Sometimes, in order to shake away complacency and pursue a fulfilling life, a wake-up call is needed.
This wake-up moment for people to pursue their dreams fearlessly can come in many ways: a shocking medical diagnosis, a change in job circumstances or another significant life event.
For Tessa and Ian Chittle, the life-altering moment came in a small package: the upcoming birth of their daughter, Azalee.
At the time, the couple was living off student loans in a tiny Seattle apartment as Tessa prepared for graduate school to earn a naturopathic degree and Ian finished up required counseling hours following his graduate degree.
“We thought, ‘Okay, we’re about to have a baby with zero income,” Tessa, 33, said. “We’d always wanted to have land. And we thought, ‘Why not now?’”
A big part of it was a shift in our persepctive when we found out we were pregnant. It started with Azalee. I wanted to spend more time with my daughter.
With this shift in perspective, the couple began looking for a new home and property to raise their daughter and live their dream of a more holistic lifestyle.
“A big part of it was a shift in our perspective when we found out we were pregnant,” Ian, 32, said. “It started with Azalee. I wanted to spend more time with my daughter.”
Six months after the positive pregnancy test, the couple moved onto 6 acres and into house — in desperate need of a remodel — just outside Gig Harbor on the Key Peninsula.
Calling the space the Chittle Homestead, the couple began their dream of living closer to the land and sharing the experience not only with their daughter, now 2 1/2, but also with others interested in more sustainable living practices.
“When we drove onto this property we felt some magic,” Tessa said. “We saw right past the ugly house.”
The Chittle Homestead has been transformed since Tessa and Ian purchased the property and is now beginning to welcome visitors for meals and “Homestead Playdays,” where skills ranging from crafting to canning are shared.
“We just want to start involving people from the beginning,” Tessa said. “We’re Google farmers ... Our strength as academics is doing the research and implementing.”
People always show up for good food. The fact that we’ve had such a good response is because people feel the community behind it.
The first Chittle Homestead event was the Harvest Dinner, held in September which featured food grown on the homestead and prepared by Tessa. Forty people showed up for the event, surprising the couple, who were expecting 20 guests.
Each event since — a tree guilds workshop and another playday — has been growing in popularity with guests.
“People always show up for good food,” Tessa said. “The fact that we’ve had such a good response is because people feel the community behind it.”
One the goals the couple has for their homestead is to create a space where people can come and learn together.
“I also think about our projects as a potential draw to people,” Ian said. “We’re really very open to people reaching out to us as far as collaboration — if they have skills or want to teach something and need the space to do it.”
The homestead is currently home to goats and chickens, who live and play alongside Azalee and the Chittles’ dog. A now-dormant garden featured a wide range of fruits and vegetables and new fruit trees have been planted near older fruit trees already on the property.
I also think about our projects as a potential draw to people. We’re really very open to people reaching out to us as far as collaboration. If they have skills or want to teach something and need the space to do it.
“Azalee is the chicken master. She likes to carry around and hold the chickens,” Tessa said. “She also helps feed the goats ... She’s a big part of everything we do. Every step of the way she’s right there with us.”
Future plans include expanded pasture space for more animals, updates to existing workshops including an outdoor garden sink, trails through the forested part of the property and even a Tiny House for mini-retreats.
“This is an evolving space,” Tessa said. “Anybody who has ideas on how to use this space, we’re open to collaboration and co-creation.”
The Chittles are working with Brett Marlo DeSantis on designing a sustainable Tiny House that will sleep six people, but remain affordable.
“We really want it to be a model for what we believe in,” Tessa said.
Funded in part by a loan, the project is also being paid for through guests pre-booking stays in the Tiny Home through a GoFundMe account for anytime in the two years following the home’s April 2017 completion date.
Another way for guests to become involved on the Chittle Homestead is to become a homestead member. Members of the Chittle Homestead have access to free workshops, events and harvest dinners, along with discounts on Farmstays and members-only days.
You can either work a bunch and increase your income or you can work less and decrease your expenses. I think that how we live our lives is how we create the world we live in.
A membership for two adults is $300, with children age 12 and younger free with member adults.
“I like having young kids here and getting involved at a young age,” Ian said.
Tessa agreed: “We really want to involve all ages.”
The final 2016 workshop will be a crafting party held in December, with 2017 workshops beginning in January with “Life Manifestos & New Years Revolutions.” Each workshop is focused on community connection through co-creation, something that both Chittles firmly believe to be an important, and often missing, part of life.
“There’s a lot of connection that comes through co-creating,” Tessa said. “I think it’s a constant practice in how to create something.”
Community, connection and communication is important for the Chittles on their homestead and in their lives. Broadening this reach into the Gig Harbor community, Ian works three days a week with teenagers and adults as a licensed mental health counselor at Harbor Wellbeing.
The life changes the Chittles have made over the past several years have been dramatic and the learning curve steep, but the couple has no regrets for their bold decision to live and follow their dreams.
“You can either work a bunch and increase your income or you can work less and decrease your expenses,” Tessa said. “I think how we live our lives is how we create the world we live in.”