Habitable Spaces: Exploring big sky country by Danielle

 Habitable Spaces is settled in big sky country of Kingsbury Texas. I had multiple tour guides  through all of the winding trails on the massive property. The beloved farm dog pack never let you leave the community without an escort of happy panting pups. Watching these guys run around inspired me to think of what true freedom and pleasure must look like. 

Habitable Spaces is settled in big sky country of Kingsbury Texas. I had multiple tour guides  through all of the winding trails on the massive property. The beloved farm dog pack never let you leave the community without an escort of happy panting pups. Watching these guys run around inspired me to think of what true freedom and pleasure must look like. 

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I have always heard of and wondered about “big sky country.” Seeing it dominate the landscape while rolling through rural Texas was worth every moment. Entering the rusty blue gate that said “Habitable Spaces,” I didn’t know what to expect. Walker remarked how the dirt road and the short trees looked like somewhere on Martha’s Vineyard. This would be our landing place for the next few weeks, through a short artists’ residency.

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Habitable Spaces is a small, grassroots sustainable farm and artist community in Kingsbury, Texas. It was founded five years ago by artists and farmers Alison Ward and Shane Heinemeier. As we took the corner around the driveway, we saw all of the little buildings, the community house/kitchen, the bathhouse/tool shed, the Woofers yurt, a tiny pallet house, Shane and Alison’s tiny house, and numerous works in progress. Utilizing almost exclusively salvaged and recycled materials, everything there was built by the hands of folks who live and work at Habitable Spaces or its local community. 

When we pulled into our parking spot, we managed to get the trailer stuck. After a quick call to a neighbor, Sam came by to help. An older gentlemen with a kind face and polite tone, he and his son Jeremy saved the the day. Sam got his trucker’s license at 16 years old, and he moved us out of the tight spot with grace and ease, and forded a thick patch of Texas mud. We thanked him profusely, and he told us he would be seeing us again at the fiber workshop Walker and I were leading the following week.

Alison and Shane are both talented artists who now put their creative energy into the farm and surrounding town. With goats, rabbits, chickens, quail, ducks, a couple of very loud guard geese, multiple gardens, an orchard, and monthly events, their hands are full. After spearheading Kingsbury’s incorporation a few years ago to protect its taxpayers from the encroaching city of Seguin, Habitable Spaces became a hub of the community. As a result, they have cultivated a fantastic relationship with the locals. We admired their dedication to their town and the folks they share it with.

 Right before sheep shearing. Left to right, Bob, one of the current workers (WWOOFERS) Walker in the back, Owner Alison in the center and behind her Eleanor, the Artist in residence 

Right before sheep shearing. Left to right, Bob, one of the current workers (WWOOFERS) Walker in the back, Owner Alison in the center and behind her Eleanor, the Artist in residence 

 Owner Sean

Owner Sean

On the farm was the inner network of the permanent and visiting residents. There was always something being worked on, someone making bread for the shared dinners every night, and usually an artist in residence working away. This month, Eleanor Scholz was working on intricate patterned wood panels to be permanently installed in the ceiling of the common house. If the farm was quiet, you could always count on the company of a dog, or five. Whenever I decided to take a walk or a bike ride along the paths twisting among the 190 acres of forest, old cotton fields, and cactus, I could count on a dog chauffeur.

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During our stay we gave a fiber workshop where people made, assembled, and decorated their own drop spindles (a simple device used by the ancients to spin yarn, long before the invention of a spinning wheel), then learned to spin yarn. Sam and his wife Joan have a beautiful farm down the road, and offered a couple of sheep yet to be shorn. I anticipated a shearer coming, but once we arrived, Joan had the shears out, and we all took turns attempting to give that sheep a close shave. Our cut job was far from perfect — it’s a good thing the sheep didn’t have a mirror; it looked like it got run over by a lawnmower. It was fun working with different material, but I have never worked with Texas sheep, and found myself picking cactus spines out of my fingers now and then. 

The workshop was a success; we were pleased to see how many locals came out to participate. Young, old, men and women were all focused and spinning at one point. Tricky at first, hand-spinning can be very relaxing once you get the hang of it. After we spun and worked up an appetite, Shane smoked some local venison, and the group feasted on the homemade products of the farm and veggies from neighbors. I remember Alison telling me how important it was for them to have something like Habitable Spaces available to rural communities such as Kingsbury.

 Eleanor Scholz was one of the artist in residence. She is a fantastic wood burner! http://eleanorscholz.bigcartel.com

Eleanor Scholz was one of the artist in residence. She is a fantastic wood burner! http://eleanorscholz.bigcartel.com

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The space is not just a fertile gathering place for connecting and socializing, but also a place of education on sustainability, a safe place where visitors can build bridges of better understanding into their own creativity. Our visit was a inspiration, and a window into our own future of building community, sustainable lifestyles, and making art along the way.

Emery Farm New Hampshire

We talk about the Martha’s Vineyard outdoor market community a lot. Every fair we vend at on the mainland, we find ourselves reminiscing about the Chilmark Flea, the Artisans Festival, and the Featherstone Flea. Other vendors we’ve met are impressed by our setup and break-down speeds, a practice honed doing five shows a week on-Island. Our booth setup became a science. The other artisans became close friends, and repeat customers became familiar faces. Once we started shows throughout Massachusetts and across New Hampshire, the game abruptly changed. New places, new politics, and new social artisan bubbles emerged. We were the new kids on the block every time, and our house was parked in the back lot.

 

We’ve had good fairs and bad when it comes to sales. The bad included freak mountain windstorms and unfriendly booth neighbors. No matter what, the most valuable experiences have always come from the individuals we meet.

On a particularly hot and sticky day this past August at the Chilmark Flea, Walker and I were just starting to pack up when a middle-aged couple came into our booth. We sparked a conversation immediately, and soon we were exchanging cards and emails. Their names were David and Catherine, the owners of Emery Farm in Durham, N.H. David explained how he was looking for more art and innovation for their quickly expanding farmstand. They extended an invitation to come and stay whenever. Trying not to sound overly excited, we explained that we were hitting the road with our mobile art studio, and coincidentally were looking for places to land.

 

Three months later, we were towing our trailer through the middle of New Hampshire. “I can’t believe we met these folks once and talked with them for 10 minutes, and now we are heading to their house,” I said to Walker as he fumbled with his phone, trying to get service for the GPS. Cell service never exists when you need it most. He gave a “well, here we go anyway” shrug, and I gripped the wheel tighter. I had a feeling they would have a complicated driveway I’d have to back into once we arrived.

 Catherine McLaughlin Hills

Catherine McLaughlin Hills

 

We finally arrived at Emery Farm, and to my dismay there was a curving driveway on a steep incline that I had to back the trailer into. The farmhouse was perched on a hill surrounded by old glowing maples and a massive barn. The farmstand was next door, bustling with customers, and had a full parking lot. Catherine came out to greet us, and again my anxiety evaporated. She was happy to see us, and emanated kindness with a laid-back nature. She must have seen my nervousness when showing us where to park, and said she wouldn’t watch. After I backed into the space (and patched up the tire marks in the yard), we got the tour of the farm, and met the family.

 

Even though we stayed for only a couple of days, the experience was inspiring. One of the oldest farms in the country, it has been in David’s family since 1660. Their beautiful home is adorned with art from their travels and painted portraits of past family members gazing out from behind old frames. The barn was open, and the wind blew through its creaking beams. The light had a particular way of leaning against the dusty walls as the massive spruces and maples scattered shadows outside. The farmstand was alive with customers ordering coffee and hot apple-cider doughnuts, while kids in school programs waited for hayrides and farm tours. The store was filled with local goodies from veggies, cheese, and yogurt to artwork. Its location on Route 4, outside Portsmouth, N.H., provided a perfect combination of bucolic scenery and accessibility. It was so humbling to be warmly welcomed by David and Catherine’s family and the farm staff. It was also inspiring to see the amount of passion they had for their home and the land it stood on.

 

We left them some prints for the farm store before we moved onto our next destination. The next couple of fairs, we began to feel a part of the off-Island market scene. We began to recognize vendors and booths from other shows. After setting up, I’d browse up and down the rows of other makers, waving to the lantern lady, chatting with the basket-weaving guy. Maybe our next show in Springfield will gift new invitations, new destinations, and new friendships.

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 Owner David Hills

Owner David Hills