Winter in Georgia means leaves, and grey. The temperate southern winter climate mimics that of the beginning of fall in the Pacific Northwest; we find ourselves on a migration. The south has been hard for us, in many respects. It’s brought much introspection, speculation, and conversation on the values we carry when compared to those instilled in the long history of these deep southern states. Word-of-mouth doesn’t go too far out here, and we’ve had to result to the internet as a source for what’s going on in these rural areas. As outsiders of a community, it feels like a plant about to emerge as we enter into one, all of the things that are going on just beneath the surface suddenly brought to our attention. The simple matter is, what we seek is fewer and father between. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Salamander Springs is a permaculture-inspired off-grid homestead outside of Milledgeville, GA, just northeast of Atlanta. The owner, Debbie, is “first and foremost an educator… And then I would describe myself as a homesteader.” She teaches part-time at Central Georgia Technical College during the school year, and homesteads her 50-acre property every other “free” second. A rural Georgianan, 19 years ago Debbie bought the property and a trailer with her only savings. “Oh, and thank goodness I had a shovel!”
Once a clear-cut pine forest, she describes her bit of the forest’s succession over the last 19 years: “There was The Year of The Squirrel, The Year of The Ash…” Now a fully-grown and diverse forest again, the natural foliage also makes way for two acres of vegetable, fruit tree, and chicken cultivation. “I missed the 60’s, I was too young. But I always had a fantasy of living in a community,” Debbie describes. She also admits that back then, her desire to move back to the land was largely fear-based; she felt Georgia Public Schools were not a safe place for her children, and in a state of intense segregation and discrimination both racially and socioeconomically, there weren’t too many other options. When asked if her kids will eventually be taking the land over, she laughs. “No, but I hope my granddaughters will!” Living in Atlanta for the time being makes them definite city kids, but Debbie describes their love for finding a new path through the woods from the house to the spring with a twinkle in her eye.
We had the pleasure of being welcomed to Salamander Springs for two nights and a day of campfire cooking and nature walks. When we asked the WWOOFers what they liked about the place, the unanimous decision was said in harmony: “The people!” There were also a few murmurs of “living simply,” and “it’s really real out here.” During breakfast, Debbie shared with us a quote from Earth In Mind, which really seemed to encapsulate why us young people are finding paths so different than the ones our parents took, and why a handful of us educated, privileged young people found ourselves here on this farm:
“The danger of formal education… is that it will encourage young people to find careers before they find a decent calling. A career is a job, a way to earn one’s keep … a ticket to somewhere else … In contrast, a calling has to do with one’s larger purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wishes to give the world. A calling is about the use one makes of a career. A calling is about purpose … A calling comes out of an inner conversation.”
Debbie spoke a lot about the young farmer’s dichotomy in the south. “People leave because there are no like-minded people… But that’s why we need y’all to stay!” she stresses. She gestures to the East side of the property, where a few of her previous WWOOFers have bought land. She’s working on building a supportive community around her and her loved ones. “The hardest part about doing this work is doing it by yourself. It takes a village.” This was exemplified on our last night at Salamander Springs, where Debbie welcomed the outside community for a impromptu pizza party. Fellow farmers and community members gathered at this remote spot out in the Georgian wilderness.
Despite all political differences and retaliation against their alternative style of living, the residents of Salamander Springs continue to pursue their calling. Through the intensities of the South, it is refreshing to know that these spots still exist off the beaten path.