everything changed again. We had a fire early the morning of November 25th. Our tenants lost everything they owned. They had no insurance.
We did have insurance. We debated rebuilding, particularly since the insurance would pay more for replacement value. We finally decided not to rebuild at this time and used the house money plus some of the money for the contents to pay off the land.
We see the project as being on hold, probably until we are ready to retire. We are open to other interested parties who are willing and able to continue the development.
Well, it has been a year and a half since the fire. We are still living in San Mateo, CA about 20 miles south of San Francisco. Some of the proceeds from the insurance helped buy a 4 unit apartment building in which we are developing an urban retrofit cohousing project. Brian is working for United Airlines which gives us the ability to fly for almost nothing. We go up to the farm several times a year, always in the early spring to graft and prune fruit trees. We have had a series of caretakers on the farm. We just got a new one and I think he will be stable. He was at his last place for 11 years in Pt. Townsend and now wants to live in a rural area. He is a handy man and will probably be quite helpful on the farm. We are open to other caretakers who want to maintain the orchard and garden. There is also a mobile home on the front of the property which has been rented out for awhile. The current tenant is leaving soon so that space will be available to rent.
Brian can retire from United in ten years….if he can stand it that long. I can retire as a teacher in six years. Probably at that point we will begin to look at what we might want to build on the farm. We will need to reevaluate it as a retirement location partially dependent on whether or not there has been interest from others in the site. There is still a freeze on development in Jefferson County. The GMA has not been finalized. They expect it to be complete this year, but then we have heard that before. Oh, and the people who burned our house down are trying to sue us…but our insurance company took care of it.
The caretaker, Henry, is still there. The tenant moved out of the mobile home last September and his girlfriend moved there with her children. Last summer, Eric moved onto the land to take care of the orchard and soon got a little trailer. We enjoyed eating apples from the trees on our visit last fall. We were there four or five times last year.and more frequently this year. Eric has since left to housesit in town (his trailer is still there.)
When I was up last summer, I found that our zoning had been changed again from one house/20 acres to one house/10 acres… a little better. We may yet be able to get a variance for greater density. Even with out it, we can have four houses. As the county defines a house as having one kitchen, we can have large houses designed for multiple families with one common kitchen in each.
Brian’s job at United has become more tolerable because he has founded like-minded folks. I have been enjoying the travel benefits with trips to three continents in the past two years. Our community here is progressing. We still plan on retiring to Dragon Belly Farm if folks show up between now and then who want to create this community with us. I have five more years to go and Brian has eight.
Spring 2000 Update
The caretaker, Henry is looking at moving into town because of health reasons. His girlfriend left the area last fall. A new tenant moved into the mobile home late winter. Some additional caretakers came to the land early spring. They are very into simple living and have experience both in living in community and in organic gardening. Michael will become the main contact. He is a 40 something young man. His extended family includes a middle aged couple, Martis and Mary Martha, with several grown children and one daughter, about 8, with them. They are currently in the process of building a bath house and developing gardens and looking at how they may support themselves on the land. We hope to be able to building a large storage barn on the land next year.
I have been contacted by several folks who may be interested in buying into the project, and building a home. We have heard of several interesting ideas for businesses on the land (including a landscaping business and a goat dairy.)
If you are interested in the developing community at Dragon Belly, you can contact us. The people who are currently living there are living very simply at minimal expense and working to make the land more productive and beautiful. If you are interested in that lifestyle, contact Michael at the farm at 360/732-4855. He may also be open to people coming for a short time to camp on the land and help with a project. If you are interested in future development, purchasing a share of the land, and building a home, contact me in California, 650/574-7155 or send email.That development does not have to wait until we retire in seven years. We continue to travel and develop our community in San Mateo.You can find out a little more about us by looking at my home page.
I have been asked for a more current update…but really, there has not been much change since my last update. Michael is still the main caretaker and his friends Martis and family are still there. Michael built a two bathroom bathhouse using the septic system from the house that burned down. He has been living in a small trailer, but is now in the process of building a yurt like structure. Individuals and groups make inquiries ever so often. At this point, we think it would take a group effort to begin a community on the land as infrastructure would have to be built before houses could be built. Sometimes we talk about the idea of putting a resort on the land instead of a community. We are still pretty much up in the air.
We are not sure at this point, whether we would retire on the land. I am only interested in doing that if a community shows up in the meantime, and then only part-time. Since Brian started working at United in 1997, we have done lots of traveling and have made connections with communities in other parts of the world. We have also developed our community in San Mateo quite a bit, it is now a mini-ecovillage. Brian expects to retire from United in August of 2007 when he is 55 and I hope to retire before that.
Fall 2004 Update
Brian and I took an urban permaculture design course in the bay area. When we found out that there was going to be a design course at the ecovillage that was forming next to Rosewind Cohousing in Pt. Townsend, we decided to send Michael to the class. We had also paid for the purchase and construction of a vary large greenhouse for the property. There was talk of growing salad greens in the winter as a commercial enterprise. The last time we were up there, this frame had been covered with a double layer of plastic, growing beds were prepared, and Michael was working on getting water to it.
Fall 2005 Update
I suppose it is time for more current updates…but really, there has not been much change since my last update. Michael is still the main caretaker and his friends Martis and family are still there ….though the children have grown. Brian and I enjoyed a brief visit to the farm recently, and Michael has been visiting us a lot at the San Mateo Ecovillage….and being very helpful to us here in California. Since our visits to the farm in the past few years have tended to be brief, like long weekends, Michael’s longer visits have given us a better chance to get to know him.
People continue to contact us with interest about the property. We hope someone feels the pull of this land soon, enough to join us. Again, it may take several someones who can talk amongst themselves to get this off the ground. The first additional investment in the land would require a plan with the county, and then roads, well and septic development, and other infrastructure before additional houses can even be built. We are certainly willing to wait for any return on our investment until infrastructure is built.
Our project in California continues to grow. We finally were able to purchase an adjoining building that we have been waiting on for 7 years. We are setting up the two buildings/8 apartments as a TIC, and as we sell off the units, we plan on investing the money back into Dragon Belly Farm. We were hoping the next money would come from others besides us, so at least we knew there was real interest, but we do have to put our “profits” back into real estate to avoid the tax consequences, so why not here.
Winter 2006 Update
Another opportunity has come up that will require our investment. We have been contacted by the owners of the Beaver Valley Store, on 4 acres on the NE corner of our property ….bottom right hand corner in the picture above. There is possibility of more commercial development there as well. It seems like a good move to give a commercial outlet for anything we might want to do….but I sure don’t want to run a store. I hope the possibility of more businesses here attracts others.
To orient you further from this picture (taken many years ago when we had the opportunity to do a fly over): our property’s northern border is that road you see on the right. The western border is half way through that forest in the middle of the picture. In front of that forest, there is a driveway going to the back. The property continues to the south (left) and to the east (bottom) except for the store property on the lower right. Housing would be clustered in that field in the center of the property. Unfortunately, there was a one acre parcel cut out of the property years before we bought it. It is just about the middle of this property next to the road and the driveway, next to that very tall evergreen, that I think has been since cut down by previous owners. It was subdivided without permission from the county, but then the county let it stand. Of course, it may act to our advantage when we attempt to get a variance to have more that one house/10 acres.
Summer 2007 Update
There had not been enough of a change in the situation to write an update in awhile. About two months ago, we were contacted by Robert Bornn of Building Circles. He and is partner, Laura Worth have had an interest in developing what they call an “aging in place” community with a focus on sustainability and green building. They seem to have a particular interest in earthbermed structures. Laura writes, “Our personal favorite design is a “Hobbit House,” single story, nature-integrated dwelling). The Hobbit House design can permit exceptional visual and acoustic privacy in our rural community without requiring enormous spaces between homes. The privacy permitted by “open clusters” enables greater density and reduces the per house cost of land. ” Their ideas seem aligned with our principles and after several phone calls and emails, in August we contracted with them to do some preliminary research on possibilities including building options, community focus, support from the county planning, alternative funding sources, and viability of purchasing the store. In late August, they came to stay on the property for a weekend….and as of the second week in September, they are still there.
Late Fall 2007 Update
Robert Bornn and Laura Worth wrote the following for this web site.
In August and September 2007, we stayed at Dragon Belly Farm in Jefferson County to perform an on-site feasibility study for the owners, Brian and Sanda Everette. They contracted with us to evaluate the possibility of building a small eco-community of our BuildingCircles. affordable “hobbit houses” on their land. This alternative housing community would serve active adults as they age in place.
Living on their nearly 40-acre farm for about a month, we were able to identify important human resources for this development that are available in Jefferson County. Our conclusion is that the political, economic, financial, and social climate is optimal to introduce these affordable and sustainable, nature-integrated homes for independent living to Jefferson County.
We currently see a window of opportunity for financing and building that would combine our community designs with Brian and Sanda’s vision for their land. This conclusion is based on the following factors.
Affordable Housing. Jefferson County faces an accelerated crisis in affordable housing to the extent that, during the time we were there, the housing community was considering a declaration of an “affordable housing emergency.”
Aging in Place. Our proposal to develop a model eco-community of low maintenance, high durability, single-story homes for the safe and comfortable aging in place of active adults was met with enthusiasm by several County officials and community development leaders.
Sustainability. We found a tradition of strong underlying support for sustainability going back historically to the nascent ecology movement half a century ago. Today there is an emerging sense of social responsibility among many elected and appointed officials, as well some community nonprofits, to support our goal of “living houses”that draw energy sustainably from their surroundings.
Leadership. There are a number of highly active officials, opinion leaders, nonprofits, and decision-makers poised in a network to provide leadership for a model project that would demonstrate BuildingCircles Organization home and energy designs. We believe Dragon Belly Farm is an appropriate site for such a pilot project.
Organization and Financing. To succeed in this goal we have recommended that Brian and Sanda form a nonprofit legal entity that will sponsor partial financing of the community with low-interest loans or grants. The land itself would be acquired by a hybrid community land trust. The community could include both home owners and rentals. A cap on the potential appreciation of the homes would insure affordability into the future.
The Community Members. The sponsoring organization would fundraise and recruit a small core of visionaries. They would help attract the future community members and together, would realize their vision.
A bit over a year after they first approached us, we are about to buy the Beaver Valley Store Property. This includes 4 acres of commercial highway frontage at the NE corner of Dragon Belly Farm, and can be seen in the picture above. It is on the main road from Seattle to Pt. Townsend, including the first market you come to after crossing the Hood Canal Bridge. Frankly, the reason they approached us and eventually agreed to sell it to us for less that its appraised value is that we may be the only ones who can make improved use of the property. Any improvements, particularly in food service, required septic and there was no place on the property to put septic as it is low and wet. However septic could be placed on the dry portion of Dragon Belly Farm.
The store is currently leased to a family who has been running it for about 15 years. We want to make serious changes to the business, and it is unlikely the lessors will remain after their term is up in the next year. Right now it is like a very poor quality convenience store with poor quality food, which I hear is often dusty and outdated. Their biggest money maker is probably cigarettes which I could not even begin to consider selling. It is also a gas station.
We want to see it transform into a “charming” country store, though would hope that the business could still be leased to another entity to run it, preferably something like a worker-owned cooperative. We would also be involved with food production from our own gardens as well as from other local farmers, selling of high quality natural foods, as well as interesting beverages from around the world. We would also expect to offer gardening and landscaping supplies and services, probably outside of the current building. We are also envisioning art studios and galleries. We want to see art integrated with the beautiful natural environment, including making use of the large boulders left behind for us by glaciers in millenniums past. I really am inspired by Elandan Gardens http://www.elandangardens.com/ Future expansion, as part of the development of the whole property, could include studios for health care professionals. We are talking abut a big WE here, not just my family, and certainly beyond the scope of anything we can do with the folks currently involved.
It would be great to find some folks who would like to participate in redeveloping the commercial property and/or running the store as we are currently living in California, and will be here for at least another 15 months.
Any building will require a plan for the whole project. We are not talking about subdividing, but rather building on about 20% of the land and leaving the rest in orchards, gardens, forests, and fields, while honoring indigenous history. We have talked about community for years, and are now talking about the possibility of a community for active seniors, but one with more of a focus on cooperative, simple and sustainable living than the nearby more upscale retirement community of Pt. Ludlow. The county has expressed interest in such a project.
Summer 2009 Update
We never ended up buying the store. We felt they wanted to much for it in its condition, and there wasn’t really the community to run it. As far as I know it is still for sale. I retired from my teaching job, but Brian is still working. Our life situation is not stable enough for us to lose his income yet. We are experiencing lots of challenges in our community in San Mateo as well as in WA. We keep exploring options, but have pretty much come to the conclusion that unless a whole group of people who are a community looking for land come together and want to develop our land, nothing much is going to happen her. We are considering building a small house for ourselves, that could be classified as an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) if we ever get the opportunity to build one of those large shared houses we have talked about for years. We are looking at strawbale. Brian felt that he had to have a barn for tools and equipment, so we went ahead and ordered a 30’x40′ steel building, but then realized that it would need a concrete foundation, and we were not ready to pay for that. Michael is still the caretaker on the land and lives in a trailer. Earlier this year, the health department wrote us a letter saying that there had been a complaint made about the property in 1992, that somehow just came up, saying that we had inadequate septic for the house plus outbuildings that we had people living in. We explained that the house was not even there anymore, that we had a caretaker in a trailer and we were only in our room less than two weeks out of the year. They said that we still had to upgrade the septic system….and there would be lots more requirements, includng a wet land survey, before they would permit more building. They said that we had to use the site that we had recently cleared for a small pole barn shed for additional drainfield. That was one of the motivations for getting the steel barn instead.
Spring 2010 Update
Well some changes this spring. We went up for a visit in April after arranging to have the concrete slab poured for the barn. It felt like the first real progress we made on the land in a long time. It was an interesting process and I hope to get the series of pictures I took online soon. Meanwhile here are a few.
We were only there for the weekend. Actually I spent most of the weekend at the Seattle World Rhythm Festival and only came over on Saturday night. The pour was on Monday morning and we went back on Monday afternoon, with Brian going to work that evening.
Actually, I found the whole process of the cement pour very interesting and took many pictures. How many of us ever get to see them pour 1200 sq ft of concrete. If you also think it is interesting, you can look at this slide show. (I am also amazed by the technology that lets me create a slide show on my computer in Picassa, synch it with one on Picassa on line, and then link to it here. I don’t have to uplad pictures to my server….and if I change the album, it automatically changes on the website.)
The land, as usual is beautiful, lush and green from the rain, and it was nice to see some spring blossoms in the orchard….though we just missed the daffodils.
We made another drastic decision. The mobile home on the front parcel had deteriorated more and more over the years and when our tenants who often had trouble paying the rent left owing many months rent, we decided to pull the mobile home down.That is the royal we of course, Michael will do the work. Various people associated with living in that mobile home have held Native American Church on the land. Some of the family has contacted us about not living on the land, but continuing to do sweats and ceremony there. With the mobile home gone, there is the possibility of building a house in its place…or putting in a trailer park, or ….???? I can’t believe it has been 20 years since we bought this land and that I have been living in the bay area for 15 of those years.
Michael, our caretaker, came back to San Mateo Ecovillage with us as he had some personal business to do in the bay area. He stayed here about two weeks helping us with projects here.. Brian hopes to go back up soon and help him put up the steel barn.
Summer 2010 Update
Brian went back to the land the beginning of July and began putting up the barn with Michael. Michael needed to finish it, with help, after Brian had to return to work. While he was there, I was at a Women’s Drumming Retreat. I start fantasizing about the idea of giving some of the land to a non-profit, like Women Drummers International who might be in the financial position, perhaps with grants or other donations, to build the retreat center we always wanted to see on the land. They are just the group that sparked the idea….we could be open to other like-minded non-profits. Of course, it has also been suggested that we should form our own non-profit educational group.
At the suggestion of someone recently exploring possibilities on the land, I am inclding this plat map from Jefferson County to further help you orient yourself.
We actually did the surveying that led to their being able to have this image.