The Build


The Build…

In 2014, I bought a five acre field. There was nothing on it except for six feet high weeds…and some purple lupines and environmentally protected California oak trees.

There wasn’t a driveway, water, or electricity…not to mention a house…or even a place to live…no airstream, no trailer, “little house”, hut, shack, or glamping yurt.  There was not even a street number to make it easy to find. Nothing.

To make it more difficult, the CalAmericanWater Company had plopped a fire hydrant right in the middle of the right-of-way entrance to my “driveway” – which was really nothing but a dried sage-brushy, overgrown, tarantula crossing.  It amounted to no more than an 800 feet long wild animal highway lined with the dried bones of unfortunate prey, and beast scat, all the way down to the Carmel Valley River where the local wildlife likes to hang out and drink.

The “before” picture of my driveway.

In this makeshift “driveway”, I found three muskrat nests and a giant boar skull with the tusks still on it. Now, don’t tell anyone, but I kept the giant boar skull…I thought it was kind of cool-looking.

However, I didn’t care about all that because I thought the property was beautiful… and, most of all, I had a vision.

The one redeeming factor about the land, and the main reason I chose to buy it, was that it had a good water well. Plus, the property faced South (great for growing lavender), had good drainage (because lavender can’t get its feet wet or it’ll get root rot), and last but not least, that the prior owners were a well-known grape growing family who had mysteriously been able to dig an agricultural well because they wanted to plant a vineyard, but never did…so that’s how I got the land…and this all happened in ultra-upper-crustic Carmel where the locals declared a building moratorium to all new people or “outsiders” (like me). So, this made my situation somewhat challenging to say the least. This is Carmel…or “Charmel”, as some people say…a beautiful, somewhat untouchable land where water is scarce and everything is protected.

Nevertheless, I interviewed contractors to help me build a farm. It was late summer. One of the contractors drove his big white Ford pick-up to reach the top of the grassy field. I had hiked up the hill. I watched his truck fishtail a bit over the slick, dry grass. He got out and walked towards me. However, once he was within war shot, he averted his eyes, stood on his toes and stretched himself as high as he could like a tall watch tower. He strained his neck to desperately look past me. I saw the veins and sinews peeping out of his neck. He asked, “Where’s your husband?”

I said, “I don’t have one.”

Then, he stared at me. He put his hands on his hips and looked down on me.

“Are you trying to build this house by yourself, little lady?”

I didn’t answer him, but in my head, I thought to myself, “Next!”

Finally, after many meetings with prospective contractors, (most of them were very nice), I found two guys: Anthony Balesteri and Armando Vargas. They were very kind and respectful to me. I could tell they’d stick around too.

Armando Vargas, Daphne Nixon, and Anthony Balesteri at Lion Springs Lavender Farm before it was built.

So, I hired Balesteri Construction to be my contractors to do a design/build for my farm where I would be the owner/builder. They even helped me pick the best lot to buy that would be the easiest to build upon compared to four other fields. They were excited to build the whole farm house from the very start to the very finish. However, they said they’d only build the housing “envelope” (whatever that was I was never really sure) and that I had to do the driveway, water, electricity, and landscaping by myself. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do any of that. So, that’s when Starbucks became my office.

I would go to Starbucks everyday to get a nonfat Chai latte and sit in an overstuffed chair. I know that sounds pretty decadent…but it’s really not. You see, I was really nervous and had to calm down because I had no secretary or an army of supportive people all around me. So, I did everything myself. I called the Monterey County Building Department, got to know the planners, and they were really nice. I always asked them how they were doing and I remembered their names.  One guy told me about how his family makes beautiful wooden violins in a very famous town in Mexico. I called every utility company, the water board, school board, tax board, and all seven agencies of the Monterey County Pmanning Department. I figured out how to use their public on-line internet system that someone had just invented but no one really knew how to use it except for two ladies and one guy in the planning department…and me. I hoofed it, stuck it out, sucked it up, bumped into all the walls, stubbed most of my toes and fingers, stuck my foot in my mouth a million times up to my ankles, until finally, I completed a list of 21 compliance of building requirements that I had to comply with… like wrapping large swaths of orange plastic around the trunks of fat oak trees. My tummy was in nervous knots.

Everyone had said there was no guarantee that Monterey County would ever grant me a building permit. Everbody said it could take years! As a matter of fact, they said Pacific Gas & Electric takes forever to get electricity way out there in my neck of the woods in Carmel Valley . They said it took the CEO of Google eleven years (and that CEO was pretty furious) before PGE brought him electricity when he built a house in the Santa Cruz Hills.  I don’t actually know if what they say is true, but that’s what I heard.

Anthony and Armando discussing possibilities.

I went to Balesteri Construction to meet with Anthony and Armando many times to design and draw the house plan.

We started building the house in January of 2016, but then we got rained out. It turns out that we had enough rain to fill all the reservoirs in California in just the one month. When I started to build my house, altogether, four tractors got stuck and sank in the mud, so we postponed building it until May, 2016.

The photo below shows the state of the dirt road to my house before we built the driveway up to the farm, with the contractors: Anthony Balesteri (aka A.B. Ice) and Armando (aka “Farmando”).  Perhaps, you can see that they earned these names from this photo.

On January 16th, 2016, we started to build Lion Springs Lavender Farm. We felt very optimistic at out ground-breaking celebration with Armando, me, Anthony Balesteri, and, my good friend, Anjeanette Ohm, in the above photograph. We were determined to get the farm built!