A century ago, our suburb was cultivated by many as a rural retreat from the bustling capital city.
Dozens of subdivisions later, we’ve grown crowded enough to prompt even deep-rooted residents to escape ever farther out to nature.
Take my friends Tim and Beth Reese, Arlington parents formerly living in an expanded colonial home in East Falls Church. For decades Tim was a commercial real estate broker-contractor and she a cause-committed teacher and literacy activist.
A decade ago, they surprised many by embarking on their “third chapter.” They’re now ensconced on a 77-acre grow-your-own-organic-food farm a 90-minute drive out in Capon Bridge, West Virginia (pop. 371). They’re surrounded by two of three adult children, and grandchildren born at home with midwives.
“It’s like Mayberry, with lots of old families with multiple generations here,” says Beth, who likens their move to the 1970s “back to the land” trend. “There’s arts and music and artisan food, young people with entrepreneurial dreams who want to unhitch from the 9-5 and debts to live a life more hand-crafted.”
Alongside the Reese’s own offspring is a steady crop of interns from the nonprofit World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, many of whom grow enchanted with the area’s beauty and stay on after their assignment, Beth says.
“We all participate on the small-scale homestead farm in the growing season, with garden planting,” adds Tim. “We grow most of our meat, eggs, selected vegetables and fruits.” The ex-suburban farmers raise herbs, hens and hogs, taking fattened hogs to a slaughterhouse, which prepares the carcass, and then to a butcher for steaks and chops.
The big change was part serendipity. Born in West Virginia, Tim “had always wanted a place here.” In 2007, the couple bought a parcel intending “to be in Arlington three days a week doing real estate, working toward retirement,” he said.
But the 2008 market collapse shook everyone’s plans. “Everything I was doing in real estate was long-term, so I just took stock,” recalls Tim. “Did I really want to spend seven-eight years rebuilding the career? It was time to start that third chapter.”
Beth admits “we knew nothing about farming.” But she read case studies about gray-haired folks “becoming novices, who still have vitality, resources, knowledge and their health.” It became clear the Reeses weren’t “weren’t crazy,” or alone in their dream.
People ask, “What are you, survivalists?” she recounts. “But it’s normal out here.” Instead of “subcontracting your life,” daily routine is “an adventure. Instead of watching TV, people pick up a banjo, or put up a fence together.” For her 50th birthday, Beth got a tractor.
Tim’s work redeveloping aging buildings won an award from the West Virginia Tourism office for helping revitalize the state’s small towns via “artisan food, music and art to attract young people who want to stay,” Beth said.
“I don’t want to sound like we’re under a rock, but the pace of life is slower here,” Tim says.
“We loved Arlington, but we don’t go to the grocery store anymore. When we run out of food, we go to our freezer, pantry or a local farmer’s market.”
Without TV, without checking the news every day, the life “sounds radical, but it’s not,” Beth says. “Some of the dramatic things happening in Washington, D.C., are not as important as we think.”
Ballston has come a long way, baby, in the 200-plus years since it was a quiet tavern, market and voting station called Ball’s Cross Roads.
On Oct. 3, its Business Improvement District staged an afternoon street party to unveil its new logo and slogan “Life Is Full.”
I grooved to the rockabilly tunes of White Ford Bronco performing alongside an expanded farmers market across from the Metro. Ballston, planners say, is today an 18-hour neighborhood.