The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

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April 22, 2013

Living on A Wing And A Prayer

Monday, April 22, 2013 — Kevin and Shannon Thompson have said family and friends may think of them as “strange” or an “oddball couple” for choosing to create a homestead environment for themselves and their three children.

But they’re okay with that description because the adjustments they’ve made has changed their life for the better.

Their front yard is a garden and their backyard is divided into a chicken coop and another fenced in area for their goats. Together on their one-third of an acre, they’ve formed A Wing and a Prayer Farm.

At this time of Earth Day, April 22, the Thompson family epitomizes sustainability.

Life Lessons

The Thompson family, residing off Fork Road in Norwood, hasn’t always adopted this style of living.

Back before the auto industry collapsed, they wouldn’t have used “oddball” and similar words about themselves. They were living in Albemarle, and with a house full of “stuff” like every other family, Shannon said.

But 2007 and 2008 began to change things. Kevin worked for a company that made carpets for automobiles. With a tanking automotive industry, his hours were cut substantially, only working three days per week. With three kids, all under the age of 7, Shannon was a stay at home mom.

“We had a hard time paying our bills and we were trying to keep up with everyone else. We lived in the middle of town and we had a huge house and just not enough money to go around,” Shannon said.

“Our thought was we could absolutely not continue on the same path we were on. Something had to change.”

During a camping trip, which they enjoyed doing frequently, Shannon was reading “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder to her kids, Ethan, 11; Grayson, 9; and Lauren, 5.

Although she admits that their perception may be a bit romanticized, the books were more than words on a page.

“That sparked something and I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it sparked this need to learn a little bit more about some of these traditional skills,” Shannon said.

Eventually, the family lost their home. Shannon said they sold nearly everything in it and used the money to build a cabin on land they owned in Montgomery County, a time that she called “a trial and error experiment.”

“That was one of those things where we were trying to learn some of those traditional skills,” she said.

Part of that experiment was owning pigs, goats and chickens.

Now the family has goats and chickens and has plans to add others to the fold in the future.

They’ll soon install a water catch system, which can be used to water plants and for the animals to drink.  

Having goats allows for milk, but also soap, a process which took some time to iron out.

“The first time it was so horrible. It was terrible. It had all these specks in it,” she said.

“I didn’t give up and we kept going with it. It became this passion. I could create something with my hands, but then it was so useful. I would have never thought that I’d be making soap.”

Her soaps are now sold at the Stanly County Farmer’s Market each Saturday, while Kevin has continued working in automotive carpets in Troy.

Sustainability and More

The Thompsons moved back to a house that her great-grandmother used to own. There, on their third of an acre, they’ve been working toward honing those traditional skills, while passing them along to Ethan, Grayson and Lauren. Although the family is now all on board, it wasn’t easy.

“Ethan rebelled the worst,” Kevin said, with Shannon laughing in memory.

Part of those changes of taking away the television and many of the convenient appliances that he was accustomed to were changes that hit him the hardest as the oldest.

But now growing up in a house with no paper plates, homemade mayonnaise and solar panels soon to be generating the appliances has become natural.

“We make sure they help,” Shannon said.

“They feed the goats and feed the chickens. You have to pull them along. They’re not running out there with open arms.

“But they love to eat what they’ve grown.”

With the steps they’ve made, their electric bill for a family of five has been reduced to $75 per month, paling in comparison to the nearly $300 monthly bill they were accustomed to paying.

With chickens growing to supply eggs and eventually meat, along with goat milk, their grocery bill has also shrunk substantially.

Perception

On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being normal and 10 being a far cry from society, the Thompsons, while laughing, categorize themselves as a six or seven.

But they don’t want to be seen as extreme. Their kids are home-schooled and use the computer daily. They also have a Netflix account where they can stream movies and television shows.

“Being sustainable does not mean that we’re hermits,” Shannon said.

In the coming months, they will host a series of workshops which they call Roots & Wings, where other families can come and learn about the journey to homesteading and basic skills they’ve learned along the way.

Other local farms are joining the Thompsons in sharing several aspects to farming.

“What comes from there are so many good things to pull from our past and still embrace new things and build those two together,” she said of Roots & Wings.

“We wanted to be that light and that example to other people that are thinking about doing the same things that we were even on a small scale.”

Contentment

Through the process of creating a homestead, the family has found contentment.

Shannon said although they have lost a few friends and perhaps missed out on other things, they’ve also gained some things in the process.

“The great thing about this life is, that it slows us back down and connects us to what we feel is important,” she said.

“There’s some satisfaction in doing things for yourself. I think we both really love that feeling that we’ve accomplished something.”

As for Kevin, he said he believes it’s skills his children need to know.

“My (reason) is for the kids. In another 100 years, if we don’t do something now, it’s not going to be the way it is today,” he said.

It was only five years ago that the family was in the thick of things like everyone else.

“We were just everyday people, too. We were trying to have a regular life. But when you go through something like we went through, you really learn what you can live without.

“All that stuff we had in that house, it meant nothing. It was just stuff.”

To submit story ideas, contact Justin Jones at jljones @stanlynewspress.com or (704) 982-2121 ext. 24.

 

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