When asked what kind of life they had before coming to Mexico, Susan Chamberlin of Luna Serena farm answers, “Before there was no life, just work at an office. Now it’s a full life, complemented with work we enjoy.”
These days, her partner, Victor, is feeding donkeys, giving tours, and working with Susan to manage 10 acres of olive and fruit trees. Susan is working on the farm’s finances, helping customers at their on-site retail store and giving olive oil tastings. Their life has made an incredible shift from just a decade ago, when they were working in advertising in New York City.
Susan and Victor originally wanted to buy a farm in Tuscany, after being inspired by Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun, about retiring there and fixing up an ancient farmhouse. But that was in 1999, and the prices for property in Tuscany were not friendly. The couple happened to visit San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, that same year for a wedding and fell in the love with it. So, that was where they decided to buy property and start planning for a retirement they hoped would come soon.
San Miguel de Allende, because of its international community of expats and its influx of Mexicans from around the country, is a diverse and culturally-rich town. English-language theater, a local English-language newspaper, and lots of community arts and social welfare organizations make it an easy place to get involved.
Susan started living on the property in San Miguel in 1999 and Victor joined her in 2014. They decided at that point that full-on retirement was not for them. Instead they would work to make their property an agritourism attraction, and find a place in the local market to sell produce and olive oil. They had already planted various fruit and olive trees on the property in the preceding years. The gourmet olive oil business seemed a good niche for an area that had a developing local wine industry.
They now have a bustling business not only selling their products but also hosting groups on the property, giving tours, and coordinating private dinners. In addition, they make all kinds of secondary products from their fruit, like vinegars and marmalades. The farm supports not only the two of them but a local family of seven who have all come to work on the farm in various capacities. Susan says that they wished they would have known in advance how fun and fulfilling the project would be. “The benefits are a hugely improved lifestyle with plenty of exercise, lots of new acquaintances, and we get to eat very healthy food which we grow ourselves,” she says.
Susan and Victor are confessed home bodies who love gourmet cooking. “We live a simple country life,” says Susan, “but we do indulge in some local activities every now and then—a couple of special restaurants, or a concert or two.” And it’s all at a fraction of the price they were accustomed to in New York (a taxi anywhere in San Miguel is only about $3).
While real estate in San Miguel is not as cheap as it once was, great properties can still be found in the $200,000 range. Add that to the year-round mild climate and you have yourself a paradise south of the border. As Victor and Susan show, San Miguel is a perfect combination of rural tranquility, with the conveniences of a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
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