By Connor Lynch
SMITHS FALLS — When Stephen Overbury first offered a life of hard work taking care of the animals and property on his small hobby farm outside Smiths Falls in exchange for living on the waterfront property free of charge, there were a few people interested.
Then the story was picked up by the CBC, and Overbury found himself deluged with requests and exhortations from thousands of people who hadn’t gotten past the word “free,” he told Farmers Forum. His dining room has disappeared beneath a sea of letters, and to keep prying eyes out of his home, he’s covered his windows with newspapers. When called by Farmers Forum, he said hello, and after a short pause, “Hang on. There’s some a—– trespassing in my yard,” he said.
The 50-acre waterfront property, about 10 minutes south of Smiths Falls, includes four barns, two cows, a 1,000 lb. hog and an assortment of chickens, sheep, cats and ducks.
Overbury, who previously lived in Japan and is planning on moving back, put the advertisement for the farm on the ad-sharing site Kijiji back in early April. Overbury, who is a vegan and ran an animal rescue on the property, offered tenancy on the property for free in exchange for taking care of the place and the animals. That includes not killing any nuisance or predatory animals that come by, including coyotes. “Here, no animal is killed,” he said on his ad.
His story has gotten millions of hits across different social media platforms. The original Kijiji ad had been viewed 139,885 times three days after CBC News ran a story on Overbury.
The story has started to devour his life, he said, describing phones ringing endlessly, a perpetually full email inbox and physical mailbox and even trespassing from prospective stewards. The story has garnered international attention; Overbury said he’s had to reject a few proposals out of hand because he doesn’t read Mandarin. “I got requests coming out of my yin-yang. It’s not like I need any more publicity.”
Meanwhile, Overbury has had to try to filter out the constant bombardment in a series of escalating defence mechanisms: From first telling people only to write letters to blocking off his driveway to keep out trespassers. Trying to encourage random visitors to stay off his land, he blocked off his driveway with a large sign, directing visitors away from the property and to his website.
But despite the many thousands of contacts from people looking for free land, uninterested in the hard work that Overbury is offering, there are a few diamonds in the rough, he said, and he remains optimistic that he’ll find someone trustworthy to take care of his land.