Welcome to the Cold Brook Farm Blog. Deborah and I hope that this will be the beginning of a vibrant community where we can learn from one another. Interesting posts (and hopefully discussions) about growing (and of course eating!) healthy food, fantastic recipes, fabulous local purveyors, what we are doing on the Farm and steps we can all take toward a more sustainable lifestyle and living in balance with nature…
Ah, that word – “Sustainable.” So important, and yet incredibly overused. On a finite planet with an ever-increasing population and scarce resources, is any human endeavor truly “sustainable?” Only with extreme hubris would Deborah and I say that Cold Brook Farm is a model of sustainability in an absolute sense. The very fact that we built a farmhouse on an undeveloped piece of land is, by definition, un-sustainable – something of which we are profoundly aware.
But please allow us to set this aside for a minute and accept that someone else would have certainly bought this land and built something on it – perhaps something perfectly wonderful, but also, very possibly, something that was nothing more than a building. Something that was “only” a dwelling. Maybe it could have even been an over-sized, inefficient, energy-guzzling monstrosity. Perhaps in this context what we are doing is at the very least redeemable and at best something worth reading about and learning from.
Cold Brook Farm
Cold Brook Farm — a modern-day homestead
In a nutshell, Cold Brook Farm is a modern-day homestead on which we have built a Zero-Energy Home from locally sourced, environmentally responsible materials, employing both Regenerative and Permaculture Agricultural practices in a way that will hopefully be about as low impact on our planet as current knowledge and technology allows. Quite a mouthful and there will be much more on these complicated, interrelated topics to come, but for now please indulge our introduction to this very special place.
For well over twenty years Deborah and I have talked about moving “somewhere in the country” where we could build a home that embodied many of our environmentalist ideals. We wanted to plant and grow healthy, organic food while observing and living in harmony with our natural surroundings — enjoying a lifestyle dictated by the rhythms of nature.
The search for Cold Brook Farm
In the early Summer of 2019 with our children fully grown and ready “to leave the nest” Deb and I started looking for land close enough to suburban Essex County that we could still regularly visit and host friends and family, but far enough away from the New York City that we could afford enough land to create a nicely sized organic garden and maybe even have an acre or two of woods or wetland. We assumed that our search would last many months…perhaps even years. This was a place that we planned on spending the rest of our lives and it needed to feel “just right.”
Keep in mind that this was before the Pandemic and the ensuing real estate frenzy, so once you were out in the more rural areas of New Jersey, the market had been relatively stagnant for some time – especially in the Highlands region of the state, where very strict regulations on new development placed significant limitations on what could be built. Many of the properties that we looked at had been on the market for months, if not years and there was no feeling of being rushed to find something.
Because we knew that we would need a fairly extensive solar array to generate enough electricity for all of our needs – including driving a combined 30,000 miles per year in the electrical vehicles that we both already owned – and that there would be an important agricultural component to what we wanted to do, our search criteria were very specific and many properties were immediately cast aside. Thankfully Molly Tonero, our incredible Real Estate Agent at Turpin Realtors looked at our “Property Requirements” as a fun challenge rather than a torturous burden. She too had once moved from Montclair to a rural part of New Jersey where she and her husband live on a farm to this day, so she understood our motivations in a way that was personally meaningful.
• 3 acres MINIMUM lot size (5+ acres preferred).
• Interesting / varied views. We love rolling farmland, views from ridgelines with expansive views into the distance and woodland views.
• No routine / significant traffic noise.
• As little air traffic noise as reasonably possible (given the constraints of this part of the world).
• Extensive, unblocked Southern exposure that allows for Solar Power.
• Enough contiguous land around the house with soil that allows for planting an extensive organic / Permaculture garden.
• A portion of the property or property immediately adjacent to it should be “forever wild.”
• Surrounding area looks and feels like the country. No McMansions or typical suburban subdivisions.
• Reasonable Real Estate Taxes. We intend to age in place here and need to be able to afford to stay.
• Development surrounding the lot is restricted, already complete or predictable.
• Location should be a reasonable distance from Montclair and NYC.
• We want the lot to be easily accessible in inclement weather and not feel overly isolated.
In many parts of the country a list like this would not present much of a challenge, but finding all of these things on the same piece of land within forty miles of the most expensive, densely populated city in the United States that also happened to be for sale – at a price that was within our budget? Deb and I set aside our weekends for the foreseeable future and expected to be spending a lot of time with Molly.
Cold Brook Farm — the journey begins
39 Days! That’s all it took to find the property we ultimately would end up buying. A little over a month into our search, after visiting well over sixty potential properties – a combination of undeveloped land and possible tear-downs – we had come to the realization that what we were looking for was not at all common. In places like Harding (that we loved), prices were incredibly high and lot sizes too small. Go too much further West and land was affordable, but often too far from the people we loved and with whom we wanted to remain in contact. We also saw properties in some absolutely gorgeous towns but they felt more like suburbs with a country-feel and, often, the real estate taxes bordered on as obscene as what we had just left in Montclair.
For Sale Sign for the Cold Brook Farm Land Parcel
So at lunchtime on August 12, 2019 when I decided to take a drive out to a property I had seen listed the day before that Molly had never shown us “because it had too many easements and environmental restrictions to be easily developed,” I was expecting very little. But as I turned off a paved main road and onto a dirt road with a 20 MPH speed limit and stunning natural surroundings, my heart began to race. I pulled off the road and stepped out of the car next to a Turpin Realty sign proclaiming that this 43-acre parcel of land was “For Sale.” The air smelled sweet, an expansive field in front of me was planted to corn and beyond were woods set under a crystalline blue sky as far as the eye could see. Cicadas, crickets, bird song and the gentle rustle of wind in the trees and corn rounded out the idyllic country scene. At that moment I knew I had found our home.
Deborah on the Road to Cold Brook Farm
When Deb joined me four days later with Molly and the Seller’s real estate agent in tow to officially “walk the property,” the two of us did our very best not to give away just how smitten we were with this place. Everything about it was perfect for us. A five-acre wetland on the North side of the property, over twenty-five acres of woods at the back of the property, a thirteen-acre agricultural field and a gorgeous, babbling spring-fed brook with its own swimming hole.
We could do everything we ever dreamed of here…and then some!