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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

How Our Sustainable Tennessee Farmhouse Began

by Rebecca Selove

Tags: LEED, organic farm, green home, building a green home, sustainable architecture, tennessee,

My husband John and I both grew up on farms, and for many years we’d planned to retire to a country home with room for vegetables and fruit trees. A few years before we expected to do that, my husband’s son Eric announced he wanted to leave his career as a corporate accountant so that he and his wife Audrey could develop a commercial organic vegetable farm. My husband said “Would you like a partner?” and that was the beginning of our search for a farm where we could all live.

Rebecca with her team of builders
My team of builders and I discuss plans for the sustainable farmhouse. Photo Courtesy Rebecca Selove.

In 18 months we located what we have decided is the perfect spot. Eric’s soil test results were encouraging, and beautiful creeks border the property on two sides along with a spring he could use for irrigation. There was a house which is now home to Eric, Audrey, and their two young boys, and enough road frontage that we would be allowed to construct a second home on the property. This past spring Eric obtained organic certification and officially launched Foggy Hollow Farm (read Eric’s blog) at Nashville-area farmers’ markets and restaurants.

From the start John and I planned to use LEED guidelines for Platinum certification, even before knowing all the details. We looked at library books on green architecture and perused the articles and ads in Natural Home. We found an architect on the Internet by using search terms like “green” and “sustainable” which led us to Mark West, who gives lectures in Middle Tennessee about LEED certification. We gave him our wish list—solar panels, geothermal heating and air conditioning, passive solar heating and ventilation, and rainwater harvesting capability. We’d hoped for composting toilets, gray-water recycling and bricks made from soil excavated for the house, but these dropped off our list as we learned about local building restrictions and the fact that no one in the area had experience making earth bricks. 

We were startled when we saw Mark’s drawings for a modern-looking home with a butterfly roof, but accepted his assertion that it was the best way to integrate the details we considered essential for a sustainable farmhouse. It is on the south side of a hill for optimal solar energy generation, has two mudrooms, a root cellar and a modest footprint (1764 square feet). 

Check out a better view of the landscape. Photo By Rebecca Selove.

We experienced angst in cutting a road up to our home site, and digging up what was a wildflower-filled meadow last summer. We’ll return native plants to the landscape, along with green beans for market. We take comfort in thinking about the solar energy we will put into the grid, and the rainwater we’ll use to irrigate a field once we figure out what kind of container can store it. We are thinking about what goes into this house from the “green concrete” in the foundation to the recycled steel in the roof. We hope we are balancing what we are taking with what we are leaving.