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CA artist-farmer builds $25K quiet home to savor simple life

Needing a break from roommates and social work environments, L Gilbert wanted an affordable home for one in pricey California. Equally eager for construction experience, L began to build a tiny wooden home using salvaged lumber (deck, outdoor shower, furniture, doors), local cedar siding, and birch plywood interior.

After 6 months of intense work, the home was finished, costing $25,000 in materials: the savings on salvaged material were offset with splurges like a new trailer, solar panels, efficient wood-burning stove, and a high-end compost toilet.

To find an affordable place to park the new home, L began writing to farms in Northern California asking if someone might be interested in exchanging parking on premises for rent and some farm work. After months of waiting, a Christmas tree farm that had been ravaged by a megafire responded saying they had a spot and would only charge $300 per month rent as well as some help selling trees during the holiday season.

The parking sits surrounded by 50 acres of farm (40 acres of which were burnt by the 2018 megafire) and serves as an ideal location to retreat into quiet. “I think it’s a really interesting decision to decide to live alone,” explains L. “But for me it was a long-term desire, it’s where I thrive the most, is to live alone. I love being around people, but I think having a space that’s my own is really important. I do a lot of work in communities, and being alone is essential to recharging. I think that’s also why I want to build this space so I would have the energy to keep doing the work that I want to do with people.”

Building through the haze of at least one fire and now living on a property where 50,000 trees burnt in the 2018 fire, L is hyper aware of the increasing frequency of megafires in the state and worries about the next one.

“I’ll always live in fear here that my home will burn down. I know that if I’m going to stay I have to develop a different relationship with fire. I’ve really been looking to indigenous leaders because they know better than any of us that fire has always been a part of this land. It actually rejuvenates the soil, it gives new life to native species. The difference is we’ve mismanaged the forests for hundreds of years. What happens then are these mega-super fires, and it’s terrifying, so part of me wants to leave. I just want to take my house and leave but when I really think about where I want to be it’s here. I’m trying to figure out what that can look like in this type of climate.”