Seven years ago Hilary Williams and her husband Taylor traded their life in the city to start a homestead on a semi-rural property off Highway 12 in Western Sonoma County. In between milking goats, feeding chickens and canning vegetables, Hilary can be found in her converted garage studio creating screen prints, mixed media paintings, and illustrations. We chat with her about the challenges and rewards of homestead living, and how she balances it with being an artist.
Hi Hilary. How did you end up living on a homestead in Sonoma County?
I lived in San Francisco for many years, but always wanted to have a home with a little land. I have always considered food and cooking to be my hobby and that is where the desire to produce and grow my own ingredients came from. At first we were looking at relocating out of state, but I did not want to leave the personal and professional connections I had in San Francisco so we chose Sonoma County. It is just a little over an hour away, but our area really has its own cultural differences and opportunities.
What do you grow and what animals do you raise? Any favorites?
I raise milk goats, chickens, ducks, and then we have a couple pigs every year. The goats are the most challenging, but also the most personable and fun. They are really nice pets, have delicious milk that I make cheese with and we also get baby goats every spring!
I grow all kinds of vegetables and we have quite a few fruit trees as well. I have to say that I think the shelling beans are my favorite crop to grow. I love beans and they are mostly an easy stress free crop with great yields of all kinds of varieties. This year I planted about 10 different varieties of beans and cowpeas. I also love that I can eat them through the winter and the year.
“It is incredibly rewarding to sit down to a meal that I have grown and raised on the farm and also to share that with friends and family.”
Homesteaders have traditionally been associated with self-sustainability – making things such as textiles, food, and crafts for themselves and to sell or barter. As an artist/maker, was that part of the appeal for you?
Definitely! I consider cooking to be an art form and in addition to meals I do a lot of canning and preserving of food. I also sometimes do other crafts like making soap from lard, painting gourds or flower arrangements. There are always fun and creative uses for things that are found or produced on the farm. More than I will ever have time for really!
What are some of the biggest challenges, and rewards, of living on a homestead?
It is incredibly rewarding to sit down to a meal that I have grown and raised on the farm and also to share that with friends and family. It makes it all taste that much better and I am continually grateful. Time management is always a challenge! I have also learned that I will always be learning about farming. I will never be an expert. Every year has new and different challenges, sometimes with things that I thought I knew all about. It’s a lifetime of learning.
“The winter is a time of year I get to spend a lot of time in the studio on artwork and summer and fall are mostly on the farm.”
Has living on a homestead affected your art and creativity, and if so, how?
It has. I am from an urban environment and I have always played around with the idea of nature versus urban in my work, but since moving here it has taken on a new twist. I think my work is often more nature and floral and also has more of a joyful feeling to it. It has been hard to devote as much time to my work since moving here as the homestead takes up quite a bit of it, but I have tried to strike a balance. The winter is a time of year I get to spend a lot of time in the studio on artwork and summer and fall are mostly on the farm. Sometimes that is frustrating for me when I can’t seem to find the time to make art, but I think all artists feel that way no matter what else is going on their lives. Most of what I do around the farm feels creative in some way anyway.
Come see Hilary at our Holiday Market at The Barlow in Sebastopol on December 1st.