The crisp air of the sunny Saturday afternoon made if feel like a fall day as Sadie and I pulled off the two lane and onto the Stout’s gravel drive. It’s here on 10 acres near Fayetteville that a young couple from New York State are taking a stab at Appalachian homesteading in West Virginia. We were greeted by the usual pack of dogs, all residents of the “compound” (as the 5 owners jokingly call it), who flocked the pickup excited to add a member to the rolling herd of fur. I popped open the extend cab to grab my community donation of a Yuengling 12 pack and the youngest pup promptly jumped into the back of the Chevy. A game of musical dogs ensued as Sadie timidly dodged the pack while various members entered and exited the truck. It was just the sort of enjoyably controlled chaos that sets the perfect tone for a Saturday adventure at The Compound.

It was just the sort of enjoyably controlled chaos that sets the perfect tone for a Saturday adventure at The Compound.

Smiling as always I was greeted warmly by my friends, the young married couple and to-be homesteaders Jess and Andrew (A.K.A. Stout). They’re the kind of folks that carry an open warmness, making you feel you’ve known them for years, even on your first meeting. True to the always rotating cast of friendly characters, Robyn, an old college roommate was visiting from NC for the weekend. Behind the dusty canvas clad crew bubbled the reason for my visit today – 3 large stainless steel pans of recently tapped maple sap. They where nestled into a cinder block evaporator, heated by a wood fire that pulled a draft of boiling heat across the bottom of the pans and through a rear chimney. With each waft of steam the progressively browning liquid sauntered one step closer to  being homemade maple syrup.


Now, I’m a Cackalacky boy, born and bred. We know barbecue. We know sweet tea. We know fried okra. We don’t know jack about maple syrup. I never knew what a sugar grove was until my sister moved to western New York State. The Stouts, however, both hailing from the Buffalo, NY region practically have maple syrup flowing in their veins.

But, that’s a beauty of West Virginia. We’re nestled smack in the middle of Appalachia and we’re the state that dances most precariously on the fence that is the Mason Dixon. As a result, we get the best of both worlds. It’s like a lobster roll with sweet tea and a side of hush puppies.

we get the best of both worlds. It’s like a lobster roll with sweet tea and a side of hush puppies.

We chatted briefly about the black art of maple tapping. Turns out it’s remarkably simple. Basically the Stout’s had screwed a plastic tap into the various maples that grow on their property. A hose was attached to each spout, each hose draining into a large 5 gallon bucket nestled in the leaves at the base of each tree. While Jess explained the system I snuck a taste of this magic sap, which tasted, well, exactly like water. Huh.

Here’s the deal. It takes 40 GALLONS of sap to boil down to 1 gallon of maple syrup. That’s a whole lot of sap, and a whole lot of boiling. A full day’s worth of boiling at least. Literally, vigilantly, watching sap boil. Ever wonder why pure maple syrup costs so much?… thereyago.

There was an hour or two of productive construction work on an extension to Stout Grove barn (which incidentally they build with a group of friends using boards they milled themselves from tree on their property). We quickly realized the neglected maple sap would benefit from a more watchful eye.

Hmm. And what about those neglected cold beers? Might as well crack open a Yuengling…. or …. 8? (like I said, best of both worlds).

It turns out that reducing maple syrup is a lot like anything involving fire… you know like grills. Or bonfires. Or firecrackers. You have to keep things on fire, a task best managed with a cold beer.


The rolling pack of mutts alternated between wrestling matches and squirrel chasing while we kicked back in folding camp chairs enjoying the scent of quietly sweetening maple syrup. It was the perfect moment to discuss the history behind the agrarian adventure that is the 20 acre Compound.

“Did y’all know you wanted to do what you’re doing now, in terms of homesteading, when you bought this property?” I asked…

“Yeah!” Jess exclaimed in her usual pleasant and energetic nature.

“Sorta. Wellll….” followed Stout steadily as he cleaned the froth off the surface of the boiling pan with a metal spoon wrapped in cotton cloth.

“Not to the extent that it’s going. As quickly as it’s going….
We thought, yeah, it’ll be cool. We’ll plant a bunch of fruit trees and blueberry bushes. We’ll just do all that.

Then eventually we were like…. crap… let’s build a barn!

Donnie and Leslie bought a tractor. So then we thought, let’s cut the trees (on the home site) down and stack them. We’ll pay somebody to come in and have them milled.

But then, Donnie and Lesley were like….

Why don’t you just buy a sawmill? Why don’t WE buy a sawmill? WELL SPLIT IT!

But they’d bought the tractor, so we bought the sawmill and they use it whenever they want. We share things, and it makes it a lot easier.”

But they’d bought the tractor, so we bought the sawmill and they use it whenever they want. We share things, and it makes it a lot easier.”

Wait. Who the heck are Donnie and Lesley? Well, Leslie is a blond haired, ball capped and boot wearing South Carolina girl who rolled up on aforementioned tractor with a load of timber just a few minutes earlier. Donnie, her husband and a West By God native, was off in Montana on a business trip. They own the other 10 acres of the Compound and are long time climbing friends of Jess and Stout. An then there’s Scott, another friend and Mining Engineer that purchased a few acres adjacent to the compound. (Stories to come.)

With the solid Southern accent I’m often homesick for in West Virginia, Leslie entered the conversation…

“I totally thought Donnie was jumping the gun on the tractor. I told him, you’re crazy, we don’t even have a building yet! We had a tractor on the property before we even had a building!” She said.


“But the dump trailer he bought before we even had the property.” Jess added.

More Laughter..

“We hadn’t even closed.” Said Stout.

“He’d been eyeballing that dump trailer for a long time” said Leslie… (laughter) ….
“Ever since we starting looking at the property he said, first thing I’m gonna buy is a dumptrailer.” said Stout.
“No.. before that! He saw it at the fair.” countered Leslie.

(laughter all around)

That type of friendly banter interrupted by discussion of USDA hardiness zones, cider presses, home brew and the occasional dusty herd of pups wrestling for a deer bone is a typical weekend out at Stout Grove. But, despite all the fun and home brew, it’s not a grown up frat party. Between the occasional bonfire and weekend gathering a whole lot of hard and determined work is snuck in by folks working 40+ hours weeks in various professions. The Stouts and the Powers are 4 thirty somethings building an organic homestead, life long friendships, and learning as they go. And they’ve chosen the New River Gorge region of West Virginia as their frontier. I’ll share more of my times at the farm in coming posts. Until then, please jump over to the Stout’s blog and see what’s happening at the Stout Grove.

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