When my family first moved to our homestead, I set about learning about our land and meeting local suppliers of things I knew we would need. These things included other farmers and growers for wisdom, people who raised hogs and other animals for sale, and places to purchase lumber and other building materials.
So, one day I found myself snaking down the highway to visit Lambright’s Sawmill in north-central Kentucky, only to be turned back by a failed bridge. I didn’t know the area well enough yet to figure out another way to cross the deep ravine, which marks a creek that cuts across part of our county.
Months passed until I tried again, this time circling all the way around to finally make it to this tucked-away treasure.
As I approached, I thought the directions must be mistaken because the first thing visible is not a sawmill. Rather, one sees a massive poly-paneled greenhouse and large, extensive gardens and orchards. Greenhouses are not uncommon in our area, though this one struck me as somewhat larger than most I had seen.
A Mid-Winter Tropic
As you continue down the road, you come at last to the sawmill.
I arrived late enough in the afternoon that the mill was quiet and the daily cleanup taking place by the Lambright kids. Alvin, the patriarch, walked over, greeted me and, because it was a cold day, asked us to step into the greenhouse while we talked.
I consented. It was a blustery, cold February day, with wind chills in the single digits.
As we entered the greenhouse, my glasses fogged up so quickly and thickly that it was a minute or so before I could see again. My lungs also also struggled to adjust. Thick, warm air replaced the dry cold of just a moment before.
I peeled off my hat, coat and gloves, then rubbed and replaced my glasses. I thought for sure I had somehow teleported to the tropics.
Massive banana trees, heavily laden, partially obscured my view of the rest of the greenhouse. Nestled among and around them were citrus trees adorned with an almost uncountable number of lemons and limes.
Through the center were endless rows of various vegetables—potatoes, carrots, cabbages and more. At that moment, I knew I wasn’t dealing with a typical Amish man.
Beauty Meets Bounty
A neighbor of mine recently delivered some firewood. As we briefly talked about lumber, the Lambrights came up.
“They have a beautiful place,” he said of the family’s homestead. “Every time I go by their place, they are doing something that makes it more beautiful and better.”
Indeed, it’s true.
My first meeting with Alvin, almost a decade ago, introduced me to a place that would be the envy of the average homesteader and off-grider: ample gardens; horses for short-distance travel and various types of work; a large orchard of varied fruits; and animal quarters bermed into the earth a short distance above their pond, with a large solar-powered workshop built above.
Goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys and other small animals also roam there, for meat, milk and eggs. An outdoor wood boiler provides heat and hot water to the home and the greenhouse.
It was an ingenious choice. The sawmill provides a limitless supply of slab and scrap wood—generally a little-to-no-value waste product in our area. This creates a zero-cost situation to keep the family and food supply warm through winter.
Function & Form
But it isn’t just the existence of all these things. Their homestead also exudes beauty.
For the most part (no homestead is perfect), everything is lovely at the Lambrights. The layout—of the gardens, orchards, residence, outbuildings, pond and animal paddocks—feels right.
The homestead isn’t merely productive. It’s aesthetically pleasing.
Landscaping adorns and surrounds most every area, with annual and perennial flowers, shrubs and bushes of many kinds mixed with rock and stone and wooden fence.
Even in the greenhouse, a host of annuals and perennials fill in edges, nooks and crannies, next to, around and below the other food-bearing plants.
The inside reflects the outside. House, barn, outbuildings, workshop—all show where care, craftsmanship and quality meet.
Nothing is ostentatious or unnecessary. You merely realize that apart from an act God these buildings will last much longer than most of us.
Even with the heavy toll that a large family and business such as lumber takes, other than small dings here and there (who hasn’t clipped their sliding doors or metal siding with a skid steer or tractor?), everything is sound and strong.
Old Meets New
You also notice a few innovations on the old Amish lifestyle—first and foremost, large solar panels. While the Amish are not permitted to connect to the grid, many communities are allowed to go off-grid with their electrical needs.
Alvin’s many power tools and some other electrical needs are covered by incoming sunlight. The sun alone isn’t the only source of power, as two generators also are part of the setup. One runs the sawmill while the other provides backup power for the residence, workshop and other buildings as needed.
The solar array also powers a well, which provides water for the home, the animals and the greenhouse.
While the place uses actual “horse power,” it also uses horsepower. Alvin employs a skid steer not just in the sawmill, but he, his wife and the rest of the family are often seen using it for other purposes around the property.
The Lambrights also enjoy modern refrigeration and even a custom-built freezer in which they store meat and some vegetables.
While Alvin’s communities let him have a cell phone for work purposes, when longer-distance travel is needed. But you might get a phone call from that cell phone, asking you to ferry the family 30 minutes to an hour or more for them to do errands or just take a day away.
While it’s a bit of a joke, what the Lambrights have created, living-space- and life-wise, truly is an “Amish paradise.” The Lambrights’ homestead is one even the most convenience-oriented modern farmer would pause to admire.