As the 100th post on Kowalskimountain.com quickly approached, I pondered what I could write about that might be extra special to celebrate this exciting milestone. Then I stumbled upon some photographs taken in 2016 when Philip walked the property for the very first time. I knew we needed to take a look back to where it all started to see how far we’ve truly come as Philip’s dream comes to life. On our last trip to the property, I had Philip sit with me and tell me about what made him choose Kentucky? What he was looking for, and what drew him to the homestead that we now call Kowalski Mountain? Here is what he shared with me. We hope you enjoy these photographs throughout the post from 2016 compared to the progress of where we are now.
Philip’s Story: The Beginning of the Dream
In the beginning, when I was trying to find the property, I had to first define what I wanted to use the property for. I knew I wanted to be able to hunt on it, farm the land and live on-site with as few restrictions as possible. I also knew I wanted to be able to put an RV on-site for a period of time. That would allow me to figure out the best positioning and location for the house. However, there were a lot of other factors that would play into the decision of where I would settle.
States I Considered
Several of the locations I looked at in the beginning were in Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Tennessee was probably my number one choice, second to Georgia when I first started looking. When talking to realtors in Tennessee, the kind of location I was looking for might be really, really secluded on unmaintained roads. I also learned from the realtor about the challenges to finding water on a mountain in Tennessee. I might have to go twice as deep just to get water. Since water is life on the farm, self-sufficient living and food security would be more difficult.
Hunting on the Homestead
One of the main aspects I was looking for in a piece of land, was can I hunt on the property? Could I bait game, what is available to hunt and what are the limitations in place? I wanted to be able to plant food plots to draw the game in and keep them close on the property. The ability to hunt deer was important. The opportunity to hunt elk in eastern Kentucky was quite an exciting possibility. I love trout that are abundant in the area. There is also plenty of turkeys where we are at.
Can I Farm it?
The next aspect that needed consideration was can I farm the land? I wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to food as I could. I was looking for a piece of property that had water running through it in some shape or form. While we don’t have a steady creek unless we have steady rain on the property, the soil has a lot of clay in it which allows us to dig a pond and it does retain water, except for a bad drought.
The soil was a factor, could I grow what I needed to grow? The soil here is called Zanesville silt and it is very mineral-rich soil. I had the soil tested and it is about a PH of 7. I figured out the weather was right up my alley here in Kentucky, we don’t have a lot of snow, but we do have the cold weather. We have a little bit of the best of both worlds being in Kentucky. We can grow a lot of warm weather produce from the south. As well as some of the cool weather plants from the north. We get a little more rain which is good, though we have periods of droughts.
Other Factors Considered
I investigated the taxes in the area and potential income opportunities. I wanted to be semi-secluded, but not so secluded that I would be far away from needed resources. If I needed a part for something that I didn’t have to travel hours away to get it.
Before purchasing, I considered the weather, did storms like hurricanes or tornadoes come through. I also didn’t want to be close to the coast or in the swamplands of South Carolina.
I didn’t want to be near any major cities. If you can picture an ant pile being stepped on, in an emergency, everybody pushes out, they will quickly overrun the property, hence not enjoying what we have. So those are things I thought about as well as would the property be easy to defend if necessary?
Boots on the Ground
After considering all these factors, I decided to narrow my search down to Kentucky. When I started looking, these were things to keep in mind. I think I booked over 20 properties in about a week’s time frame, starting from the west side and working my way east of I-75. I’d check into a hotel and tour a few properties, then check into another hotel to check a few more, working my way east. I ended up deciding on the third property I looked at, which was supposed to have been the first.
Our property is semi-secluded. We are only 15 to 20 minutes outside of town, which is nice. We have a hospital, a Super Walmart, an IGA (a grocery store), and a Tractor Supply. Pretty much everything we might need we can get from these stores. Thankfully we have an Inn here, not a hotel or motel, it’s nice. We have access to simple restaurants.
We are also within an hour of four major cities, which is really good. However, we’re not on the beaten path, so that was even better to be close but not in the direct route of evacuations of these cities. We are down a dead-end dirt road; nobody is going to go down there unless you invite them.
A Dream in Itself: Walking the Property
Before buying the land, I wanted to walk the property perimeter. Jay Dinwiddie, the owner, and grandson of the original owner of the estate gave me the tour of the property. I don’t go off a handshake or a picture that this is your property. I literally wanted to see all my corner markers. These happened to be a maple tree with three slashes, and an oak tree with a fork in it, literally descriptions like that. Some of the markers had rebar. I really wanted to know clearly where my property line and the property markers were. Fences make good neighbors, but I also wanted to maintain my own stuff.
Soon after I decided that I wanted to buy the property and worked out a deal with Jay. Everything just kind of started from there. I started bringing equipment in and slowly building. I learned that resources are a whole lot cheaper in Florida and then transport them up to KY.
The other factor is good neighbors. In the beginning, we had to try to keep people off the property. In our area there is a lot of ginseng on the mountain, there are also morel mushrooms, things along that line. Since the property was vacant, there were people wandering the property looking for them, even though there might not be any.
They are all trespassing, what’s funny is, the locals try to blame one group or another for stealing it, but they are all looking for it. Having great neighbors to watch after the property when you are not there is a major plus. We have neighbors that will literally give the shirt off their back, while they are just as cold as you are. I also network with the local Amish community to make myself known to them as the owner of the land and resources of the property. I’ve found that this simple action has really helped regarding interactions with our Amish neighbors.
Aerial Video of Kowalski Mountain
This video is a collection of aerial videos to show the progression of growth over the last few years.
Finding A Life’s Partner
In February of 2018, I met Philip and he quickly shared his Kentucky dream with me. It was a really hard decision to even consider leaving my family to pursue his Kentucky dream with him. One that almost derailed our relationship completely. However, if you’ve been in the dating world, good men are very hard to find, so I held on to see what would happen.
I grew up on a hobby farm and was living far from my roots doing my best in my single mom life. Read about my first trips to Kowalski Mountain here. That very first trip, there was only a small tent garage here at the homestead. Philip had carved out the RV pad, but that was it. All the rest, we’ve had the privilege of building together.
The mountain has slowly wooed me. I took a walk on the last trip, just up the drive and down the gravel dirt road, this truly is the life I have always craved. It’s certainly not an easy life, but the hard work is very satisfying. There is something about being exhausted at the end of the day, knowing that the work that you completed is valuable and will build a better future for yourself and those that you love.
Expanding the Dream of our Life Together
Of the original 40 acres of Kowalski Mountain, the majority of it is wooded with maybe 4 acres of it cleared. That left us with little option to have cattle on the property. The property was also only accessible by an easement owned by the neighbor which caused some friction between landowners with different visions of driveway maintenance. In February of 2020, the neighboring property became available for purchase. We jumped at the opportunity to enlarge the homestead from 40 acres to 68 acres with approximately 15 acres of total pasture land.
The Future is Bright
The work ahead is daunting at times, however, we chip away at it. This year we began the process of wrapping up loose ends in Florida. The house is on the market and we are working hard to accomplish a debt-free transition to Kentucky.
This post is in collaboration with other homesteaders just like us who want to encourage you to chase your homesteading dream! Each of these homesteading families has done just that, read their stories and be encouraged that you can chase your dreams too, no matter what stage of life you are in!
Joelle at From Scratch Farmstead
This past year was our first year on our 5-acre homestead and we dove deep into growing enough food to feed our family all year. We came a long way, supplying 80-90% of our own food with a basement full of storage crops, freezers full of meat and frozen fruit, and plenty of dried and canned produce foraged or from the garden to last us through the winter. In this post we pull back the veil sharing the how’s, why’s, and what’s next. Read Joelle’s story here.
Wendy from Little House Simple Living
The homesteading movement is on the rise and Wendy believes it’s here to stay. Her family started years ago on 1 ½ acre raising chickens, pigs, a garden, and more. They now live on 11 acres but you can homestead anywhere, even if you don’t have a lot of space. Grind your own flour, make salves and tinctures, buy in bulk, barter, and trade with friends. Just starting small and being more self-sufficient is so freeing. Join a community for support and let’s get back to our roots, just like our ancestors did. Read Wendy’s story here.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.