Handy Guy Transforms an Edible Landscape

091005_markcooper_200.jpgSaturday we taped a long-awaited tour of Mark Cooper’s homestead. Over the past decade he has transformed a run-down house and 4 acres into an amazingly diverse, ever-evolving food-producing landscape (at left, Mark shows a  mushroom log).

A sidehill which was covered by blackberry bushes (he brought in goats to graze ’em down) then became pasture for up to 50 different animals, including unusual Navajo churro sheep and Tibetan yaks. Mark recounted tales of his various animal friends, many of whom became his food, a relationship for which he has heartfelt gratitude.  Now the pasture is home for several sheep, including big white Ram, who lived up to his name.

Mark coaxed the two geese from the pasture into his hand-built pond. He tossed a handful of grain, and they swam into his unique “goose grotto”, a spacious wire cage providing them protection and nesting boxes safe from coyotes.

We met Mark in the early 1990s when he rented a cabin on our property. He has been one of our primary construction/handymen. His imprint is on our woodshed, roof, decks, guest space, and more. If Mark built it, it’s “bomber” and we can depend on it!

When we got a tour of his place in 2008 (see “A Good Neighbor”) I admired the fruits of his handyman skills and resourcefulness using whatever materials he could find. They’re visible all over his place. His big solar dehydrator re-used glass screen door panels, plywood and wood and cost all of $6 (for the plastic screening for the trays).

He demonstrated  his electric composting machine — made of washing machine transmissions turning a big metal tank on a horizontal shaft — commenting that it was kinda cool but probably not worth the life energy it took to build. He gestured at the good old compost pile — is a lot easier, and does the job.

I loved his clever automatic chicken-door opener. It uses a timer and water and weights — and operates even if he’s not there for many days.

His tour took us into a modest orchard with old and new fruit trees, shiitake mushroom logs, and a kitchen garden with containers made from plastic 55 gallon drums … all a testament to a resourceful, grounded, practical guy really at home in the physical universe, keen observation skills, and with a huge array of skills.

We ended the day relaxing in his solarium: a room at the end of the old barn whose south-facing wall he filled with re-used windows. It’s Mark’s favorite place lie in the warm sun on cold winter days.

Robyn and I sat in chairs facing into the pasture hillside behind which the sun had dropped, while Mark lolled in a hammock. With its gray pea-gravel covered floor, and rough-sawn wood walls opposite the glassed-in view, the room has the tranquil quality of a zen garden. The perfect place to end our day’s taping, and for extending our conversational reflections on life, sustainability, and our future.

Mark has carved a path worth following — in his creative approach as well as the achievements of his hard work and dedication. I think you’ll enjoy meeting him in “Four Acres and Independence — A Self-Sufficient Farmstead” (episode 168).

July 13, 2011. Mark sent me a picture of his latest — homemade lawn mower wheels. He wrote, “Hey they wanted 90.00 for new ones and the mower is about worn out any way. I get one more season out of it. I said that two years ago when the self-propel drive unit blew. Its better exercise now.” Maybe this is a prototype for wooden automobile wheels when rubber and petroleum get way too expensive?



  1. Stuart M. says:

    Another inspiring story! Now, if I could only get radishes to grow!

  2. Thanks for the useful info.

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