This week I want to share our dream with all of you. Perhaps you’ve been dreaming the dream as well and just don’t think you can get there. Sometimes it takes time—a lot of time. But it is so worth it. I encourage you to start today.
Welcome new listeners. It’s so good to have you. And welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thank you for stopping by the farmcast every week. I appreciate you all so much. I’m super excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week and I’m super existed to share the history of our homestead dream with you.
- Homestead Life Updates
- Our Virginia Life
- Greek Spiced Ground Meat with (optional) Yogurt or Sour Cream
Homestead Life Updates
Starting with the garden which seems to be at the end of our list of priorities at the moment. The strawberries are overwhelmed with wheat grass. I believe I mentioned that the straw we bought for mulch was full of seeds. I’ve never seen so much waste of wheat. Scott is working on that project today. The carrots are overrun with grass and weeds. I just looked at them. They seem to be holding their own for the moment. It will have to do until Tuesday. That is 3 days from now. Market is tomorrow. Church on Sunday and much needed rest in the afternoon. Cheesemaking on Monday. Hang in there, guys. I’ll save you. And the rest of the garden needs to be weeded and fertilized as well. I still need to get the green beans planted. The peanuts did not sprout and will need to be replanted. And the first harvests will be happening next week as well. I use flowers as pest control but I’m so far behind on my flower starts that the bugs may take over in June. Oh well, we do what we can and don’t sweat it. That’s not quite true is it? We will be sweating a lot come next week.
Cows are finally getting back into a routine. They really, really don’t like change. We added a new cow. We split up our girls and put one with Butter as a companion. Butter had a calf. All changes. The big one was we changed their feed. Once we changed their feed, all of a sudden the entire herd of Normandes no longer wanted to come into the milking shed and stick their head in the stanchion. I don’t mind so much the ones that we are not milking. But Claire and Buttercup are in milk and have to be milked twice a day. Anyway, we fooled them by putting a bit of sweet feed on top of their nutritional supplement and they are now eating it and getting better about coming into the shed without a lot of hassle. Still some work to do there, but we are making progress. We changed their dairy supplement from a garden variety from Southern States to a non-GMO, non-soy dairy supplement. It’s like a kid that is used to eating McDonald’s and then being switched to organic salad greens. They were pretty petulant. Butter is a different story. She will eat anything you put in front of her and beg for more.
Lambs and Goats
The lambs and goats are doing great. We couldn’t be more pleased with how this group of lambs is progressing. And the goats just keep on keeping on eating weeds and brush that the others won’t touch. They have cleaned up so much around here in the way of small trees that were sprouting, briars, wild blackberry bushes and so on. Good job!!
The creamery project has been sitting idle for nearly two weeks. Scott had to fix the bush hog and then mow everything. He built the quail cages for when the little guys get out of the brooder and into their permanent digs. A load of gravel was delivered and he spent quite a bit of time spreading that in the places where erosion and mud was making our lives miserable. A day of digging a trench for drainage out of the milking shed took another day of his time. The days seems to slip by one after another. There is always so much to do and not enough hours in the day.
That update was pretty intense with listing our setbacks on timing. But you know what? We love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. Our lives are filled with purpose and meaning. The geese are strutting around with their gaggles of goslings. The trees are leafing out. The garden is full of all kinds of plants. The calves are a joy to watch as they bask in the sun or galivant around their pasture. We have taken the moment to look at the stars at night in a while. But they are there, waiting for us to enjoy their magnificence.
Our Virginia Life
That brings me to today’s topic. Have you dreamed of living the homestead life? Do you think it is impossible? I want to give you inspiration and share a bit of our journey. It all started in the last century.
The Beginning . . .
Scott and I met in 1999 in western North Carolina. We were two people following similar paths who met and become life-long friends. We apprenticed together at a spiritual training center learning how to teach a meditation technique. This is where we reconnected to our hearts and desire to be close to the land. The dream of our homestead life was born.
During our training we dreamed of a sustainable farm and communal living. We wanted to raise good food as close to nature’s intended way as possible. We knew that experiencing loving relationships with others and soaking up nourishing nature would ultimately help us remember our kinship with God and creation. Two souls had found each other.
Our dream has changed and evolved over time. It continues to evolve. We just took a step and then another and another. Each step clarified our vision. Each step led to the next and sometimes our direction needed to change. So we changed. We continue to take steps and we continue to change.
The first step began 16 years ago and we still don’t have that creamery built. But we love our homestead life and all it brings us.
Buying Land Was the First Step
In the summer of 2003, we bought our first piece of land in southwest Virginia. We rented a mobile home nearby. At this point in our lives we had a great deal of debt: credit cards, school loans, taxes, and now a mortgage. We set out to pay everything off in full. We would have our farm — but we would have it debt-free. We both took on lucrative jobs in Information Technology as the electronic medical records industry kicked off.
Our jobs required extensive travel. We traveled all over the US and to a couple of European countries as well. Every other week we flew home to Virginia to visit our beautiful piece of land.
In 2005 we bought our own mobile home and moved it onto our land. And in the fall, our wedding ceremony took place at the homestead. It was so beautiful. Even though it was November the weather had permitted the leaves to change very slowly. And with very little wind this particular fall, there were many leaves still on the trees. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time.
Learning to Produce Food
Our first experience with livestock was raising chickens in the summer of 2006.
The contract we had been working for a couple of years was done. I moved on to a different contract and continued traveling. Scott was done with traveling. He remained on the homestead and built a couple of chicken tractors ala Joel Salatin. He raised, and we processed, around 100 chickens. We ate a lot of them ourselves and gave a lot away to relatives and neighbors. This part of the journey was just a taste to get our feet wet.
Twists and Turns and . . . Texas?
Somewhere along that two-year time period we paid all of our debts in full. The next step along the path was making the money needed for infrastructure.
February 2007 Scott went back to work . . . in Texas.
I was now traveling to various places around the country every week instead of every other week. I lived in hotels and airports with a too quick Saturday and Sunday at home with Scott. What a far cry from the peaceful life we envisioned. We persevered and dreamed on.
In 2008 we bought an additional 40 acres adjoining our property. We were in debt again. This time for more money than ever before. It’s a good thing that I got to walk around that property occasionally or I might have forgotten exactly why we went into debt again. The “why” had to do with dreaming bigger. We were learning about raising sheep. Still very much a dream at this point . . . we’re still living in Texas. The timeline to move permanently to the homestead kept getting longer. That can happen when you’re dreaming while making good coin.
The constant travel and living out of a suitcase got really old, really fast for me. It was fine when I was traveling with my best friend and awesome life partner. Doing it alone was torture. Within a year I was insisting that Scott get a job closer to home. If I was going to fly home every weekend, I wanted it to be Virginia — not Texas. Scott made it happen.
South Carolina is Closer Than Texas
From the fall of 2008 until December 31, 2016 Scott traveled 6 hours every Sunday evening to Beaufort, South Carolina. A guy by himself doesn’t need much and a travel trailer we purchased for the task was sufficient housing. Every Friday evening, he returned to the homestead in Virginia. Six hours again. He did it alone for the first year and a half. Then I got a job offer . . . just outside of Savannah, Georgia.
We moved the travel trailer to a park halfway between Savannah and Beaufort. It was an hour drive for me and 45 minutes for him. We were completely back together again as a couple.
Then in 2010 I got a job offer at the same hospital where Scott had been working for over two years. I jumped on that like a duck on a June bug. We moved the travel trailer to Beaufort and cut our work commute down to 20 minutes. As we were still driving 6 hours each way, we were actually able to leave a little earlier on Friday as Scott no longer drive backwards 45 minutes to pick me up. We only buying gas for one vehicle. These were small but important steps on our journey.
All of this unconventional living circumstance was worth the huge amount of stress that came with it. After all, we were now back together as a couple. That was great. We were at the homestead every single weekend. That was great. And it was only going to be for a couple of years . . .
Five years later and nearly 12 years into the process, I was stressed beyond my capacity to remain sane. I needed a nest. For the final two years of working in Beaufort, we rented an apartment. Moving from 100 square feet to over 1,000 square feet of living space was just enough nesting happiness to get me through it.
In the end, even that wasn’t enough and we decided to make the leap to full-time homesteaders. That was December 31, 2016. Over 13 years of tiny steps and a couple of giant steps.
Getting that creamery built is the focus of our lives right now. We are over 2 years into that process. The dream keeps going. The dream keeps moving forward.
From Chicken Tractors to Raw Milk Artisan Cheese
Let me back up a little bit and fill in some details of how we grew the farm during this period of time. How did we go from pasture raised chickens to artisan cheese? What the heck happened there? Well, we tried a few different things over the years. In order to succeed as a small homestead farmer, diversity is important. You don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket. However, having a central core enterprise is also important. So one big basket and lots of smaller baskets was our ideal. This also supports our ideal of living a traditional life where every farming family raised much of their own food in addition to their main crop or livestock enterprise.
The weekend life allowed us to dabble a bit in a lot of areas. And we read a lot and studied a lot about many areas of interest. We did a lot of trial and error experiments on a small scale. There is so much that can be done on a homestead. Which was going to be the best fit for us? Like a lot of folks, we tried to do too many things at once. Having that central enterprise is the only way to make it.
Early on we were clear that raising the chickens in 2006 was a great learning exercise but not where our hearts were. Having them for eggs and meat for personal use, yes. But not as our central farm enterprise. In 2009 we put in fruit trees. That’s a long-term project that continues to stretch over many years. Also, for personal use at this point, though the orchard will provide a small income at a later date. You know. The date we actually have time to give it attention. 😊
In 2010 we bought a flock of sheep and a donkey as a guardian animal for them. Twelve pregnant ewes and a pregnant donkey. We proceeded along the lines of raising sheep and selling lamb as our centerpiece. We learned a lot over several years. At one point we had over 70 sheep. However, two things happened that prompted us to change our course yet again. An issue arose around raising and marketing lamb. One, we simply didn’t have the land to raise enough livestock to make it profitable – and two, in 2011 something big changed on the homestead. Love crept in, awakened and rapidly altered the farm dream.
I wanted to make my own butter and cheese and I loved drinking raw milk. I still can’t stand the taste of cooked milk. In 2011 we bought cows. With working toward homestead sustainability as part of our mission, we also wanted beef (and pork and chicken and rabbit). And after researching every cow breed under the sun, we settled on the Normande. It’s a dual breed cow. A prolific milk producer as well as producing well-marbled muscle perfectly suited for beef. For more details on these cows, give a listen to the Peaceful Heart FarmCast episode I dedicated to them.
Suffice it to say, I fell in love with these cows. We knew the lamb was not going to produce the income we desired without adding a lot more pasture. Another alternative arose out of the dream. We could build a creamery and make artisan and farmstead cheese. It just happened to coincide with my desire to have more of these cows in my life. To pay for it, how much longer are we going to have to work for someone else? Yes, that’s the decision that drove the planned two years of living in a travel trailer to a full seven years of craziness.
It was so worth it.
Peaceful Heart Farm Creamery is Born
Finally, I’ve gotten to the part of the story where the creamery comes in. It has been a wild and varied journey getting here. But this is the one. We are investing all of our time and energy into becoming a local cheese resource for our community. We will use traditional cheese making techniques to develop our local cheeses. I have two recipes that meet my expectations regarding the product I want to sell . . . and I have two others that are currently in development. One is failing miserably. Fear not! I will prevail. We are going to produce the best cheddar cheese that Virginia has ever seen! With a slight tweak on the salt, I’m expecting my alpine-style cheese to be a winner this year as well.
The creamery still has a long way to go before passing state inspection. I’ve got a little time to get the cheese right. In the meantime, I’m getting to know you and getting some really good traditional cooking information together for you. If you are buying local food, it pays to know how to prepare it well.
The latest change is the addition of the herdshare program. We became aware of this need some time ago for offering herdshares to our fellow Virginians. Not everyone wants to live this life but they want the benefit of the great food that it produces. One of those great foods is milk from pasture-raised cows. If you’ve been following me, you’ve heard me talk about this before. You can own a piece of a grassfed dairy herd. We provide the land, animals and labor so you don’t have to do that part.
We purchased a lovely Jersey cow from a fellow Farmer’s Market vendor. She has had her calf and is now producing wonderful A2A2 milk. We are offering milk and/or yogurt (full fat or low fat with honey) during the summer months, May through October. November through April cheese and butter will come out of the herdshare. During times of abundance in the summer you may find yourself with a little extra product. Your herd sometimes produces a LOT of milk. And at other times not so much.
At some point we added cashmere goats to our livestock. I’m a big knitter and dream of using only 100% cashmere. More and more my skepticism that I will ever reach that goal increases. You can only do so much! For now, they keep our pastures clear of brambles and provide us with some really great nutrition. But their days are numbered. You remember what I talked about earlier? There are only so many hours in a day. So, dream big but keep in mind that at some point, likely you will have to trim it back a little.
At the present time on the homestead, the only food we don’t produce is eggs (and coffee). That situation will be rectified in the next few months. I believe I’ve mentioned before that Scott doesn’t have the time to invest in building elaborate chicken housing and protection. His priority is getting that creamery functional. Instead, we’ve opted for quail. This is 99% my project. Scott will build a couple of cages that will likely take no more than a day or two to complete. The rest is all on me.
With the addition of the quail, all of our food will now be produced on the homestead. We spend hours and hours working, sweating and loving every minute of our life.
We are meeting new people just like you at the Wytheville Farmer’s Market. Come see us on Saturdays 8am to 12 noon. Taste our grass-fed beef, lamb, and goat. Talk to us about your interest in a herdshare and taste our yogurt. There are lots of other great vendors there as well. And remember, you can come directly to the farm on Tuesday mornings 10am to 12 noon or Saturday afternoons from 3pm to 5pm. Call for directions. We’d love to help you get here.
Greek Seasoned Ground Meat Medley with (optional) Yogurt or Sour Cream
This recipe is for my Keto and carnivore friends and listeners. If you have a traditional, diversified farm with all kinds of ruminant animals, this recipe is for you. Or if you are shopping at your local farmer’s market for a variety of grass-fed meats, this recipe is for you. It calls for one pound each of beef, lamb and chev or goat, but you can use any combination of these meats. Or you could divide the ingredients by three and only use 1 lb.
What You Need
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 lb ground chev (goat)
- 3 tablespoon butter
- 3 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons salt (less is fine)
- 3 teaspoons ground pepper
- ¾ cup water
What To Do
- Brown ground meats until fully cooked
- Drain pan drippings and add butter (this is actually optional but worth it)
- Mix in spices and water
- Simmer 5 to 10 minutes
- Serve with yogurt or sour cream
I hope you found some inspiration to follow your dreams whatever they may be. By continually putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there. Keep the vision in front of you and keep plugging away. Start as small as you need to and build a little each day. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or what route you follow. It really doesn’t. It is all about the journey. You will never reach your destination because there is always another dream in the making. It’s all about the journey and living each day to the fullest. Go for it!
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As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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