Set within the coastal redwood forests of Pomo land in Albion, California, and with the soundtrack of the Pacific Ocean in the background, Salmon Creek Farm is spread out over sloping ground with orchards, organic vegetable and flower gardens. Eight mostly wonky, brightly painted wooden cabins – that recently became available to rent – are also dotted around the grounds.
The 33-acre estate is hard to define, but a homestay retreat and an art residency gives you a decent picture. Located on Northern California’s Mendocino coastline, the cabins all have the internet and running hot water. Salmon Creek Farm’s description of itself – ‘homespun’ and ‘rustic’ – checks out. Elsewhere, there’s a greenhouse, outdoor kitchen, decking area for dancing and numerous foot trails.
The appeal for visitors, aside from the rustic beauty, is the chance to leave behind busy modern lives and immerse themselves in a space where solitude and nature is abundant, as well as the chance to gather with a community that has deep roots.
‘The goal is for people to live, for a short time, a rural way of life and to reconnect with people, ourselves and nature,’ explains Fritz Haeg, the owner of the property since 2014. Fritz is a multidisciplinary artist, perhaps best known for his work ‘Edible Estates’, a project designed to encourage people to swap the ubiquitous front lawn with edible gardens.
When asked to describe Salmon Creek Farm, he pauses. ‘Well, we’re a queer-friendly farm-homestead-sanctuary-school hybrid.’ Another pause. ‘That covers the bases.’
Aside from being encouraged to unplug from modern living, visitors can go fruit picking and canning, as well as foraging for food. The surrounding area is great for hiking, while group dancing and cooking activities are also on offer.
In the 1970s the land and the cabins were a commune. When an agent rang Fritz and told him the rural property was available to buy, he knew straight away that he wanted it. ‘This was where I could plant trees and watch them grow for the rest of my life.’ He moved fast, packing up his Los Angeles home of 15 years and heading out to the former commune.
Yet taking on the legacy of Salmon Creek Farm wasn’t about recreating past glories. ‘I’ve taken the basic intentions of the place – to keep its spirit alive – but I’ve tried to build upon it to create something new,’ he says.
The farm has evolved. For portions of the year, it serves as an artist's residency where creatives are encouraged to respond to the wilderness and a gentler way of living. It is a queer centric space, but it isn’t only for the queer community. ‘We’re in our first year,’ Fritz says of the program. ‘It is for artists to come and take time to live off the land, be inspired by it, and hopefully share what emerges artistically. I’m interested in attracting artists who deal with ecology and who deal with living kinetic things.’
He continues: ‘So dance, movement, cooking, gardening and farming practices, not just artists making objects. I think the really interesting question is, what art can only happen on this piece of land and nowhere else?’ Looking ahead, he says he would like to see Salmon Creek Farm as a thriving art colony and school, in addition to what it is today.
Over the past decade, Fritz hasn’t just tended to the property with manual labor; he has also quietly built its reputation via social media and his own artistic circles. The resulting community is growing and diverse, counting people like Ari Shapiro, Michael Pollan, Alan Cumming, Bernhard Willhelm and Andrea Zittel.
‘Salmon Creek has been my world for many years now,’ he reflects. ‘Now, I sort of just want to let it stand on its own. Every year, I do feel like it becomes closer to the vision I have for this place.’
In 2024, Salmon Creek Farm will start running a seasonal, land-based program for artists on the farm. Residencies will also be offered during other parts of the year. ‘I think the non-profit arts ecology program will really be for young artists who want to see what it’s like just to be a part of a piece of land for a certain amount of time,’ says Fritz.
When he took over the property nearly a decade ago, he hosted a potluck meal on-site with friends. Several of the original communards who built the cabins with their own hands came along. Some still live nearby along the Mendocino coast, albeit now with slightly more traditional lives. That there’s an ongoing link with the original commune is something Fritz relishes. ‘I love this idea of a real estate transaction being more than just buying a piece of property, or a purely economic exchange,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure what this is, but it feels like we’re continuing a story.’
The early years
The west coast of the USA was once dotted with countless ‘hippie’ communes like Salmon Creek Farm, and Fritz wants to bring some of this back. ‘The defining characteristic of this place is that the cabins are isolated in the woods and it’s a huge piece of land, so you can have as much extreme solitude or as much community as you need or want,’ says Fritz. ‘The first few years were really just fixing up these old cabins making them habitable and furnishing them,’ he says.
The interiors of the cabins are a mix of antique, handmade and thrifted items. In 2018 he created new spaces around the cabins and installed an outdoor dance deck, an outdoor kitchen and planted 40 new fruit trees on the farm. Cabins are first made available to the Salmon Creek Farm community, then to a waitlist where guests are asked to describe their intentions for their time on the property before being selected by Fritz.
Our experience with community and connection is compromised living in a big city. Our experience with solitude is compromised. Both are kind of compromised in a way so that you can’t fully have either” says Fritz. Here at Salmon Creek Farm though, he says he prioritizes both things. “That is like the thing that I love most about it, being someone who needs time alone and time with others”.
The presence of the original commune that founded Salmon Creek Farm in 1971 is still felt here with the values of the time influencing how Fritz built the current community. ‘For me, the central I tenet of the whole enterprise is when you are on the land, you’re part of the land you’re contributing to, you know, human, human or outhouse, compost system that’s creating compost for fruit trees. You’re helping in the food garden. You’re a part of whatever’s happening on the land at that moment.’