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Finding Community with Solarpunk Farms

When the pandemic slowed down the world, Spencer Scott and Nick Shwanz took the opportunity to make a big change. Now they have a farm, and they’re making it feel like home.

  • Words By: Liam Boylan-Pett
  • Images By: Allie Leepson and Jen McClary

In 2019, Spencer Scott and Nick Shwanz were living together in San Francisco. They were focusing on how to live more sustainably and daydreaming about living off the land one day. Wouldn't it be great, they thought, if they could one day live on a farm, grow some food, and live, as Spencer said, “the American Farm Dream”?

Back in 2019, it seemed like more of a pie-in-the-sky, 10-year plan for Scott and Shwanz, even if they did look at farms on Zillow in their free time.

Then COVID-19 hit. The pandemic ramped up the timeline, but Scott and Shwanz were still hesitant to jump right in.

Their list of must-haves seemed impossible to match--the farm had to be close to water, it had to be a degraded piece of land with the opportunity of regenerating it, it had to be walking distance to a town, and it would need to be a queer friendly town. Plus, it had to be able to house more than just the two of them--communal living was a big part of what they were hoping for with their sustainability goals.

Then, in May 2020, they were back on Zillow and a property in Guerneville, California, popped up. It checked all the boxes. And it was in their price range. They bought it. “The move was impulsive and stupid. And we were completely unprepared for it,” Shwanz says. “But it's been the best decision we've ever made.”

By July, the keys were theirs. Scott and Shwanz named it Solarpunk Farms--a nod to solar punk, an art movement which, according to the BBC, broadly envisions how the future might look if we lived in harmony with nature in a sustainable and egalitarian world. Nearing two years on the property, Solarpunk Farms is growing, and Scott and Shwanz are discovering what they want it to be, not only in the present, but in the future.

They are planting fruit trees in what they are calling a food forest with fruits, nuts, and berries, and will have an annuals garden for what people normally associate with a farm with fruits and vegetables that they will eat like tomatoes, squash and greens--the leftovers will go to a farmstand or local markets.

"Solarpunk Farms is growing, and Scott and Shwanz are discovering what they want it to be, not only in the present, but in the future."

And while the produce is essential to the farm, Solarpunk Farms is also about creating a space for the LGBTQ+ community in this world of farmland. “Building a farm that really has community built into it is at the center of our mission,” Scott said.

“Communal living was going to be part of this journey always.” They had lived with people in San Francisco, and plan to always do so at Solarpunk Farms, according to Scott. “The more we build the place out the more we want it to be a place where there's a collection of people all providing support and friendship. We’ll be a chosen family to each other on the same piece of land.”

“Building a farm that really has community built into it is at the center of our mission.”

The life of Solarpunk Farms remains young. Doing their best to live up to the farm’s namesake, Scott and Shwanz are hoping to discover what it means to live in a sustainable civilization. For now, that means working with the friends and artists living on their property each day to keep the farm running and sharing in the fruits of their labor. Each day is different, they are either taking wheelbarrows of mulch to the base of a tree or starting seedlings for the crops or building a new planting box.

This life is not the one they imagined at the start of the pandemic. “If it weren't for COVID,” Shwanz says, “we would still be in the city talking about how this is something that we want to do.”

Now, as they look towards the future, the plan is beyond 10 years, and it is no longer a daydream. Now, those daydreams are right in front of them, and the future is being nurtured. “Sometimes,” Shwanz says, “Spencer gently reminds me: We're planting our retirement.”