It takes a lot of courage to leave the life you’ve always known to make a jump into the life you’ve always dreamed of. And on one crisp California morning, that’s exactly what Aimee Kirk and her family of four did. Upon discovering six acres of bare land, Aimee, her husband, and two kids made the life-changing decision to move out of the city and build a house that they could call home.
Nestled in the foothills of central California, in a historic apple orchard, the Kirk family aims to one day live off of their land. From gardening to building, restoring the orchard, and living life in community, all it takes is a quick look at her blog, The Homegrown Apple or Instagram of the same name, to see the minimal yet warm interior that Aimee has created with seeming effortlessness and ease. A teacher, blogger, and mother of two, we caught up with Aimee to hear about her homeschooling and homesteading journey.
In 2014, you purchased six acres of bare land! How did you find the property and what prompted the decision?
"About five years ago – when our kids were only two and four – we had it on our hearts to own some property. At the time, we were living in a house in the foothills of California. We loved it but felt a desire to own some land and spread out a bit. Our dream was to have chickens, sheep, and a garden – a place where our kids could grow up in the dirt and live a true country life. So, we started looking for a house on some land but didn’t have any luck. One day as I was driving home from work, I saw a sign that said, 'six acres for sale by owner.' It was in a perfect location. We thought we could never afford it but decided to call the number anyway and ended up getting a great deal! We feel so blessed that we get to call this place our home.
From there, we began this journey of building a home. Originally, we had this beautiful two-story house drawn up. Once we got the plans in our hands and started getting bids, we realized we were in over our heads. So, we started throwing around the idea of 'in-law quarters.' Basically, our land is zoned for two homes, but one has to be under 1,200 square feet. At the time, we thought we'd build a little house first and eventually build a larger house. We’re not sure if that will ever happen (we might be playing the lottery occasionally!). For now, we’re content with this little place we call home."
What were some of the challenges and highlights in building your house from the ground-up?
"Building your own home sounds so magical right? You get to pick out everything you want, and it all just happens! Well, it’s really not that simple. We had so many things go wrong (contractors quitting on us in the middle of the job, cabinets being ordered incorrectly, deadlines being pushed back - to name a few). My husband took on the task of being the general contractor with no experience whatsoever. He subbed out every contractor himself and scheduled the timing out as perfectly as he could! He honestly had everything lined up so seamlessly.
One of my biggest highlights was picking out the lighting! I knew I wanted to have all of my light fixtures from Schoolhouse, and the day it all came in the mail was better than Christmas (not to mention the day it all got installed)!"
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
"I don’t know why, but this has been hard for me to describe. If I had to use three words: minimal, modern, and farmhouse. I adopted a 'live with less' lifestyle years before we even bought the land, and it has sunk into my design style. I want to live a quiet life in the country. To me, a simple house with less stuff helps create that feeling."
Where’s your favorite part of the house to spend time in?
"The kitchen is where you’ll most likely find me. I love to bake, cook, and bring my kids into whatever I’m doing too! I have a weekly sourdough and kombucha routine that I cherish, and since I homeschool my kids, much of our day is spent doing school at the kitchen counter."
From apples to other fruits and vegetables, you mention that your goal is to be able to live off of your land someday. What has the journey been like so far?
"We'd like to live off the land someday. I laugh because someone recently told me I don’t have a real homestead. While this may be true (I’m not milking cows every morning), we still have a dream and a plan. You have to start somewhere, right? These kinds of things take work, time, and money. And at the end of the day, we are just such a normal working family. Coming into it, we knew we wouldn’t be able to do this overnight. We’ve only been here for two years, and we don’t have much of a farm yet. We have two cats, a dog, and a garden! But we have plans to put up our chicken coop and have dairy sheep soon."
How has your son and daughter taken to life on the homestead?
"The kids love living on the property! They’re outside all the time playing in the dirt, finding turkey feathers, and spotting deer. It’s like our own little forest right outside our door. It’s everything I hoped it would be for them! We spend time bird watching, foraging, or picking wildflowers. My husband and I always say how lucky they are to grow up here. They’ve shown a lot of responsibility raising two kittens, a puppy, and helping out in the garden!"
In addition to raising a family, working on the homestead, and documenting the process via your blog, you and your husband are also working professionals. What does a typical week look like for your family? And how do you make time for it all?
"A couple of years ago, my husband told me something that changed our lives for this season. He wanted to run for a small political office here in our county. Long story short, we decided that I would quit my job as an elementary teacher and homeschool our kids. It was a tough decision on so many levels, but now that we’ve been doing it, I can’t imagine it any other way. My hubby now works two jobs and is super busy, but he thrives off of having lots to do. I get to be at home with my kids: teaching and playing with them. It works for us, and I feel so lucky. I think homeschooling them is such a great launching point for our future farming plans too!"
Finally, do you have any favorite holiday traditions you’d like to share?
"We have one tradition the day after Thanksgiving that we all look forward to. I always make homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. So, the next day, we add a cup of that into our pancake batter and have Cranberry Pancakes! We also warm up any extra sauce and pour it over the pancakes. It’s so yummy!
During Christmas, we love to celebrate advent by reading a story and prayer each day in December. We also love doing Christmas crafts throughout the month. For instance, we always make dried orange garlands and dip candles. To me, that’s what makes it feel like Christmas!"
Photography by Aimee Kirk