Canada 2017·Future Now

I'm giving up the single family home to build a farm with friends — and you can too

Facing the prohibitive cost of living in southern Ontario, Lesley Marie Boileau is forging a new co-housing venture from the ground up.

Lesley Marie Boileau is building a new co-housing venture from the ground up

Lesley Marie Boileau is starting 'Life 2.0' on a property with friends. First step: design and build a house. (Lesley Marie Boileau)

Who among us is living like a person ahead of their time? And what might Canada need to do to catch up with them? Future Now is a new series featuring individuals who are living their version of the Canadian future… today. 

If someone told me that someday I'd consider selling my adorable home in Cobourg, Ont., in order to build a farm from scratch with my friends, I wouldn't have believed them. But here I am, half-owner of a plot of land, waiting for the frost to melt so we can start the construction phase of our co-housing adventure.

The site of the 'From Scratch Farm' in Northumberland County, Ontario. (Lesley Marie Boileau)

Cue the theme music from Three's Company or Golden Girls — both fit perfectly here.

How does this sort of thing even happen? 

Growing up, I always thought that the milestone of buying your own house was the end game, but after six years of home ownership I found the reality of it to be a little lonely, and in all honesty, sometimes a nerve-wracking existence.

As a single woman in her 30s, I have always wanted to try something big and drastic in terms of changing up my employment as a direct support worker in a group home. I have the ideas and the skills, but the prospect of leaving secure employment for an untried dream has been unsettling. The cost of living in this part of Ontario is painful, as is the case in many parts of Canada. Low income options are barely existent, rentals are scarce and many people that I know in my own community are without secure housing. So what if my ideas fail? Who would pay the hydro bill? How long would it take for me to become not only self-sufficient, but not feel like I was drowning?

Co-housing isn't new, but it's definitely not the norm.

For years my friend Kim Orchard and I, unhappy in our work realities (several jobs between us both, working hours that often leave our families questioning our sanity), joked and schemed about ways we could change how we supported ourselves. Most of those daydreams involved us living on a hobby farm and working from home. But we were always stopped by the actual cost of living or fears of starting something new on our own.

From ideas to plans

One day, Kim's husband Jason bravely asked, "What if you weren't joking? 

Life 2.0 on From Scratch Farm, our adventure as we now call it, was born. A reboot of all our lives. A plan to let go of the things that were sucking life from us and finding instead the things that brought us joy.

We started regular meetings to talk about our hopes for the project.  We explored the "must haves" and the "must nots" for making a co-housing and work arrangement function. We created a partnership agreement, looking at the worst case scenarios before we let ourselves look at just how far we could take our ideas.

"What happens if one of you die? If you hate my future potential husband? If we can't decide what to name our sheep?" (Spoiler: our lawyer was impressed; maybe we'll name a sheep after her).

And from plans to action

We sold our houses, broke the news to our families and eventually we found our property — nearly eight acres on the rolling hills of Northumberland, Ont. And next month, a year and a half from the beginning of this journey, we break ground.

Fortunately, we have a huge knowledge base to draw on from  those who've lived in intentional communities and smaller arrangements before. Already the From Scratch Farm has been a community building project, with support from our friends and families to make it happen — trailers for us to live in on the property in the nice weather, housing during the winter, helpful hands lugging belongings and advice from lived experience.

So what is the big-picture plan for Life 2.0? First we survive building the house! Once we have a home base established, we'll add gardens and bring in animals, slowly settling into the rhythm of living on the farm. 

As a single woman in her 30s, I have always wanted to try something big.

To earn income to sustain the farm, we plan to offer a farming-based life skills program for people with developmental delays. Some of this hands-on program will include learning about animal husbandry, working in a market garden and growing a small permaculture-based orchard. Additionally, we'll be creating opportunities for those attending the skills program to make money selling what they've made and grown at the local market. Organic meat, an apiary and solar projects are just a few of the side projects we have lined up for ourselves, and the ideas keep coming.

Our hope in entering into this crazy adventure is to model practices that are scalable and could make co-housing work for many different people. Co-housing isn't new, but it's definitely not the norm. I think if any of us are honest with ourselves, we can see the drawbacks to living in our insular single households — financially and socially — but it's a scary step to take when we have haven't seen it often modeled in our own culture. It's also big leap of faith in the process of community, but with the right foundations, it can work.


Lesley Marie Boileau is the Artistic Director of Shelter Valley Folk Festival and has worked for 16 years in the developmental services field. She has walked alongside those who struggle to find secure housing within her own community and hopes that this new adventure might a provide framework for adoptable housing arrangements for others. Follow the From Scratch Farm on Instagram @thefromscratchfarm.