The rest of the story...

Here's where I tell you all the stuff that wouldn't fit in a 2-minute TV story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tiny Houses

John puts the mic on Sarah McNair
Click here To view the TV Story that accompanies this blog.

When you look at Sarah McNair's master's thesis, sitting in her parent's back yard in Giles County only a few miles from Mountain Lake, you ask yourself, why?  Why would anyone want to live in a home that's only 150 square feet including bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and what Sarah jokingly calls the "great room."

At first you think, "This could be cool."  But then you realize it could be cool for a weekend, or maybe for a few weekends in summer or for an occasional getaway.  After all, that's why we have camping.

But Sarah has tapped into something that's a bit of a movement in the United States.  People are leaving behind all of their "stuff."  They are moving toward a less "impactful" way of living.    People are leaving it all behind, living with just what they need and nothing more.

Wikipedia's report on the small house movement credits Sarah Susanka with starting the movement in 1997, with her book entitled,  The Not So Big House.

A recent blog exclaims that Americans have too much stuff and that stuff, "doesn't necessarily lead to greater happiness."  

Sarah McNair mentioned all of that when she gave me a tour of the home she's been building this summer in her parents yard.  For her it is about sustainability, a smaller carbon footprint and living responsibly.  Sarah is working on her master's thesis at American Military University, which is open to both military and non-military students.  (Sarah is non-military.)

Her professors have allowed her to build this house in addition to the more traditional research paper she must write to earn her degree.  Instead of living in it, she will sell it.  Sarah says she believes int he movement, but this project is about research.

For instance she has learned that "green" building supplies can be expensive.  One of the virtues of small houses is that they are supposed to be inexpensive, "so people can live mortgage free."  Sarah did her part by purchasing a lot of the materials from used materials stores. The Habitat ReStore in Roanoke would be an example.  If people take old sinks and fixtures to the store and others buy them, then that stuff doesn't go to the landfill and the world's energy isn't wasted building new sinks and fixtures...

Now what was I going to say?
But there is a point of diminishing returns on the sustainability front.  Sarah figures she will have about $15,000 invested in her small house by the time it's done.  "I could have spent $50,000 if I went completely green," she told me.  That's not a bad lesson.

As much as I wanted to delve into the sustainable side of this story -- and I'm a huge advocate for sustainable living, I just couldn't get past the whole, how do you live in such a cramped space story?

So that's the focus of the TV report.  There was simple too much don't bump your head low-hanging fruit.  Where do you put your skis, aquriums, kitchen gadgets yada yada yada.  It was fun, and Sarah is a good sport.

At some level I agree that we have too much stuff.  Heck, the utility room in my basement is the same size as Sarah's house.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't even fit all the Carlin family Christmas decorations in her "home!"

So be it.  It's a cool project and it raises some good questions about the way American's live their lives.  If people want to down size, why not?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Big Spring Mill

Click here to view the story that aired on Fox 21/27.

I'm not sure what I expected to find at the Big Spring Mill in Elliston.

Bob Long
Bob Rotanz owner of Mac and Bob's restaurant in Salem and a fellow YMCA board member told me he used their flour in the restaurant and thought their story was a good one for my segment.

Not only is it the story of a mill that still does things the "old fashioned way"  -- that is one of the few family owned mills the the state -- and might be the only one, (I just didn't have time to check) but it represents a true family enterprise that's grown through generations of millers and their wives who tested the flour to ensure really fluffy biscuits and seasoning that creates amazing fried chicken.

Hand tied bags of flour
The finished product

This would be a better book than a TV news story... but I did the best I could in my allotted time.

The Long Family from the current owners Bob and his uncle, David to Bob's retired father Bill to the his parents and grand parents who set up shop in the same spot in 1937 -- it's a story of perseverance.

Standing there it's cool to see people coming and going to buy a bag of flour, or animal feed over the counter in the quaint business office at the mill.   It's amazing to watch workers deftly using twine to tie miller's knots on every sack of flour, and to hear stories of how the famous seasoned flour is mail-ordered from all over the world because nothing else tastes quite like it.

Yes.  This is the story of an old way of doing things through the generations, but it's also evidence that left alone, just off the beaten path in our generic world of big box stores and franchise restaurants Virginians continue to find success and happiness in a simple, rural lifestyle.