About us

Moving to a small town has been a challenge for me. About a year and a half ago, we uprooted from where I grew up in the suburbs of Pleasanton (in the San Francisco east bay) to reestablish ourselves on a dilapidated ranch in the countryside of Dos Palos (a “small town” farming community in California’s southern central valley). Why the huge shift? Let’s just say that my husband and our small family could be poster children for the recent recession. Now we’re hoping to eventually be spokesmen for stable recovery. “Hope” is the keyword here.

Back in the latter half of 2006, you could have googled the term “American Dream” and the top ten results would probably have included links to our Facebook pages. We were 24 and 25 years old and both had secure jobs with major corporations, a good nest egg in our savings account, growing 401K’s and we were just starting to establish our credit. After 10 years together (FYI: we started dating when we were only 14 years old), we had gotten engaged, bought the house I had grown up in and were planning my dream wedding in Monterey. There was something to be said for proper planning and although it had never been an easy path, we knew our hard work was finally paying off. But then again, everyone is wrong sometimes.

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What a difference a decade makes!

Less than two weeks after returning from our DisneyWorld honeymoon, Ryan was laid off. He had worked as an account executive in the mortgage division of a major international bank. That bank decided that the mortgage industry in the US had become too risky, so they pulled out of the country entirely.

In the year that followed, Ryan was hired and (almost immediately) laid off six more times. Our mortgage alone was over $3,000 a month. We drained our savings, cashed out our 401K’s and took loans from family members to stay afloat. Long story short: We lost our house… at the same time we found out that we were pregnant.

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The house I grew up in… The house that we lost.

We sold our souls to qualify for a tiny over-priced apartment, only to have my husband’s mom and stepdad move in with us when they lost their own home (after the department store where they had both worked for nearly 20 years filed for bankruptcy). Ryan found a low-paying entry-level position with a major cable and Internet company so we could squeak by. Then the baby came (a boy we named Charlie) and my in-laws became our childcare while Ryan and I both worked full time. We scraped by with this arrangement for a year and a half before tragedy struck.

Ryan was laid off right after we found out we were pregnant again. Then his mother, Gabi, suffered five massive strokes within two months and underwent emergency carotid artery bypass surgery. Although she survived the surgery, she was left completely paralyzed and with limited speech abilities. Her husband became her full-time caretaker.

To reiterate: We lost half our income and our childcare at the same time that we learned we were expecting our second child and would need to accommodate a multigenerational household that would now include a paralyzed adult.

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Expecting baby James.

We sold our only car but it wasn’t long before we lost our apartment anyway. Rather than being homeless, we stayed with family while I continued to work until I developed kidney stones and was forced into early maternity leave. Around the time I would’ve returned to work, Ryan was offered a job in the central valley and his Stepdad’s family offered us use of the family farm there. I left the call center that I had worked at for the last seven years so we could re-locate to our new home in pursuit of a fresh start.

“Rancho Hurtado” had sat uninhabited for nearly 20 years so a lot of work was needed, but we still managed to make it into our home. Our boys (yes, two boys: Charlie and James) enjoyed the space and their new dog (a Black Lab puppy that we named Gertie). Ryan and I learned to grow crops, preserve food, cook with whole foods and raise chickens. We had no cable television, no Internet and no telephone land-line because those services didn’t reach that far out into the fields. Consequently, we relied heavily on our cell phones and a digital receiver for our television (that only gets three channels). We had a septic system and a well but no filter or water-softener so we went to town twice a week to refill our drinking water jugs. We had an electric washing machine but no dryer (well… we had a dryer but we’d been battling the manufacturer for a propane conversion kit that actually fit!!) so we line-dried all the laundry. We didn’t have a dishwasher but I never complained because when we first moved in there were NO working appliances. And did I mention the acres of land covered in scrap metal, wood and trash? Yeah. We had our hands full!

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Gertie, as she appeared when she was given to us by family members.

Unfortunately, soon after relocating, Ryan’s job offer completely fell through. We found ourselves on the brink of poverty and daily life became a struggle. After a year of working our little farm (for produce and eggs to supplement the community food boxes, WIC and once-weekly free meals from the neighborhood church), clearing a dent in the trash on the property and making critical DIY repairs to the house (we can drywall now! And patch a roof!) while simultaneously searching daily for work…our efforts had proven fruitless. No jobs. It’s not for lack of trying either!

We’ve used every resource available to us, registering for every resume and job listing website, enrolling at WorkNet, re-evaluating our resumes, submitting applications daily, wasting entire unemployment checks on gas to get to interviews hours away…for nothing. And that kind of desperation and stress begins to take a toll. In the end there was just an incredible amount of competition for any position that came available. We soon learned that Fresno county had one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire country, a statistic that broke our hearts as we watched the unemployment checks come closer and closer to running out.

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Charlie, sitting in our little plot of dirt at Rancho Hurtado, admiring the neighboring commercial crop fields.

Needless to say, we’d been waiting for a change. Any opportunity at all…we were ready to jump at it. So when my parents asked us to house-sit their ranch for a couple months while they visited family out of state, we packed up the kids, the dog and the chickens and headed to the mountains. We had no idea of the changes that would soon follow.

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The boys, keeping their cool on a hot day.

Upon their return, my parents acquired some new land when their neighbors moved away and sold the neighboring properties. Besides effectively doubling the size of their ranch, they also gained two new homes. The cabins are completely self sufficient with wells, indoor plumbing, solar panels, back-up generator and septic…and nobody living in them. We were immediately invited to take up residence in the two-bedroom “dollhouse”. Sure, it’s just a little cabin. But it has more square footage than our apartment in Pleasanton had. And for the first time in our ENTIRE LIVES, we don’t have anyone else living with us. Just our family. It was intended as a temporary arrangement but has since been offered as a permanent solution …if we’re interested. 

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With a bigger ranch came bigger animals. Here are the boys with the new pigs, Lucy and Ethel.

With the newly extended property, my parents (who are Permaculturists, personally trained by Sepp Holzer himself) are excited to see their dream of a self-sufficient organic bio-intensive Permaculture farm taking roots…but they desperately need someone they trust to manage the operation. Ryan is obviously a glowing candidate. Although there’s little to no money involved in the arrangement and we barely scrape by to pay our bills each month, it’s rewarding work and it’s a relief knowing we have a secure roof over our family’s heads and food on our plates. Housing and sustenance security became critical too, when Ryan and I recently discovered that we’re expecting our third child on Halloween. Seriously! And guess what? It’s a girl this time!

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I can’t wait to see my feet again!

So there you have it: We’re still living the farm life, but up in the mountains now. Money is still a struggle but we have the means to just barely sustain ourselves. We call the small plot of land that our cabin resides on “Bumpy Road Ranch”, both for the long bumpy road that has to be navigated to get here and for the long journey we battled figuratively to get where we are in life. Daily life hasn’t necessarily gotten easier (still hang drying the laundry! And cloth diapers too now! And did I mention that we’re two hours from the nearest town or sign of civilization?!) and there really aren’t any frills here, but there’s a lot of love and we’re determined to survive and thrive.

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Laundry day has a new view.

I’ve started this webpage to share our adventures so others can learn with us and laugh with us. It’s a work in progress so feedback is always appreciated. Enjoy!

Annie

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An “old timey” family portrait, shot in Columbia CA soon after JD was born.

Now that you know about us, meet our chickens!

7 Responses to About us

  1. Kara Wahler says:

    Ann! I loved reading this. I learned things I had not yet known about you. Ryan and you are an inspiration and my family and I love you both dearly. The fact that Ryan and you are still happily married and have been through all of that together says a lot about the both of you. I know you’ll never give up and it’s all uphill from here!

    • lostandfarm says:

      Thank you so much Kara! We’ve always considered your family as our family too. In fact, your mom and Roy call themselves our kids’ “other grandparents”! :) I hope you enjoy the rest of the page. Let me know if any of the budgeting info comes in handy or if you think of other stuff I should write about. I’ll also be posting recipes as I make them (rather than bombard the page with them all at once and work myself into a breakdown!). Thank you again for the feedback!

  2. maxim_sense says:

    I never thought that the recession in America was this bad until I read about your blog. It was a very candid admission of who you are but the efforts you had been doing to try to stand up on your own fit were tremendously inspiring.

    This is one thing I like with blogs because the articles written are very personal. Unlike creative writing that inspires through elaborate and majestic use of words, blogging inspires people through experiences that are flaunted in the many facets of life. You (Anne and Ryan) are truly an inspiration that move mountains and shake the world.

    I sincerely wish you good luck and may your efforts be rewarded bountifully.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Maxim. We never thought the economy would be this bad either… until it snuck up on us. I’ll admit that in the beginning we were incredibly embarrassed and even secretive about our situation. It felt like the “American Dream” was crumbling around us. But then it happened to our friends, our neighbors, our family members… and we soon realized that every single person we knew was either laid off, filing bankruptcy, going through a foreclosure or was directly related to someone who was. When you address a person that’s survived a devastating event, like a house fire for example, you don’t ask them what they’ve lost. You remind them that they survived. And we survived! My husband, my two boys and myself, as well as my in-laws, survived. That was when I realized that we hadn’t simply witnessed the collapse of the “American Dream”, we had become part of the movement to reinvent what the “American Dream” is. Not high-paying jobs, suburban houses and flashy car. It’s being a family, sticking together, having a roof over our heads and food on our plates. It’s seeing the excitement on my son’s face when he collects eggs from his beloved pet chickens… It’s the ability to not just do what needs to be done, but to find joy in the process of doing it.

  3. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after going through some of the posts I realized it’s
    new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking
    it and checking back often!

  4. Hello there! You have an amazing story. I am so sorry that is has been such a challenging time for you and your family. However, it sounds like you have the real meaning of the American dream: family. I look forward to reading about your journey.

  5. Lena Rhodes says:

    Wow Anne! I just had no idea what all you guys had gone through! I remember when you were at the first farm house and re-doing all the stuff there. I remember thinking what hard workers you guys were!! So much hard work went into that place!! Now realizing what all was going on in your lives before that and since…geez!!! I’m just amazed by you and Ryan and how you’ve kept going forward no matter what got in the way! Your kids are so lucky to have you!!! What an example you have shown to them..of hard work, love, how to stick together in hard times! And…what to really appreciate in life! Some people never ever get that. I’m really proud of what you guys have built together and accomplished. Proud to know you. That little girl is coming into quite a family!! Hugs!!

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