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‘It All Came  Together’

Hartland Couple Build a Natural Way of Life

  • A small army of friends and family members came out to help Brian and Melissa Stroffolino during the few weeks they spent building a 30-foot diameter yurt on their new land in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    A small army of friends and family members came out to help Brian and Melissa Stroffolino during the few weeks they spent building a 30-foot diameter yurt on their new land in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Just six days after raising their yurt, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino spend time showing friends their new home on Hartland Road. “We’ve heard multiple times, ‘We’re living vicariously through you,’ ” Brian said. “It’s a neat feeling, because again, it comes back to the fact that this is communal and people do feel a part of it.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Just six days after raising their yurt, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino spend time showing friends their new home on Hartland Road. “We’ve heard multiple times, ‘We’re living vicariously through you,’ ” Brian said. “It’s a neat feeling, because again, it comes back to the fact that this is communal and people do feel a part of it.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • After a long day of hitting ledge while digging for a well at their new property, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino check to see if an old well is usable. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    After a long day of hitting ledge while digging for a well at their new property, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino check to see if an old well is usable. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brian Stroffolino works with his father, Dean Stroffolino, to lay the yurt’s flooring. “I love helping out here,” Dean said. “These two mean the world to me. Anything I can give, I give.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Brian Stroffolino works with his father, Dean Stroffolino, to lay the yurt’s flooring. “I love helping out here,” Dean said. “These two mean the world to me. Anything I can give, I give.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brian and Melissa Stroffolino share a kiss on the first night in their new home. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Brian and Melissa Stroffolino share a kiss on the first night in their new home. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Melissa Stroffolino surprises her husband, Brian, with a honeymoon trip to Puerto Rico while the two work their Oak Wood Farm stand in mid-November at the winter farmers market at Damon Hall in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Melissa Stroffolino surprises her husband, Brian, with a honeymoon trip to Puerto Rico while the two work their Oak Wood Farm stand in mid-November at the winter farmers market at Damon Hall in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • In late October, Brian Stroffolino talks with his childhood friend Brad Defelice about the flow of water down the hillside at his future Hartland farm. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    In late October, Brian Stroffolino talks with his childhood friend Brad Defelice about the flow of water down the hillside at his future Hartland farm. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A small army of friends and family members came out to help Brian and Melissa Stroffolino during the few weeks they spent building a 30-foot diameter yurt on their new land in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Just six days after raising their yurt, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino spend time showing friends their new home on Hartland Road. “We’ve heard multiple times, ‘We’re living vicariously through you,’ ” Brian said. “It’s a neat feeling, because again, it comes back to the fact that this is communal and people do feel a part of it.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • After a long day of hitting ledge while digging for a well at their new property, Brian and Melissa Stroffolino check to see if an old well is usable. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Brian Stroffolino works with his father, Dean Stroffolino, to lay the yurt’s flooring. “I love helping out here,” Dean said. “These two mean the world to me. Anything I can give, I give.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Brian and Melissa Stroffolino share a kiss on the first night in their new home. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Melissa Stroffolino surprises her husband, Brian, with a honeymoon trip to Puerto Rico while the two work their Oak Wood Farm stand in mid-November at the winter farmers market at Damon Hall in Hartland. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • In late October, Brian Stroffolino talks with his childhood friend Brad Defelice about the flow of water down the hillside at his future Hartland farm. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Hartland — Up Hartland Road, one young couple lays a foundation toward a life in modern homesteading.

Brian and Melissa Stroffolino wanted a simple wedding — outdoors, potluck, a ceremony of celebration and co-creation that 150 of their closest friends and family members could be a part of.

Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but they did it. They borrowed mason jars for beer, the silverware — even a generator — and came away with just one bag of trash.

“It was just beautiful how it all came together,” Brian said. “And you could tell, too. Everyone was truly having a good time and I think it was partly because everybody felt like they participated.”

“It was the co-creation,” Melissa said.

Their journey hasn’t been long, but the two have covered a lot of ground in their 21/2 years together. Three months after their first date, they planted a garden together in Burlington. The following month, they traveled Europe for two weeks. Just months later, Brian made the decision to stray from the expectations of his business degree and build a life as a farmer.

When Melissa’s job search finally brought her to a teaching position at Hartford High School, the couple picked up and moved to the Upper Valley, first living with Brian’s family in Quechee before finding an apartment and an acre of land in North Hartland that gave them their first year’s harvest.

Each move, however small, was a step toward building a more local, more land-based, more natural way of living.

Brian cites Up Tunket Road, a book by Philip Ackerman-Leist, an associate professor at Green Mountain College, as his inspiration to pursue a homesteader’s life.

“For a long time, if you said ‘homesteader,’ then it meant ‘back-to-the-land-er,’ ” Brian said. “It was kind of hand in hand.” But the traditional idea of a homesteader, someone who finds “a piece of land in a rural setting to live a life of self-reliance,” as Ackerman-Leist’s book describes it, is being challenged by young people like Brian and Melissa who value a low-impact lifestyle closely tied to the land but who understand the implausibility of foregoing community and connectedness to the outside world.

“It’s an isolationist stigma that goes with this lifestyle,” Melissa said. “What Brian and I have realized is you cannot survive if you live in isolation. You have to depend on your community, and you have to develop that community, because you can’t do every single thing.”

And so, when it came time to build a home for themselves and Oak Wood Farm, Brian and Melissa called on their community. And the community came running with home-cooked meals, construction expertise, donated furniture and plenty of helping hands.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have so many amazing people that give us Saturdays of their lives to help us put up a yurt or move a greenhouse,” Melissa said. “You can’t write enough thank-you notes. You can’t cook enough dinners.”

“We’ve heard multiple times, ‘We’re living vicariously through you,’ ” Brian said. “It’s a neat feeling, because again, it comes back to the fact that this is communal and people do feel a part of it.”

“It takes a village to raise a yurt,” Melissa said, “and we had a village.”

Ryan Dorgan can be reached at photo@vnews.com.