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"We're part of the chosen few who can see a better life ahead." (homesteading)

I've only been a Countryside subscriber for one year but I feel we have found a friend for life. I thought we were the only couple in a state of transition from city to country. Thank goodness, after reading stories written by other folks in our situation, we realize that we are not alone. We are part of a chosen few who can see the better life ahead.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you that we have lived in Plantation, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale for 13 years. We own and operate a flower shop in the nearby town of Sunrise. We currently employ two people besides my husband, Rick, and myself We both work very hard in our business and, when we started in 1985, never thought of doing anything else.

One day we saw an ad in the Sunday paper for land in northern Florida and the idea began to grow. We were on our way to Disney World for the weekend and decided to add an extra day to cover the additional three hour drive each way and still allow for scouting time. That one day changed the direction of our lives.

We drove to a property that had just been broken up into 10-acre parcels. The young salesman driving the car handed Rick and I a map with an outline of the land with numbers on each section. My husband usually sits quietly and I'm the one who jumps ahead, not always with the best results. This time, as we drove by, he said with total confidence, "We would like number 19." And that was that! He was so calm about it and never asked what I wanted, which is totally out of character. I knew he was acting on pure instinct.

When the salesman looked at me for a commitment, what could I say? "He has never made a decision that quickly in all the years I've known him. Consider it sold!"

We bought the first 10 acres that day, December 8, 1987. The following year the four acres adjoining us was up for resale and we took another two minutes to decide the two parcels were meant to be together.

We have an old cemetery on the west side that dates back to the early 1800's and is surrounded in live oak and pine trees. Live oak trees run along the northern border where there was a buggy trail 70 years ago. At the east end are seven pecan trees that a former owner claims are over 100 years old and separate us, sort of, from our neighbors. We have a lazy S curve to the south which provides a welcoming entrance to the land.

The first couple of years we thought of this property as an investment, as lifeless as a piece of gold, stocks or bonds. However, as time went on and the seasons changed, so did we and our appreciation of those changes. Instead of being a commodity to hold or sell, it took on more meaning, something for us to become a part of permanently.

Live Oak is the name of our small town of 7,000, the county seat of Suwannee County. The people are warm and hospitable and someday I hope to call them neighbors and friends. But, like most small towns, they do not have a surplus of extra jobs. Our first brainstorming efforts needed to be aimed at finding something to do or something to raise that would allow us to transport ourselves to Live Oak and still be able to provide a decent living. This was not an easy task, believe me. I spent a year of researching different fruits, vegetables and herbs that would grow in our area. Then I started reading Organic Gardener and ran across an article on hybrid chestnut trees and how they were making a comeback. I felt sure that we should be a part of it. I read the story again and again and finally I read it to Rick, to get his input.

He just smiled and said, "Well, we should write to this guy and get more information." The next morning my letter was in the mall and within a few weeks we had the pamphlets from Chestnut Hill Nursery. With it came an invitation to an upcoming Chestnut Day.

How easy it was to drive to Alachua, five hours north of Plantation and one hour south of Live Oak. One look at their trees and we signed up for one hundred. The same day we saw other potential crops and decided to have a hand at sweet (non-astringent) persimmons. Two hundred trees were ordered that day in October, 1990.

We took deliver January 15, 1991 and with the help of Chris Carter, a local nurseryman, we got every tree settled in the ground before supper time.

It was a very wet year, so the irrigation system we had installed over the two acres didn't need to work until summer. The trees were a hit with the soil and have taken off like a shot. We planted another 300 chestnut and 100 persimmon trees in January, 1992, and hope to plant the same number again this year.

Our lives sure have changed in the last few years. We always enjoyed going to Orlando every month or so, just to relax. Now, Rick drives six hours each way, every three to four weeks to cut our fourteen acres, check 600 sprinkler heads, weed, spray, fix machinery, etc. We even had a barn built two years ago to house our new toys: a tractor, roto-tiller, mulcher mower and numerous tools. Last year I got a table saw, router and safety goggles for Christmas. What more could a girl ask for?

I usually go with Rick every other trip to try and maintain normalcy at home and with our business. But, when I do go along my jobs include turning over selected plots of ground for our vegetable and flower gardens-to-be. That, along with helping Rick with his chores and bringing with me more home comforts each time, keeps me very busy.

The summer months are hot -- 90 degrees plus and merciless to those who come unprepared. The winter nights can drop into the teens and be just as shocking if you are climatized to south Florida winters.

We have tried to make our visits of four or five days as comfortable as we can. We have enclosed an 8' x 10'room for the bathroom, and 8' x 10' bedroom, and our latest project, an 8' x 20' living-dining room, all running along the north side. The bedroom and living space are separated by a partial wall so we can air-condition and heat it with just one wall unit and still have a quiet place for sleeping and a lighted reading room at the same time.

It isn't home, not just yet! We have house plans that are in the works for 1994. Our goal is to be full-time farmers by October of '94, when the first 600 trees should be giving us a good harvest. At that point they will need more of our attention. We would love to be there now, but we would also like to sell our business and apartment and move when the time is right.

I have a feeling God has been keeping His eye on us this far, and at the proper time, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. Until then, we will just have to be patient and divide our time, half country and half wishing we were.

If anyone would like to write to us on our orchard, I will try to pass on whatever information I can. Please write to Peggy J. Helbing, 8050 N. W. 15th Manor, Plantation, FL 33322, or call 305/473-1572.
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Author:Helbing, Peggy
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:A look back: twenty-four years of homesteading.
Next Article:Getting there ... the hard way.

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