Moving into a new residence usually comes with a big to-do list, and that's especially so for anyone taking over the Moon-Randolph Homestead in the North Hills. The rent is free—but it comes with the requirement of maintaining a 127-year-old homestead, living in a remodeled chicken coop and hosting public events.
Fortunately, Moon-Randolph counts as an upgrade for its new caretakers, Katie Nelson and Caroline Stephens. They moved onto the property in early August, replacing outgoing caretakers Matthew and Meredith LaRubbio. Before this, Nelson and Stephens had been living in a tent on the farm where Stephens works.
"So we're used to simple living," Nelson says. "We still have to haul our water up here, so that's what that big yellow truck is for. But the house has electricity, which is really nice. We don't have to go outside to cook."
Nelson and Stephens met four years ago and started dating when they were both studying for master's degrees in environmental science at the University of Montana. Nelson works at the Wild Rockies Institute and leads educational field courses; Stephens is currently wrapping up her second season as a produce manager at Foothill Farms in St. Ignatius.
"Four or five months ago, we had no idea we'd be doing this," Stephens says. "We've been rearranging and setting up our lives for the future so we will have time to devote to this place."
Besides feeding two Nubian goats and a ragtag bunch of Rhode Island red chickens, Stephens and Nelson haven't started any projects yet at the homestead. Their first big event as caretakers will be hosting the Sept. 24 Fall Gathering, where the public is invited to help pick apples, press cider, listen to music and party next to a bonfire.
Stephens is especially excited about all the historic implements on the homestead, like the cast-iron cider press, which she already knows how to operate. She grew up in Kentucky, where she spent vacations as a kid going to "historic home" camps led by her grandmother, a homesteading buff.
"We'd make chicken soup in a big kettle over an open fire, and I was just like the happiest person ever," Stephens says. "I was like, 'This is awesome.' My grandmother definitely instilled in me a great appreciation for the past and exploring the past. I feel like my farming is something that relates to that, and so this opportunity seems so fitting."