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Eastern Tennessee vs. Western North Carolina???

John Kitsteiner

Joined: May 25, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: East Tennessee
We had our plans to move to western Washington state for quite a while.  Then my wife had a difficult pregnancy (it all worked out very well), and she spent 3 months in Germany during a wet and cloudy spring/summer - we are in the military living overseas...

Well, my wife has now vetoed the PNW - she wants four seasons and some sun in the spring and summer.  I am very glad this happened before we moved out there!

So, that returns us to our original plan... either eastern TN or western NC. 

Here is our criteria.

- We'd like to be close to the mountains, but we don't need to be in the mountains.
- I'd like to buy 10-40 acres without going crazy in debt.
- We don't want to be in too "redneck" of a place (I was born in western NC and we've lived in the south off and on for many, many years... so I understand the difference between "southern" and "redneck" - please don't take offense).
- We'd like to be within about 30 minutes of a decent sized city (50K+)

I'd love your opinions on locations... the plusses the minuses... anything you can give me that will help our decision.

Thanks so much!
Doc K

"All the world's problems can be solved in a garden."   - Geoff Lawton

Check out my site at:
Jack Taylor

Joined: Nov 11, 2011
Posts: 5
Location: Pickens, SC
Have you thought about the upstate of South Carolina? Travelers Rest is 10 minutes from downtown Greenville and 10 Minutes from the Mountains.

Pickens, SC
zones 7-8
C Quint

Joined: Apr 04, 2011
Posts: 19
Location: Northeast Tennessee
I don't know a lot about western NC except that Asheville seems to be a pretty nice city for natural-living-minded folks. Earthaven Ecovillage ( is located there, farmer's markets appear to be abundant, and there are often interesting conferences and seminars in the area. Holistic health options appear to be bountiful. When I have visited the city itself, it appears to be a pricy place to visit, at least for dining! I am fairly certain that there are rural properties available that are within a reasonable drive of Asheville, but I am not sure on the prices. I would not consider Asheville to be redneck at all, but perhaps closer to a mix of hippies; "goths"; young, upwardly mobile people; and tourists, but that is just my impression from visits.

I live in northeastern Tennessee (Kingsport) and think that here and southwest Virginia are wonderful places for permaculture-minded folks, but it is not for everyone. I think that an area within 30 minutes of Johnson City, TN would be great because you would be very close to the mountains, if not in them, but still quite close to a decent city that is less "redneck" than the other two of the three "Tricities" (Kingsport and Bristol). There are many farmer's markets in the Tricities, horse and cow manure are plentiful even to those in the cities, and there is hardly any traffic (less than Asheville, for sure). It is not uncommon, at least in Kingsport, for people to have full farms right in the city. We live just outside of the city limits and buy grass-fed beef from a farm a few blocks away.

I have friends who *hate* it here. They want the amenities that a bigger city offers. They want their kids in Gymboree; Montessori; and lessons, lessons, lessons. They want WholeFoods, racial and religious diversity, and major league sports teams. I am not saying that these are bad things (I would prefer more racial and religious diversity, myself, but I can't have everything), but these are definitely things to consider in the city you want to be close to. Asheville would offer more of these things than any of the TriCities.

Here are the things I like about the TriCities:

- I can buy most of my food directly from farmers without driving 30+ minutes. I can get to know the farmers, and they want to get to know me.
- I can put a vegetable garden and chickens in the front yard of my (sort of) suburban home and the neighbors come over to appreciate the chickens - they have vegetable gardens in their front yards, too!
- I can homeschool my kids and it isn't considered weird, nor is there a limit of opportunities for them to socialize
- There is a local "voluntary simplicity" group that is nearly a homesteading group; it is easy to find like-minded folks once you start paying attention
- There are community gardens in both Kingsport and Johnson City
- There is a great native plant nursery and a local nursery specializing in local fruit trees and bushes.
- Traffic is negligible
- There are plenty of naturalist activities, including wild foraging classes once or twice per year, at the state parks
- There are some great living history farms, so each year, while we develop our own property, my kids see sheep shearing, wool spinning, flax scutching, sorghum making, blacksmithing, horses plowing fields, candle-making, cider making, maple tapping, etc.
- There is a beautiful nature preserve in Kingsport
- There are amazing hiking opportunities around here, similar to Asheville

Things that are not so good:

- The actual city of Kingsport (not Johnson City or Bristol) is occupied by a huge chemical plant, paper mill, and defense contractor. The stench permeates the entire city some days. We live outside of the stench radius, so it takes us 15 minutes to drive to either Kingsport or Johnson City.
- This is the Bible Belt. There are people and groups here who will frown upon people who are anything other than fundamental Christians. My solution to this is to befriend people, regardless of religion, who are non-judgmental, and that can take some time and patience. I believe this is why many of the moms I know cannot stand living here.
- There are not as many child-oriented activities available here as there are in some other cities. I don't think there are any secular private schools, there are not really zoos or aquariums to visit, and there is no mall play area within 100+ miles. This no longer bothers me, but it bothers many mothers.
- There is a "redneck" population, as this is southern Appalachia. Within that community, drug use appears to be a big problem. However, I know these things only from reading the newspaper. In my every day life, I don't encounter any of this unless I go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- We have to drive to Johnson City for a decent health food store.
- There is very little racial diversity.
- There is very little political diversity (there are Republicans and people who hide that they are Democrats).

If you find yourself interested in the TriCities, I would also look into Gate City, VA; Bristol, VA; and Greeneville, TN. Before deciding that we wanted to stick with our little one-acre homestead, we looked for property in southwest Virginia, just across the border from Kingsport - there are some pretty good deals there, yet you could still be close to either Kingsport or Bristol. However, the "redneck" population increases in Gate City and rural Bristol. Not sure about Greeneville - it seems to be really nice there. Here is a link to some real estate: Definitely check the forums for more information on any given area. I am a bit of a homebody, so my experience may be biased due to my wonderful yard and neighbors!

Good luck!


John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6883
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
TN has one of the best State forestry nurseries around. Great prices if you wish to buy in bulk. They offer 2 free shipping options: 1) you can pickup yourself at the nursery, or 2) they will truck it to your County Extension office, where you can pick it up.

Check out their offerings and prices here (hard to beat):

John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6883
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
TN also has very low property taxes. Taxes are based on 25% of property value...if your property is appraised at $100,000, you pay taxes on $25,000.
If you stay outside of city limits, you can generally avoid the "School tax" assessment. The counties provide few services, so you don't pay for services that you probably don't need.

Once you find a property, you can find tax info regarding it here:
Rebecca Brown

Joined: Nov 25, 2011
Posts: 21
I would go with Eastern Tennessee. The state not only has lower property taxes, but it does not have an income tax at all. Furthermore, land prices are much cheaper, as long as you stay away from Gatlinburg. North Carolina also has some of the most restrictive rules and regulations in the country. My spouse lived there for several years and never did manage to get a NC driver's license; my brother-in-law still lives there, and he drives home every year to renew his car tags.

We love North Carolina -especially Asheville -but we chose to buy land in Tennessee for all of those reasons and more.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6883
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
Did I mention that TN has a Permanent Senior Citizen's combo Hunting/Fishing License for $10?
I don't think it covers migratory water fowl...I think you need a supplemental tag for that.
Tricky Widget

Joined: Jan 11, 2012
Posts: 3
I hope it's not too late to provide more feedback. I hope to save you from east Tennessee!

I was born and raised in ETN and lived there until I was 30. I feel passionately that if you're interested in doing anything remotely progressive, east Tennessee is not the place to do it. It defines the word "redneck". You'll find little to no support in the community for your permaculture perspectives. Also, you won't get the four seasons you're after. You'll get a middling spring, a long, humid summer, a middling fall, and a short, warmish winter. The only upside I can think of here is that the property is pretty cheap (for a reason!).

I've now lived in Asheville in western NC for over a year and it's like a different planet. The community is amazing. It's stuffed to bursting with every kind of progressive, eco, artsy, and perma oddball you could imagine. And the weather is fabulous; four even, distinct seasons that don't get too severe in any direction. There is ample land within a 30 minute drive of town. That said, there are downsides. The awesome culture ends sharply at the city limits and then you're back in redneck land (though there are several small pockets of coolness to be found around). But the biggest bite is the price; land around here is crazy expensive.

I've been doing a lot of property searching around here myself lately, and this is the best site I've found for it (great search options like "level", "private", and "adjacent to national forest"). Take a look and see how the market strikes you.

If there's anything I can help you with about WNC, just let me know!
August Salmon

Joined: Jul 08, 2013
Posts: 7
Location: Colorado. San Juan Mountains. Zone 4b and Virginia. Clinch Mountain. Zone 7a..

- There is a great native plant nursery and a local nursery specializing in local fruit trees and bushes.

Hello, Glad to see there are other like minded folks in the tri-cities. I lived in Asheville and then north of town in Marshall, NC for many years and loved both, I was a renter at that time. I relocated to CO for a few years and when I decided I was ready to move "back East", with the goal of buying a place of my own, I realized Western NC was out of my price range. I'm actually in VA, though still in the tri-cities "metro" area and couldn't be happier. What I bought here for around 150k would have cost me more like 300k anywhere within 45 minutes of Asheville. SO, I guess my vote is for TN/VA.

C Quint, where is this nursery that you mentioned?

Thank you to John Polk for mentioning the TN Forestry order form. Maybe I can go in on an order with someone that lives in TN? Sure would save me a bit (LOT) of money.
Amedean Messan

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 925
Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
Here is the catch 22 on lower tax states/counties:

The quality of public schools reflects directly to the amount of taxes paid so if you plan on having children, unless you will only homeschool be wary. Institutions in general vary in quality based on the premises of "you get what you pay for" and there are some things that are best left to community funding due to higher efficiency. If paying the lowest in taxes is your upmost priority than also consider the market value of the local commerce. Typically the higher taxes paid correlates to more income per capita in an area which is also correlating to higher potential investment returns from grown crops. The highest value you will get from your crops will almost always be around farmers markets in agriculturally deprived areas like large cities.

Tax rate is not my governing criteria, unless it is really high of course.

Those who hammer their swords into plows will plow for those who don't!
J D Horn

Joined: Jan 23, 2012
Posts: 155
I'm going to end up in Alabama, but if I was looking at the region with a clean slate I'd pick the South Carolina hills for two primary reasons.

1. raw milk sales are legal in SC. You can get buyers from Atlanta and Charlotte that will drive to you to pick it up.

2. Driving distance to the Foothills Pilot Plant in Marion, NC. Its the only USDA inspected custom poultry and rabbit processing facility that I know of in the South.

Hugh Holland

Joined: Jan 09, 2012
Posts: 12
Have you considered the Upper Cumberlands? The areas around Cookeville, Tennessee (Home to Tennessee Tech University) and Crossville, Tennessee are hard to beat. Just research the Cumberland Plateau. In towns around Monterey, Crossville and Spencer the elevation is around 2000 feet and it does make for nicer summers. We lived off-grid in Overton County and thought it a great community. The residents fought off Wally-Mart. We just purchased property in Van Buren County and couldn't be happier. Spencer is really small but, you can be in Cookeville 30/40 minutes or Chattanooga in 45/50 minutes. I'm sure that most on this site have heard about what is going on in Chattanooga. My friend recently visited and said that the downtown area is awesome and the farmers markets are great! Low taxes, no state income tax, clean air, awesome weather and great people! I believe that you could draw a fifty mile radius around Cookeville and or Crossville and just about couldn't go wrong. Please look into and research this area, you won't regret it!
Natalie McVander

Joined: Mar 04, 2014
Posts: 63
I"m in Greene County, just a hop, skip, and jump over the mountain from Asheville, NC.

I visited here from CA decades ago and the change in this area in the last 30 years is amazing.
Transplants are coming in by the droves and bringing in new ideas.
I love so many things about this place - the importance of family, the importance of tradition, the value of Christian heritage... but it can be also a little stubborn when it comes to doing ANYthing if Mammaw and Pappaw didn't do it. Mammaws and Pappaws have a lot of influence around here. That's a good thing, really.

You couldn't find anything but fluffy white bread 10 years ago.
Now you can find sourdough and good quality whole wheat.
"Organic" used to be one of those new-fangled ideas - now you can find them in almost every store.
What would be great is if the sticking to heritage went back further than 2 generations, and hearkened back to many generations - and permaculture style ideas.

With more people arriving, the transplants are getting to be almost as populous as the natives, so I am finding more and more like-minded people.
I have many friends interested in learning natural and healthful ways of life here.
One of them is actually an artist and does a bit of traveling back and forth to Asheville.
Another friend is just finishing up a cordwood house.
For myself - I have a bunch of people from church who want to come over and learn as they assist me in building earth ovens and heaters.
Permaculture is a new term for what we've always called self-sustained living.
If you said permaculture to a lot of people, they'd look at you funny.
But say you want to be able to fully support yourself and your family off the land in a way that increases the production rather than laying waste to what you've got, then there are quite a few people here interested.

August Salmon

Joined: Jul 08, 2013
Posts: 7
Location: Colorado. San Juan Mountains. Zone 4b and Virginia. Clinch Mountain. Zone 7a..
Do any of you in the tri-cities area no of any sort of permies meet ups? Or would anyone be interested in starting one? I've met some interesting and like minded people through Appalachian Sustainable Development and the local Master Gardeners group, but there doesn't seem to be any regular meeting groups focusing on permaculture, that I can find.
subject: Eastern Tennessee vs. Western North Carolina???