By Belle Crawford
The homesteading lifestyle can be motivated by a desire to decrease carbon emissions and consume healthier, homegrown food. But for Jason and Lorraine Contreras from Sow The Land, the decision to live off the land was a matter of life and death.
“We lived flashy corporate lives in Los Angeles,” says Lorraine. “I worked in the fashion industry and Jason was a drafter for an architectural firm. We had a huge four-bedroom house packed with expensive furniture and collectible artwork.” But after years of fast-paced living, Jason was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “It was becoming clear that our lifestyle was killing me,” he says.
Lorraine remembers going to work after Jason started chemo and listening to people argue about buttons. “None of it mattered to me anymore,” she says. “All I thought about was leaving work so I could be home helping Jason recover.”
Eventually, both Jason and Lorraine quit their jobs, sold their expensive furniture, started a garden and began attended farming workshops in and around L.A. Jason completed chemotherapy in 2009, and a year later, Jason’s cancer in remission, Lorraine became pregnant with their daughter Penelope.
Having a baby reinforced the desire to continue the journey towards a more natural and intentional way of life. However, a few years after Penelope was born, Jason’s cancer symptoms returned.
“We knew we couldn’t go back to our pre-cancer lifestyle, but we didn’t know how to tackle relapse alongside parenthood and building the homestead we’d dreamed about at the same time,” says Jason.
The couple spent a lot of money seeing every kind of doctor imaginable. Thankfully, it wasn’t cancer, but no one could tell them just what was happening. They did test after test, and experimented with several medical approaches to alleviating Jason’s mysterious symptoms. “We met with nutritionists and were given a lot of conflicting advice. We tried various extreme diets and were even told by one expert to eat only steamed cauliflower. It made me feel so much worse,” Jason says.
It seemed like nothing short of a miracle when, after a year, Jason’s health began to stabilize. “When he was feeling better, we’d decided to take a family vacation to Broad Wing farms in Hot Springs, North Carolina, and fell instantly in love,” says Lorraine. “The homesteading community in the area was exactly what we’d been looking for.”
In 2016, Jason and Lorraine bought a house outside of Asheville, but the transition to living off the land has not been a quick one. “We’d heard of families who’d purchased land and animals and ended up with a lot of debt and vet bills they couldn’t pay,” Jason says. “You can’t just move somewhere and start a homestead. It takes a lot of planning, saving and slow development. It doesn’t happen over night.” Artistic ability and an entrepreneurial spirit have helped the couple incorporate a general store and apothecary into their plan for self-sufficiency. Through their online store, the Sow The Land family sells homemade furniture, natural skin care products, wooden kitchen tools and artworks made from natural materials. Jason also chronicles their day-today experiences through a video journal with more than 18,000 followers on YouTube.
“We have a lot to learn and a long way to go,” says Lorraine. “But there are so many people in Asheville and the surrounding areas getting together to share food and knowledge that we’re never short of inspiration and new ideas.”
To learn more about Sow The Land’s homestead and their online store visit SowTheLand.com, or to view Jason’s video journal, check out their YouTube channel YouTube.com/SowTheLand. You can also follow them on Instagram and Facebook @sowtheland.