Warren County, Virginia
Derek and Lisa Bennsky aren’t your typical farmers. There is no livestock on their 40-acre Warren County, Virginia, property. There are no rows of corn or soybeans, no plows or tractors. The Bennskys only recently moved into their customized modular home on a wooded parcel of what was, for several generations, a working farm owned by the Powell Family.
Derek and Lisa, who are both in their early 30s, liked the property because they knew it would give them the privacy they wanted after years of living in tiny fixer-ups purchased in foreclosure sales.
“We originally bought a piece of property in the northwest end of the county,” Lisa says. “The more we thought practically, we realized we wanted the privacy of the woods and we want to be able to live how we choose because Derek likes to shoot guns and hunt.” As Derek explains, “we wanted to be able to walk outside and not see anybody.”
The agricultural aspect of the Bennsky’s new homestead is tied to tree stewardship and land conservation. They plan to replace many of the trees on the property with species more likely to thrive there—possibly including the American chestnut. Additionally, by buying all 40 acres the Bennskys have saved the land from development for as long as they live there.
The couple was eligible for a VA (Veterans Affairs) loan from MidAtlantic Farm Credit to refinance the purchase of the property because of Derek’s service in the Air Force. He was on active duty from 1999 to 2007 and in the reserves from 2007 to 2010, achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Reflecting on his military service, Derek said the most rewarding job he did was in the presidential honor guard because “not only did we represent ourselves, we represented each member, past and present, of the United States Air Force, and that was truly a great honor.”
In 2010, he married Lisa, who by that time was also working for the Army Corps of Engineers doing project management. The couple had known each other since childhood and started dating in 2008. The first time Derek called Lisa for a date, she didn’t realize he was interested in her romantically and she arrived with several friends. Not long afterward, she came home one day to find roses and a letter from Derek saying that if he didn’t reveal his feelings for her, he would always regret it. He proposed in 2009, about the same time Lisa started working for the Army Corps of engineers.
“In one week, we went from dating to being engaged to driving to work together every day,” Lisa says.
The two bought their Warren County property with land and construction loans that were later refinanced into a VA loan through Farm Credit. MidAtlantic loan officer Ruth Boden said the loans are available to any honorably discharged veterans and may include an option for 100 percent financing without mortgage insurance.
Lisa, who considered majoring in architecture in college, but instead graduated with a psychology degree, merged plans for several different modular units to create the couple’s dream home. Work on the house began in November 2013 and was mostly completed in June 2014.
Their former homes are now rental properties, but the Bennskys say their newest purchase is their “forever home,” where they can relax with their beloved black Labrador retriever, Pepper Anne, and enjoy the view.