Tag Archives: Waterloo Nebraska

Plains Living on a Mountainous Scale

January 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While driving towards Waterloo, Nebraska, Jana Wheatley came upon a sign reading “Live a more fluid life,” touting a coming residential lake community to be named West Shores. She longed to live in nature. Taking in the lake, the beach, and empty plots, she envisioned the Colorado lodge-style home she ended up building there.

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She and her now-ex bought the lakefront property in 2004. She served as general contractor for the build, subbing out jobs. Working with budgets and subs was old hat, as she owned a grounds management business with her then-husband.

She describes the resulting four-bedroom, four-bathroom, 6,000 square-foot house near the western limits of West Dodge Road as “comfy, rustic, chic,” adding, “We always kind of had an idea about what we wanted. I like simple. I don’t like foo-foo.”

Covenants prevented her from building with logs so she went with an exterior of cedar shingles and stone, and an interior with wide plank pine floors and ceilings, hickory cabinetry, granite counters, and variegated stone. The plaster walls are finished in a soft Texas leather. The rooms conform to her desire for “big, open, flowing spaces with natural light.” The living room, dining room, and kitchen open onto each other, and light from multiple windows brighten and soften the space.

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She likes the unfinished floors’ character in their flaws and scrapes.

“It’s worn but it shows it’s lived in, that people are having fun and it’s not a museum. I want people to enjoy themselves here.”

The living room has an unimpeded lake view through sliding glass doors that lead onto a south-facing deck running the full width of the house. Her bedroom opens onto the deck and its 180-degree view.

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“There’s nothing like watching the sunrise, and the sunset, and the geese flying over,” she says.

Her bathroom features a free-standing deep tub and a tall enclosed shower. The bathroom and kitchen plumbing fixtures are Industrial Age antique-inspired. The floors everywhere are warmed by an in-floor water heating system.

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Her love of nature is expressed in a mammoth antler horn chandelier fixed high above the living room. A slightly smaller antler art piece hangs from the ceiling above the staircase, connecting the main floor living area and the lower level rec area, where a miniature horn fixture crowns the billiards table.

The mantles above the two fireplaces continue the horn theme.

“It just says Colorado to me,” she says.

A hand-wrought iron chandelier sets off the kitchen island.

Her favorite space is a kitchen nook she calls “my little Indian corner” for its Native American wall art and traditional furniture designs.

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Southwestern-style pots and paintings add decorative flourishes.

The lower level offers more lake views.

“The house is like a frame to look outside and that’s what I end up doing—gazing outside.”

In the last 10 years she’s added a son and lost a husband but she still has her home.

“Can you tell it’s a labor of love? It’s a piece of me. It’s my dream. I’m having my Colorado right here.” OmahaHome

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Field & Dream

November 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The rhizosphere is defined as the top layer of the earth’s soil.

“It’s the living layer,” Terra Hall explains. “It’s where all the magic happens.”

Rhizosphere Farm, then, is a perfect moniker as Terra and her husband, Matthew, conjure Mother Nature’s magic on their 5.5-acre Loess Hills farm nurturing heirloom, organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs throughout the growing season.

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As the rhizosphere now sleeps through late fall and winter, the Halls plan and prep for 2016. If you’re the type to wistfully recall summer’s sweet bounty in the face of a fall chill and you’re already pining for the return of farmers markets, here’s a look back at Rhizosphere Farm at its seasonal summit.

“It’s the best time of year to eat,” says Terra of August’s abundant end. As lunch is served in the Halls’ log cabin, Coner, a Polish-breed rooster with a hair-metal crest of feathers obscuring his vision, crows intermittently outside. Summer, though not yet eclipsed by fall, can be felt leaning into its swan song.

The meal, shared with intern Patrick Laird and groundskeeper Ted Engles, comes from the field: a spicy tomato gazpacho with onions and herbs, baba ghanoush, carrots, salad, and a potato-leek dish. Farmhand and good friend Dakia Anheluk rounded out the 2015 Rhizosphere crew, helping considerably when health issues had earlier sidelined Terra.

Matthew is from Omaha and Terra is from Council Bluffs, but they actually met in Oregon when working at Horton Road Organics. Over lunch, the Halls explain how they became farmers.

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“I needed a job and lived up the road,” says Matthew in his characteristically succinct manner of speaking before elaborating that he enjoys working with his hands and deeply values “a hard-ass day of labor. What we do in our field is a form of art which tunes us into the true nature of the world as humans were meant to experience it,” he says.

Terra, whose name is fittingly Latin for “earth,” was a campaign organizer at the University of Oregon before realizing activism wasn’t her path to “change the world.” When she started at Horton, she immediately knew she’d found a calling in organic farming.

“I love the connections with nature and the people I grow food for,” she says. “We’re sometimes missing those connections in our culture.”

The Halls returned to the Midwest, dream of Rhizosphere in hand, and rented land in Waterloo, Nebraska, in 2009. A growing urge to put down permanent roots and perennials on a plot of their own culminated in the September 2013 purchase of their land.

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While Rhizosphere’s a scant 20-minute drive from downtown Omaha, visitors enjoy escaping the city’s hustle and bustle. But the Halls hustle plenty on this plentiful land, working seven days a week March through October. They supplement their income with off-season carpentry and retail jobs.

Rhizosphere grew 35 varieties of crops this past season and now counts such notables as  Dante and The Grey Plume as clients.

“We hit at the right time,” in the farm-to-table movement, says Terra.

“Boiler Room was our first [customer],” says Matthew. “And Nick (Strawhecker) at Dante got our number from them.”

“That’s one of the cool things about Omaha’s wonderful food community,” says Terra. “It’s very cooperative, sharing resources and information, which just makes everybody better.”

The Halls also enjoy a more public profile at farmers markets.

“A light goes on in people and it creates great conversations about the farm, how the food is grown, how it can be cooked,” says Terra. “That’s the best way to pass information about food. Those conversations are some of the most important work we do.”

Love of that educational aspect and a desire to create a more sustainable, all-season outlet for their passion has the Halls considering evolving Rhizosphere into an educational nonprofit, adding classes, workshops, events, and community-building to its mission.

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“The Universe gave me a little time off this year,” says Terra, “which provided perspective. I’m passionate about designing the space and creating a permaculture foodscape, and I love teaching people that. I was so inspired by the people who taught me, and I want to pass that on.”

After lunch, Engles gives a tour of the land. It’s ordered, yet still wonderfully wild. A flock of ducks waddle by as he points out the greenhouses, barn, and an old stable, which Matthew has partially converted into additional sleeping quarters. Various fruits, herbs, and veggies flourish in the field alongside towering, yellow-flowered, now-dormant sunchokes—which Terra discussed in a May 2015 New York Times feature on Omaha’s farm-to-table prowess. The diverse, young “food forest” concept uses companion planting—a common permaculture concept ensuring a healthier ecosystem requiring less work through intelligent design. Yellow, heirloom cherry tomatoes are sampled right off the vine before the tour returns to its genesis, now swarmed by a wandering peep of clucking chickens.

There are no rabbits pulled from hats or “abracadabras” uttered here, but Rhizosphere’s magic is palpable.

Visit rhizopherefarm.org to learn more.

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