When April Root asked Melissa Lowery if she could bring her kids to play with Lowery’s new baby goats on her farm, the two had never met in person.
They had only connected online four months earlier as members of the Rochester, WA Homesteading and Self Sufficiency Facebook group that Root and her sister Emma Duff started in Jan. 2015. Lowery requested to join weeks after the group was created.
The reality that this was Root’s first time meeting Lowery was the last thing on her mind after she processed where she was. The revelation made her pass on a subtle introduction. After she and her husband Ben parked the car, Root jumped out, ran to Lowery and hugged her.
She then explained to a somewhat-confused Lowery that the latter now owned the land on which her and Duff’s childhood home used to stand.
“It (wasn’t) the same house, ours was an old farmhouse that was bulldozed down,” Root said. “But to have my kids swing on the same swing that my tire swing was on and play in the same river that I played in and roll down the same hill that I did, it was just amazing.
“That’s how our relationship started. Melissa and I are just kindred spirits and she’s like a sister to me now.”
Lowery has since moved from the plot of land, but continues to serve as an admin of the group alongside Duff and Root. As of Feb. 20, the group hosts 2,668 members.
Duff and Root started the group after what Duff estimates was “their first year or two,” of taking up homesteading on their own. They started searching for a way to connect with other people who lived a similar lifestyle, as means to help with bartering and other communication.
“We decided to just throw the Facebook group out there to see if anyone would bite,” Duff said. “It actually happened really fast, people were sharing it, we had to add people constantly and it blew up. Within six months we had probably 1,600 members in the Rochester community. That’s pretty giant.”
While the group only started by accepting prospective members from in and around Rochester, the trio of admins have now allowed entry to citizens from anywhere in the state of Washington.
“(Homesteaders) are just so like-minded,” Root said. “It’s nice to have a place we can all go to and help each other out, even though it might be on the east side (of Washington), north, whatever, it doesn’t really matter.”
Lowery joined the group after she moved from the Vancouver, Washington area in Feb. 2015. She recalled that being the time in which she had initially taken an interest in goat farming and was hoping to learn more about it from the Facebook group.
She posted a picture of her baby goats, Root reached out and it led to an introduction that couldn’t have been scripted. Duff says she and her sister talked Lowery into becoming an admin of the group after “a couple of months.”
“She’s super good at organization and coming up with ideas,” Duff said. “She’s like a massive part of the homesteading page now.”
According to Lowery, as the membership grew, so did the means of education and outreach. The earliest classes on various homesteading and self-sufficiency methods were taught in people’s homes. The next step was farm tours, from whoever in the group was willing to show their property off.
She says that education is her favorite aspect of the whole experience.
“All the classes we’ve taught, people hosting education at their houses, that’s been my baby,” Lowery said. “I love that free knowledge transfer.”
When the group continued to grow, Root, Lowery and Duff started to host an event with less than 50 attendees. As Lowery explains it, the gathering was structured as a potluck centered around a “couple educational classes.”
“By the next spring, it got a little bigger, then within a year, we started having vendors there selling wares, started opening it up to the public,” Lowery said. “Then, we did away with the potluck, because that was now absolutely ridiculous, you know, when you get 200 people, it’s just not manageable.”
The trio transitioned to hosting a biannual fair. They’ve now been hosting fairs for the last four years, with the group’s Spring Fair scheduled for May 2 at Walupt Farms.
Per Duff, the fairs are financed by the three admins and their families.
“Me, Melissa, April and our families, we throw all of our money into the fairs because we love it and we want the community to have this awesome thing that we do twice a year,” Duff said. “Last fall, we started doing a raffle, so we asked a bunch of businesses, small farms and artists to donate items and we got to kind of raffle them off. That money we can put back into the next homesteading fair.”
This year, the group is hoping to advertise for the event around town with banners and other signage. It’s a change from the usual form of advertisement, which, according to Duff, is centered around kids from families in the group making signs and putting them up around town.
“We’re trying to expand with the limited funds that we have,” said Duff.
Root is happy that the group has given a forum to people who all live a similar lifestyle. She says having this community she helped create makes her life “more full.”
“It makes me happy that I took a chance,” Root said. “I didn’t know how it was going to be received and I don’t have all the answers to homesteaders, I go (to the group) constantly with my own questions. It’s really a place to talk to other people, who have gone through it, that can help you out.”
Above all else, Duff, Lowery and Root treasure the friendships they and many others have made as a result of the group. They maintain that the success of the community their venture into Facebook groups produced is predicated upon the selfless nature of its members.
It’s led them to adopt the mantra, “root for each other, and watch each other grow.”
“It’s amazing to sit back and watch all the relationships and stuff develop,” Root said. “Watching people pull together and be kind to one and other because they want to, not because they have to.”