LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY — Amy and Wes Gillingham, stewards of Wild Roots Farm, reside in a hand-hewn, solar-powered Swedish-style log home, built lovingly over a period of years on Wes’s father’s old homestead.
The house is located at the end of a half-mile, not-for-the-faint-of-heart (especially in the dead of winter) driveway. It serenely winds through legions of native trees and fields of ferns, before—like illusionary magic—the scene reveals the unique log home and several hand-built outbuildings.
“It’s like a tree museum,” said Amy Gillingham, describing the entrance to the property.
It’s known as Wild Roots Farm, and over time grew from the property Charles Wesley Gillingham and his wife bought in 1957 to today’s 100 acres, all carefully cherished and tended by the current homesteaders.
As she listened to her husband describe the history of their off-the-grid homestead, Amy said that it’s like living in the fabled Hundred Acre Wood, the fictional land inhabited by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends.
The home was constructed in the Swedish style of log homes, using half-dovetail chinked green lumber that, over time, locks everything together as the logs cure.
“The weight of the building is on the corners and stacked logs,” said Gillingham. “As the logs dry, they twist into each other. It’s extremely strong we didn’t use any nails except in the floors.”
This style of log homes dates to the time when Swedish immigrants moved into the Delaware Valley. The early settlers had ready access to local timber and ages worth of construction history.
While sitting in their living room where it transitions into the kitchen, Wes noted that the color of the peeled logs supporting the second floor varies with the seasons in which they were harvested—and also by species.
Those variations are a hallmark of the few-years-long construction timespan.
Speaking of species, their home is made of white pine, red pine, spruce, hemlock and “a few cherry beams,” all resting on black locust sill logs—the bottom logs for each wall.
Central to their home is a large, high-efficiency, counter-flow, wood-fired Finnish masonry stove. It somewhat resembles a modern-day version of a Mesoamerican shrine and can heat the whole house for hours, even on the coldest of days.
The kitchen features numerous cabinets finished in pastel colors. Opening a few drawers, Amy proudly displays glass jars, both large and small, filled with herbs, while a wall in the living room features a display of guitars.
“This house will outlive all of us,” said Amy. She noted that before they tackled the task of rebuilding the original house, “We were living in a 1930s-40s cabin on the property made of scrap lumber.”
In earlier days, Wes Gillingham worked for several years for the National Audubon Society’s Expedition Institute, mostly out West or the Southern Appalachians, and was a seasonal ranger with the National Park Service and a local farmer. Most recently, he helped establish Catskill Mountainkeeper.
Amy interned on several off-grid farms, both far away and nearer to home, for college credit, learning “how we sustain ourselves… I wanted that deeper connection, as opposed to going to the local grocery store.”
At the beginning, the Gillinghams jumped in with both feet and started farming, raising a long list of organic vegetables until the flood of 2006 wiped out their leased fields on the flats of Youngsville.
These days, the Gillinghams are right at home running Wild Roots Farm, while just across the road their 23-year-old daughter, Iris Fen, is busy with her own enterprise, Gael Roots Farm.
But back to Wild Roots Farm: Over the seasons, the Gillinghams have hosted almost 30 interns, who learn about independent living in a place called Wilding Village. In Amy’s words, “They want to come out and be wild… it’s like glorified camping, with four little cabins and a big tent platform.
“I feel like this land has made me more wild; it’s a wilder place back here,” she said. A bit later in our wide-ranging conversation, Amy expounded on that: “Physically, emotionally and spiritually, being wild is more grounded… we would love to be hermits back here, but we felt the calling to educate, have an impact, shift some of those belief systems that are not beneficial to the community and the people in the community… it’s like planting a seed.”
When asked his take on living the off-grid way of life in a hand-hewn log house nestled into 100 wild acres, Wes Gillingham replied, “It’s intentional; it’s the opposite of the American lifestyle. There’s no Siri, and the environmental impact, the carbon footprints of millions of people being lazy.”
“It’s all about living simply, so others may simply live,” said Amy Gillingham, quoting Gandhi.
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