by Laura Johnson
David Sengel and Susie Winters own about 12 stunningly beautiful acres in Boone. When you pull in you won’t see their house at first; their fantastic Civil War-era farmhouse is nestled in a shady, breezy spot down by the pond. First you'll see the organic gardens, where David is growing garlic, asparagus, beans, potatoes and lettuce, among other things. You’ll also see the sunny solar greenhouse that he built himself three years ago, which allowed them to grow straight through the cold winter. Inside you’ll find some unexpected things growing, like lemons and figs.
Wander down a bit and you’ll pass the shaded pond, the farmhouse across from it, and come to what David calls their “Holiday Inn” chicken yard. He’s thinking about getting a few goats, too, for their grandchildren to enjoy (he’s also recently put in a teepee where the grandkids can play). Circle the pond and you’ll see his workshop, where he has turned wood and discarded metals into crafty, unique art for many years, his work displayed in galleries across the country. He and Susie are both artists – their light, airy home is filled with Susie’s watercolors and portraits.
When she was younger, Susie always wanted to live a simple life in the mountains. “I wanted to live like I was born in the late 1800s,” she laughed. “I was into spinning and weaving and making pottery and old-time string music and learning those old ways.” The old-time string music led her to David; they met when she gave him a banjo lesson years ago. She let him move in and build a woodshop, and in return he helped her raise her children and transform her home, only 6/10 of an acre at the time, into what it is today. “That’s kind of the way we worked together,” Susie said. “He built his shop and did his woodwork and I taught and did my art, and time went along.”
"All I could think of was a place that was beautiful...It's really about loving a place."
It didn't take Susie long to find her place. “This is the first place I found,” she said. “It had no bathroom, it had no electricity, I had no job, so it was like a leap of faith I guess, or stupidity, but I knew that the only thing I could do was to be in a place that was my own, that nobody could take away from me, and that was beautiful … All I could think of was a place that was beautiful.” She said to her this place had soul along with beauty. And there was a place for a garden.
Over time they acquired more land, little by little, mainly to protect their place from encroaching development. And with more land came more room to farm. The soil was deep and loose, David said, and things blossomed and grew. “It turned out to be a really nice balance between farming a good part of the year and doing woodwork and art the rest of the year,” David said. “It’s also a chance for me to be outside while I’m still able, instead of in that dusty workshop."
They started going to farmers’ markets about 10 years ago, and they were hooked. “The market is our social life,” Susie said. “We know the people there and the customers and the vendors, and so it’s almost like a party.” David served on the farmers' market board for six years, and Susie, through the nonprofit PHARMN (http://pharmn.org/), also heads up the Kids’ Corner at the Watauga Market.
The artist in her loves the displaying process that’s involved. “It’s gonna sound silly,” Susie smiled, “but washing the carrots and handling the produce and everything is just so gratifying. And then setting up our little display, making it look really cool with antique pots and things.” Those few quiet moments before people begin appearing at the table are personal and special, she said. “Just for that little moment it’s like you’ve grown it, you’ve picked it, you’ve washed it and you’ve presented it.” All this love and care is reflected in the food that customers get to purchase and take home to eat and share.
To be at Fog Likely is to experience home, love, commitment and a deeply felt sense of place. “I think that’s why I wanted to be on the farm tour, to share this,” Susie said. “It's really about loving a place...I mean I planted that apple tree right there. It was this big, and now it’s an old apple tree.”
They’d also like to convey to people that living in this way, close to and with deep respect for the land and nature’s rhythms, is possible. “The idea of farming used to be that you had to have 100 acres and $300,000 worth of equipment,” Susie said. “And you don’t, you can do it on a really small scale, which means it’s open to many more people. You can make a dang good living if you own your land and you grow the right things.”
David said he’d love to talk to people about the day-to-day reality of farming and everything that’s involved. “How sometimes it can be discouraging,” he said. “And sometimes, joyful.”