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Affordability and Freedom Made Country Life Right for Military Couple

Posted by Tiffany Wilson on November 16, 2017

The Monds family wanted the freedom and open space of a country property, and they found a way to do it on a budget.

CALLAHAN, Florida--Country boy Josh Monds and his wife Nicole could never get used to city life when Josh’s job as a U.S. Navy submariner led them to close-quarters housing on various bases.

“When we were stationed in Virginia, the houses were so close together, you could literally stick your arm out and touch your neighbor’s house,” recalled Nicole.

Both 4-H alums, Josh and Nicole grew up raising livestock and riding horses. They longed to get back to a place where they could enjoy their animals on their own property, along with all the other joys of a country homestead.

“Driving around looking at concrete in a city is not for me,” Josh said. “I’d rather be looking at which tree’s going to drop an acorn or what body of water is going to give me the most fish.”

Returning to country life near Naval Sub Base Kings Bay

The couple made a plan to return to country life when Josh received orders for Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, a base in South Georgia within commuting distance of his hometown, Callahan, Florida. Before they moved, they came back to town regularly to visit – and to scope out acreage or homes on country land anywhere in Nassau County, Florida, or South Georgia.

Finally, they found it: a 6-acre tract in Callahan that needed some love, but would be perfect for their family of two kids, two horses, two dogs and a donkey that would soon join their crew.

But Nicole, an ICU nurse, wanted to stay home with her then-6-month-old son. Could a military family afford to buy a home and land on one salary? Thanks to a VA loan coupled with a land and home loan package, they were able to secure their dream affordably. (A land and home package is a special financing deal offered through a partnership between some home companies and banks to those who purchase their home and land at the same time.)

Our mortgage is cheaper than what our friends are paying for housing on base,” Nicole said recently in the pasture behind their house. “Originally we wanted to buy a house, but then we would have had a lot of work ahead of us to repair and renovate whatever house we chose. This was just raw land, so we were able to pick exactly what we wanted. It was basically our own blank canvas.”

Turning the raw property into a homestead

The couple selected a manufactured home for the site and hired a family friend to clear the overgrown pasture on the property with his tractor. A timber clearing company removed larger trees, although they kept some historic oaks on the property. Within months, the family and their livestock were settled in on the now-beautiful property.

For Josh, the freedom of living off base was a big win.

“You have no freedom in post housing,” Josh said. “You get a box to sleep in, have a tiny yard you can’t even mow, and -- if something breaks -- you’re not supposed to fix it. Out here, if something breaks, I fix it and get it done.”

The best part for Nicole? The property is within view of the Four Creeks State Forest, where there are miles of trails to explore on horseback.

“When my friends or mother-in-law want to join me for a ride, they have to trailer their horses and go through the work of getting them here. But me? I don’t have to trailer everywhere. I just go out there and ride,” Nicole said.

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Converting a rough field into a good pasture

While their three pastures were overgrown when they arrived, it didn’t take long to get them ready for the horses, thanks to the help of the Nassau County Extension Office. Every county in the United States has an extension office, which serves as a free resource for guidance on farming, landscaping and gardening in the local area.

“They made recommendations, such as a good herbicide to maintain the weeds. Now, we have amazing grass,” Nicole said. “I don’t even have to hay my horses. Before, I was giving them one $65 round bale a week. Now they just graze and get a half scoop of dry grain.”

The family enjoys soaking up the nature around them every day. One evening, a deer strutted across the yard while they were eating dinner. And more than once, a flock of about 30 turkeys has come within view of the back steps.

The Monds’ little ones – Ben and Fisher – enjoy exploring outdoors from sunup to sundown and seeing the farm animals on their land as well as neighbors’ properties down the road.

“They couldn’t have done any of their favorite things to do where we used to live – unless we paid to go to a petting zoo,” Nicole said.

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A better fit for their lifestyle

It’s a welcome change for the children, who weren’t allowed to go outside when the family lived closer to traffic, and the grown-ups, who enjoy making choices for their home without having to answer to a Homeowners Association or landlord.

“We felt really entrapped in a city environment. I catch myself wondering, ‘Is it OK to do this?’ But we don’t have a landlord anymore, and the nearest house is far enough away that, for example, I don’t ever have to worry if my music is too loud,” Nicole said

It just feels like you can breathe out here. This land is not just a pasture for our horses -- it’s peace of mind for both of us.

Military friends are already asking them questions about how to buy land near Kings Bay Naval Base. (Hint: Our parent company, Raydient Places + Properties, has acreage listed for sale in west Nassau County and other parts of the U.S. South. Search properties here.).

One friend who lives on base housing has loaned his ATV to the family, letting them use it in exchange for storing it on their land.

While they have made many changes to the property already, Josh and Nicole have many more plans for their land in the years to come. They dream of adding a pond, a large back porch, more trees and a barn.

“It takes time, you can’t expect to do it all in one week,” Josh sad.

“But each step is one more thing that’s amazing, and we accomplished it together,” Nicole said.

They’re younger than many families who build homes in the country, but Josh said he wouldn’t have wanted to wait any longer.

“The longer you wait, the less time you have to enjoy it,” he said.

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Tiffany Wilson

The editor of Rethink:Rural, Tiffany Wilson has been passionate about writing - and country life - since childhood. She grew up in a log house in the hills of a small town in Upstate New York. She previously worked as a newspaper reporter and hospital communications coordinator. Today, she lives with her husband and children in Yulee, Florida, and in her free time maintains a popular blog for parents in the Amelia Island area.

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