It was, admittedly, a bit of a wild idea. It was January, maybe 12˚ out (warm by Minnesota standards, I later learned). There was an icy crust of snow frozen to the ground. I was at a small farm outside of St. Paul, interviewing for a job.
I was moving to Minnesota to be closer to my partner, Nico, who’d moved there eight months before for grad school. I’d spent the last almost three years managing the vegetable garden and cooking at Pendle Hill; I was feeling ready to move on, eager to find a farm where I could keep working towards my goal of owning and stewarding a small farm.
I’d found the perfect place – 10th Street Farm and Market – a market-garden-style microfarm just outside of St. Paul. As we walked around the farm talking, Hallie said she’d be happy to help me learn the business side of things, one aspect of farming where I had little experience. There was a caveat, though. The job – an apprenticeship, really – would only pay $700/month. There was an apartment available on the farm, but if the other full-season apprentice needed housing, then Nico and I would be out of luck.
The idea zinged through my head and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. I explained to Hallie that my family had built a tiny house a few years back. “If we managed to get it out here, do you think we could park it on the farm?”
“I don’t see why not,” Hallie said. “That’d be fine with me!”
And so, the idea was planted.
I got the news that I’d gotten the job while I was visiting my abuelos in DC (woohoo!), but also the news that the other apprentice would be taking the apartment. So the wheels started turning, the idea started getting legs.
My friend Alice and I, having both recently quit our jobs, were off to Kauai for a month to work on a farm in Moloa’a. We had access to Wi-Fi about once a week when we stopped by the public library in Kapa’a while doing our laundry, which left Nico do get the research done on what we’d need to make tiny house life work. Meanwhile, back in Swarthmore, my mother was heading up efforts to get the tiny house ready to set sail.
As per Nico’s research, we needed: a 30 amp hook-up (for whatever electricity we needed beyond solar), a water hook-up (Minnesota tiny house owners suggested we buy a well-insulated hose), and a level surface to park the tiny house on. Hallie had just the spot for us, it turned out. The old greenhouse, no longer in use, had a 30 amp hook up as well as a water spigot. We’d be parked on the driveway running alongside the barn.
On the home front, a leak from the shower meant that the floor needed to get ripped up and redone (the shower too), and tires needed to get checked. The journey would be a little over 1,000 miles; the last thing we wanted was for a tire to pop on the way there.
We’d also need to find someone to haul the tiny house for us – my truck, a 2003 Chevy S10, would not be up to the job.
And so, my mother, brother, Jerry Getz, and uncle Jimmy Ericson got on the job of tearing out the floor (I owe them a huge thanks, a big home-cooked meal, and a few 6-packs next time I’m home).
Jim – car mechanic extraordinaire – took a look at the tires with me when I got back from Hawaii. The tiny house had been up on blocks the last two years to take pressure off of the tires, but they’d sunk down in the ground a bit. The worry was that they’d be misshapen or have dry rot from exposure to the elements. Blocks and being parked in the shade paid off though – Jim gave the tires his seal of approval.
I managed to find a tiny house moving company (apparently there is enough of a demand that such a thing exists. We used Tiny Home Transport.). $2,600 for the move – it felt like a lot, but it would take us only 3 months to recoup that living rent-free. We set up the move for mid-April, giving us two weeks of wiggle room before Nico’s lease was up.
In March, my friend Alice and I drove my truck out to St. Paul in one go – 19 hours on the road, scanning through country stations and fire and brimstone preachers searching for the local NPR station through the long night. (We had no aux cord and only one CD – Purple Like the Summer Rain, by Mø, which Alice refused to listen to more than twice).
Six hours of Pennsylvania, driving through long tunnels under the mountains, snow dusting the slopes, sleeping farms, things flattening out in Ohio and Indiana, then on through Chicago with its thousand lanes of traffic and toll booths in the dead of night, driving slow through thick, almost purple fog in Wisconsin. We arrived just as Nico was leaving for work, slept until he got back that afternoon. Spent the week rock climbing until Alice left for her own adventure, joining the crew of a tall ship in Florida.
We had about a month before the tiny house arrived. We drove out to the farm to check out the spot that Hallie had in mind – next to the barn by the old greenhouse. There was a 30 amp plugin in the greenhouse, a water spigot right next to us, and a gravel drive to rest on. It’d be out in the sun, but it would work just fine.
I was a nervous wreck, leading up to the tiny house’s grand journey. What if a tire popped? What if the whole thing fell to pieces on the road?
Slowly, the days ticked by. I finally got a call from the hauler – he was going to be late because of a snowstorm in the Dakotas. He thought it’d just be a day, but it ended up being more like three. Jim and Sebastian were there to meet him when he arrived, thankfully. They made sure the blocks and the front steps got packed up. My mother had already wrapped all the plates and mugs in newspaper and shut them into drawers taped shut. They got the tiny house all hitched up, and just like that, the journey had begun.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until it arrived. And I was worried that our wiggle room was shrinking – Nico and I were due to be in Philly that coming weekend for our friend Thalia’s baptism.
I got the first call later that day, from the tiny house moving company. The woman on the phone told me that the driver was going slowly because a panel had fallen off.
“A panel??” I said. I was imaging one of the composite boards at the base of the tiny house. She assured me he would get there, it was just going to take some more time.
I stayed in touch with the driver. More “panels” fell off. But the guy seemed pretty upbeat, pretty sure he’d make it. He taped some of the panels. He decided to stop for the night.
In the end, it took him almost four days. We were in Philly when Hallie texted me a picture of the tiny house in its new home. I almost collapsed with relief. No one had gotten hurt, the tiny house was all in one piece (for the most part), and the “panels” turned out to be siding, which seemed like a much less dangerous thing to be dropping on the highway, and also much easier to replace. Nico and I would have a place to live, and some modicum of financial stability. Hooray!
On Monday, Nico and I went straight from the airport to check things out (my mother had mailed us a key). Sitting nestled in the tiny sink was a basket – the same basket my mother has given me every year – with two chocolate Easter bunnies nestled in tissue paper. Our home had arrived.
We had a week to get out of Nico’s apartment, and to start living tiny. There was work to be done.
To be continued…