by Laura Johnson
Elizabeth West and Lisa Redman of Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm are true activists. While in one sense they’ve “retreated” from mainstream society to their off-the-grid permaculture homestead in Ashe County, they continue to reach out to the community – from the local to the global scale – to spread and grow their vision of how to live a natural, sustainable life.
“Elizabeth is an action taker,” Lisa told me proudly. “And I think it often takes someone who’s willing to just go for it, you know, to do something so different than everyone else is doing it. You’ve just gotta go for it sometimes.”
Originally from Louisiana, Elizabeth moved to the North Carolina mountains, where she’d spent time as a child, in her early 20s. Active in the U.S. environmental movement and working as an environmental educator in the 1980s and ‘90s, she harbored a vision of caring for her own land.
“It was always kind of a dream to have and preserve land, to be able to tend or steward land,” Elizabeth explained. When she finally purchased her land in West Jefferson about 15 years ago, she began to apply the tools of land stewardship that she’d gathered, drawing upon the support of others and emphasizing community in many senses of the term.
“We want people to learn about our footprint in this world and the resources we consume and how maybe we can start to shift our collective consciousness and mindset.”
“Community is something that’s really important to the vision here,” Elizabeth said. “Not just teaching but teaching and learning and bringing people together. And not just for education (in the usual sense), but for learning about how to be in this world, to be happy and work together, to be resilient and heal.”
“We want to share what we’re doing so that people can see it’s not impossible to live with a really low impact and without a lot of money,” Lisa added. “We want people to learn about our footprint in this world and the resources we consume and how maybe we can start to shift our collective consciousness and mindset.”
Elizabeth and Lisa reach out to the local community by continuously hosting workshops and work parties, allowing them to share with others while collectively adding to the workings of Woodland Harvest. “We have an expert on site and we do a big project and everyone learns something new and we continue to build our infrastructure,” Lisa explained. “That’s how we do everything here on the farm, through work parties, work traders, different forms of trading rather than the dollar.”
Extending beyond the High Country, Woodland Harvest has a regional, national and global pull. They have spread their model for living and co-existing while gaining the support and labor needed to make it possible through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program.
“Our WWOOFers come from all over the world,” Lisa said. “We’ve had people come from New Zealand, Australia, England, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Israel and all over the United States.” Last year they also became an Alternative Spring Break destination for two major U.S. universities.
“So that’s one of the coolest things about living this kind of life,” Lisa said. “It’s a unique sort of community, and every person that comes through this farm learns something from us and we learn something from them, and we all continue to grow and learn and love together.”
Woodland Harvest uses low-impact, off-the-grid technologies and practices such as solar panels, a micro hydro-electric system, compost, permaculture and biodynamic agricultural practices, greywater and natural building techniques. They make a few products such as healing salves, recently hosted their first overnight kids' camp and have even learned to make their own fuel from vegetable oil to power vehicles.
“We’re out here as sort of a beacon of something completely radical and different that can be done,” Lisa smiled.