(Editor’s note: We continue our eight-week series profiling some of the women who play key roles in the region’s agriculture. We’re proud to salute them — and others — who illustrate the diversity of farmers and farm leaders today.)
PHILO, Ohio — For most of her adult life, Annie Warmke has given her all in the fight for women’s rights. When it comes to her home life, though, Warmke is as hard-nosed an individualist as one is likely to find anywhere.
“I feel like I have been walking to this place my whole life,” she said of Blue Rock Station, the small farm in rural Philo, Ohio, Warmke shares with her husband and business partner, Jay. “When you look at this place and how we farm, it’s like looking into my brain.”
Warmke converted the property, by hand, nearly 20 years ago into what she calls Ohio’s first “Earthship” — a passive solar home made of tires, cans, bottles, straw bales and mud.
“I could have built any have built any kind of house,” said Warmke, who had spent the decade prior to her move to Blue Rock Station as a nationally recognized advocate for victims of domestic violence. “But I wanted to build a house that was something beyond us.”
Focusing on sustainability
A 40-acre “sustainability center,” Blue Rock Station is initially unassuming, until Warmke points out specific aspects of the tiny straw-bale cabins, plastic-bottle greenhouse; various seasonal crops; dairy goats, llamas and free range chickens; examples of thermal mass and passive solar energy generation; and the cornerstone of the property, the main house itself.
The 2,200-square-foot Earthship, as Warmke calls it, is made entirely of reclaimed materials.
The concept of the house, the farm, and her “journey toward nothing” vision crystallized for Warmke when she began reading about the work of “eco architect” and self-proclaimed “garbage warrior,” Michael Reynolds.
An Earthship is defined by Reynolds as “a passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials; thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization; with renewable energy and integrated water systems to allow the home off-grid, a home with little to no utility bills.”
The Warmke property was christened Blue Rock Station, for the type of shale formations in the area and granddaughter Catlyn’s fondness for calling the farm a “station.”
“It pulled together everything I’d ever thought about reusing things,” Warmke said.
“At first, I didn’t even know anything about ‘renewable energy,’ but I thought I would ‘fake it till I make it,’” she said. “But I told Jay, ‘people are going to come here.’ Everybody loves gossip, especially when it is weird. And this was great weird.”
Area residents began to volunteer time and resources to the construction of the “trash house,” and traffic at the open house made even reaching the site difficult, Warmke said.
“People in the country understand re-use, and they have skills in things like physics and carpentry,” she said. “So when they saw this, they got it.”
The Blue Rock Station website notes that the Warmkes’ vision when creating it was to build an interesting and unique learning environment focused on sustainable living practices.
Along with hosting tours for schools and other groups, the Warmkes consult and make regular speaking engagements, teach “Goat College,” and have authored books on subjects as broad as raising healthy family pets, to texts on photovoltaics and the relationship between biomass and wind turbines.
The station has also welcomed 52 interns in the past seven years and recently hosted its first intern reunion.
Do-it-yourself solar generator technology, as evidenced by the stacks of generators in various stages of experimentation around the house, is one of the latest areas of sustainability that the Warmkes are diving into with both feet.
A decade before Blue Rock Station came to be, however, Warmke had a career that thrust her into the national spotlight almost by accident.
“I am a former battered woman,” she said bluntly. “And living in Athens, County (Ohio), at the time, there wasn’t anything (for battered women). So I stayed for 22 years.”
When she finally did leave that relationship, Warmke attended Ohio University and earned a degree in counseling. She later founded 22 rural domestic violence projects in Florida.
“This was in 1982,” she said. “Florida is 1,000 miles long with a lot of rural counties. I’d lived on a farm and had equated that environment with suffering. I started these domestic violence projects and I looked (victims) straight in the eye and say ‘I was a battered woman and never talked about it’.”
Soon, Warmke had organized a statewide coalition to get funding.
“I found sharing was good and if you have a problem, reinforcements will come in,” she said.
Meeting Kimberly Bliss-Soubielle, however, was still a surprise.
“She was in prison in Ocala, and she wrote me to help her write for permission for clemency,” Warmke said. “In 1987, she had killed her husband to protect herself and her 2-year-old daughter.”
Warmke took on the case and began to show her new client how to market, use news releases, and gain access to avenues of the legal system.
Soon other inmates who had been battered began to come forward, Warmke said.
“I agreed to work on their cases, but I said I’d never take a dime and I was going to do this for four years, to make institutional changes,” she said. “We got Kim out and eventually 17 other women.”
And true to her word, having brought together groups as disparate as the National Rifle Association, Junior League, and various right-to-live organizations, and having garnered the support of the Florida Bar Association, Warmke walked away in 1993.
“I said, if I’m a good manager, then it can take care of itself,” she said.
Tough life lessons
But such confidence was born largely of consequences.
“Women are still tremendously marginalized,” Warmke said. “And with the women in prison, there was such a surge of hopelessness —’you’re my only hope.’
“No, I’m your partner and I’m going to hold your hand, and you’re going to hold my hand, and we’re maybe going to get smashed to the ground 22 times.
“But I went from being very brow beaten and any little thing that came to me, I would just stop, in tears. Now I’m not very good at taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
More women in ag stories:
- Ones to watch: Young women in agriculture April 23, 2015
- At the helm of Ohio Cattlemen’s, Elizabeth Harsh works to ‘be fearless daily’ April 23, 2015
- Farm or nonfarm worlds: Extension dairy specialists know both sides April 16, 2015
- Ohio State researcher committed to the science of animal health April 9, 2015
- Donniella Winchell puts Ohio wine on the world stage April 2, 2015
- Breaking the ‘grass’ ceiling: East Ohio Women in Agriculture Conference draws 135 March 30, 2015
- Leah Miller helps farmers, communities get things done March 19, 2015
- Judy Ligo: ‘I had to prove I knew what I was doing’ March 12, 2015
- Pitching farm life: Brenda Hastings takes dairy industry in an all new direction March 5, 2015
- The ones to watch: Help us find the millennials who will be tomorrow’s leaders in agriculture March 5, 2015
- It’s OK to ‘farm like a girl’ March 5, 2015
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