Living the Dream on Green Dirt Farm

Two doctors launch a sustainable farm in the rolling hills outside Kansas City.


| September/October 2012



Reclaimed Timbers

The builders practiced using the unusually sized reclaimed timbers to build this barn—now the site of the dairy's popular Farm Table Dinners—before starting work on the main house.


Photo By Diane Guthrie

More than a decade ago, Sarah Hoffmann and John Spertus were two medical school graduates with successful burgeoning careers in Seattle. But despite their many accomplishments, the two still hadn’t fulfilled their dreams. From the time they met in San Francisco years earlier, the couple had planned to move to a farm. “Almost from the day we met, I told John I wanted to live on a farm—that I wanted my kids to grow up on a farm,” Sarah says. “He said that sounded good to him, too. He had no idea what he was getting into!”

Back to the Land

The daughter of a naval officer who preferred renting farmland to living on base, Sarah grew up with a strong attachment to the land. Fueled in part by the oil crisis of the 1970s, she became a passionate environmentalist. Waiting in those long gas lines “felt almost apocalyptic,” she says. “It was both frightening and kind of exciting thinking about alternatives.”

Sarah majored in chemistry at Bucknell University, served with the Peace Corps in Liberia and entered medical school in San Francisco where she met John, a city guy from Los Angeles. They married and launched careers, but Sarah’s decades-long desire to live close to the land was always in the back of her mind. As John finished his fellowship, the couple began looking for the perfect place to move: Somewhere near an urban center where John could do research, but within 30 miles of fertile farmland. They decided the Kansas City area provided the perfect mix. They moved in 1996. Sarah worked as a part-time physician for several years while tending their three young children, Eliza, Jacob and Daniel. Six years later, drawn by the beauty of rolling bluffs, the couple purchased 25 acres near the Missouri River where Sarah would launch Green Dirt Farm.

Not a House, But a Home

Before John, Sarah and their children could move to the farm, they needed a place to live. One morning Sarah heard local architect Jason McLennan, author of The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, talking about green building on the radio. When the show ended, she called him up. “Look, we want to build a house like that,” she said.

Although Sarah had contacted McLennan because he uses responsibly sourced materials to build energy-efficient homes powered by renewable energy, the architect’s first focus in home design is creating a space that suits the way a family wants to live. He asked Sarah about how she and her family wanted to interact with their home. One of the themes that emerged was family togetherness. Sarah and John wanted a space that encouraged their family to spend time together. “I didn’t want our kids off in their bedrooms, apart and isolated,” Sarah says.

To answer that call, McLennan and partner Chris DeVolder designed a large first-floor commons area with an expanse of windows overlooking the farm. An inviting fireplace anchors one end of the room while at the other end a kitchen with a large center island and built-in dining booth encourage communal cooking and family meals. On the interior wall, two niches—one a small study, the other a pillow- and bookshelf-filled “cuddle nook”—offer spots to enjoy a little personal space without losing that sense of connection.





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