Meet the Grower: Lisa Coffee

Lisa’s Instagram feed first caught my eye with her gorgeous hand-sewn baskets. As I learned more about her, I was intrigued by her homesteading lifestyle. In today’s interview she shares what it means to be a homesteader as well as her advice for someone wanting a simpler, slower paced life. Her writing is sure to calm you while her craftiness will inspire you. Grab a cup of tea or coffee (whatever suits your fancy) and get cozy for this read.

You guys. These strawberries won’t stop. We’re up to forty pounds! #grateful #inmyharvestbasket

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

1.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a wife and mama to two children. My family and I relocated from Colorado to Western North Carolina four years ago to live out our homesteading dreams. We live in the mountains, on twelve, mostly forested acres. Our garden expands each year, and we’re currently cultivating more than 6,000 sq ft, spread out over several different areas around our property. Our elevation is approximately 3,200 ft and we are considered zone 7a. Our gardening experience is unique due to our elevation. I have friends who live down in town, and even though they are less than four miles away, their gardens are often 2-3 weeks ahead of mine since they’re at a lower elevation. Even with a slightly shorter season, I love the peace and quiet, the cool and often foggy mountain mornings, and the ability to forage for mushrooms in our forests.

My loves.

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on


2. What made you want to start growing your own food? Why do you feel it is important to do so?

My husband and I started our first vegetable garden together soon after we started dating in 2005. This was the first time that I began in earnest growing my own food. I’ve always had a desire to be surrounded by plants, and prior to gardening in the ground, I maintained container gardens at various rentals that I lived in through my 20’s and 30’s. My urge to garden was so strong that I used to have upwards of forty houseplants as well as a jungle of potted plants growing on the patios of rented houses. As soon as I had the space to dig in the soil, I was hooked. I believe strongly in having a connection to my food. Teaching my children to respect the soil, tend plants, and harvest and cook what they’ve grown is as important to me as teaching them to read.

I asked her to pick tonight’s salad. ❤️ #inmyharvestbasket

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

These days ❤️

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

3. If someone was starting a homestead, what is the number one resource you would recommend to him/her?

Of course, I can’t think of just one…But high on my list would be a local (as possible) organic and non-GMO seed supplier. I think larger seed suppliers like Baker Creek Heirloom and Fedco are excellent resources, and I do purchase some specialty varieties from them, but procuring seed from a local source keeps money in your local economy, and helps ensure that the seed varieties you buy are suited to your area. I would suggest also finding local sources of feed for your animals.

A view of the garden entrance. This year we moved the honeybees from the chicken yard to the garden and I’m so glad we did. I love the energy and color they bring. In the near end of this lower bed we have several patches of mixed greens in perpetual rotation including many varieties of lettuces, several kinds of kale, and mustard that I always let go to flower, because the bees LOVE it, and we’ll grind the seeds for mustard this fall. Of my three lettuce beds, one has gone to seed, one is my current harvesting bed, and there’s a third that I’ve just seeded – this way we have lettuce all summer. Here there is also tulsi basil, woad (for dyeing), comfrey, and the remains of the broccoli, which I need to pull because our fall starts will soon be ready for transplanting. This bed also has 1/3 of our strawberry plants. I always plant flowers mixed in with all of my vegetables and here you’ll find borage, rudbeckia, zinnias and calendula. #LC_gardentour

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

4. When you have an issue in your garden and you aren’t sure of the cause, what do you do to troubleshoot?

First, I holler for my husband! Then I turn to my gardening library. My paternal grandparents were avid gardeners and book collectors, and when they passed away I had free reign on their gardening books.  One of my favorite resource books from my grandparents is The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening from Rodale, and I refer to it often. When something comes up, I prefer to first look through my books, but I inevitably end up doing internet searches as well.

5. What are you most excited to grow this season in your garden?

Lilikoi! Most people know this plant as Passionflower, but my family and I lovingly refer to it by its Hawaiian name, Lilikoi. I have fond memories of the fragrant other-worldly looking flowers from my childhood, and I remember tearing apart and playing with the unripened fruit and it’s black seeds, that grew along our back fence. I was reintroduced to this amazingly sweet and tangy fruit as an adult during a month long trip to Maui when my daughter was younger. We planted a young Passionflower plant last year, and this summer it has completely taken over a tall trellis on the side of my house. The vine is covered with fragrant flowers and bees, and I just spied several lilikoi fruit hanging heavy and beginning to ripen.

Rain and passion flowers bringing the Monday joy.

A photo posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

6. The baskets you create are SO beautiful. On your Etsy shop page it mentions that you sew, emboss copper, make pottery, clothing and candles to name a few. Where did you learn all of these crafts?

First of all, thank you! I absolutely love making rope baskets. The whole process from hand dying the rope, to hanging it to dry outside, to experimenting with sewing different shapes and sizes is so fulfilling – I love it all.

Aside from pottery, which I studied for several years at a guild, I am a completely self-taught crafter. My grandmother was a maker, as well, and she could make anything, and her hands were always busy with one project or another. I suppose I inherited this trait from her because I, too, love the creative expression and all around zen that comes from making pretty and functional things. My creative whims often change with the seasons, and my interests change over the years.

I first began making candles as a teenager and fell in love with the concept of playing with warm beeswax.

At 20, I was living in my first apartment and spending all my spare time and money following the Grateful Dead to concerts across the country. I taught myself how to sew on a handed down sewing machine and spent the winter making dresses that I could sell in the summer months of traveling to shows.

When I was single and in my late 20’s I studied wheel thrown pottery for a few years, as I mentioned, at a guild in my former town.

When my children were infants and toddlers, I took up knitting as to way to keep my hands busy while nursing, and now whenever I need a quick tutorial (which is often), I watch YouTube knitting videos.

As my children began to play more independently, I started sewing again (after a 15 year hiatus), this time making clothes, toys and quilts for them.

I’ve learned (and am still learning) to dye using plants and natural dyes through books, as well as the Instagram community, which I must mention is such an amazing creative source. How fortunate we are to have access to the creative pursuits of millions of people across the globe as well as in our own community!

In the future, I’d love to advance my knitting and sewing skills and confidence to the point where I can make more of my own clothes. In my opinion, making children’s clothes is a breeze compared to sewing something stylish and well-fitting for an adult. I’d also like to get back into throwing pottery at some point, as well as creating herbal body care goods and soap, which I’ve only dabbled in over the years, and now since I harvest my own beeswax and herbs I’m really excited to pursue this.

My husband is experimenting with various forms of woodworking, and I’m inspired by that as well. Other crafts on my to-make wish list include: textile weaving, stamp making, watercolor painting, screen printing, felting, and jewelry metalsmithing, to name a few.

In short, I want to make it all!

7. As a homesteader who sews, grows and preserves the majority of your family’s food, raises chickens and bees AND homeschools her children (in addition to everything mentioned in the question above…wowzers!), what advice do you have for someone who wants to lead a similar life? Where should they start?

I suppose it goes without saying, but you’d have to want this lifestyle. There’s nothing inherently easy about growing and preserving food, making meals from scratch, and as I’m learning daily, there’s certainly nothing easy about homeschooling. I live this way because it feeds me figuratively and spiritually, and it strengthens my family’s bond with one another. I’m a homebody at heart and homemaking comes naturally to me. I derive great pleasure from preparing meals for my family and working alongside them. I feel blessed beyond measure for the life I have been able to create with my husband, and I’m grateful everyday for the choices and sacrifices we have made through the years which give us the option of working from home, allowing us to homeschool our children. Being able to provide a safe and engaging environment for my children to learn is such a gift for us all.

 

8. How do you define homesteading? What does it mean to you to be a homesteader?

For me, homesteading is all about self-sufficiency and ingenuity. I truly believe that someone living on a suburban ¼ acre lot can be just as much a homesteader as someone living on fifty acres in an off grid cabin. It is lifestyle that embodies the desire to provide for one’s own needs, and for me that centers around growing and preserving food.

For most of us, we are pioneers of sorts, because the skills required to live a moderately self-sufficient lifestyle were lost two generations ago, and the learning curve is steep. Homesteading is easy to romanticize, those early morning chicken chores, and harvest baskets full of gorgeous vegetables can make for a pretty pictures, and indeed there are many, many beautiful moments, but it’s also extremely hard work that requires sacrifice.

For me, the heart of this lifestyle is about raising my family close to the earth with an appreciation for our harvests, our meals and the natural cycle of seasons that make it all possible.

Liquid gold.

A video posted by Lisa Coffee (@lisa.coffee) on

Thank you so much, Lisa. Your interview was a delight to read! I was both inspired and at peace reading about your family. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world with us.

As for the rest of you, head over to Lisa’s Etsy shop page and snag yourself a harvest basket, or put it on your Christmas wish list, like I did!

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