In The Spotlight :The Backyard Farming Connection

  The Backyard Farming Connection

  Gretchen Stuppy Carlson

Blog Purpose: To build a community where homesteaders share, learn and inspire.  To strengthen family, community, and the earth through the practice of farming.

This week we are visiting with Gretchen from The Backyard Farming Connection.   Gretchen and her family currently live and thrive in Upstate New York, but a move is in the works.  I am sure we will be hearing more about setting up a homestead all over again.  I admire people like Gretchen who are impacting the next generation by teaching homesteading skills to the children while they are growing up.  What a beautiful life.  Gretchen also runs a very active website, blogs, and runs a weekly blog hop that attracts many entries.  Read the interview and learn more about life behind The Backyard Farming Connection.

How did you get started in farming/homesteading?

We were homesteaders on paper long before the first garden or chicken arrived in our backyard.  For many years my now husband and I were sailors working on traditional tall ships running education programs. When at sea, these ships act as a microcosm and force you to live with what you have on hand in that moment.  The idea of sustainability on a sailboat got us dreaming of creating a more sustainable lifestyle on land.  We read, researched, and talked with people living the homesteading life and spent hours planning what our own backyard farm would look like.

I’ve always dreamed of some land with animals and a garden. Once we moved to NY with our young children we were finally able to expand on the potted herbs and small garden spaces and began to build up some more substantial gardens and add some animals.

When did you begin? How?

Our homestead really got underway 3 years ago when we moved into a home on 2.5 acres in NY.  Within a year we had chickens, fruit trees, many raised beds, and bees.  These were followed more recently by 2 goats and 2 fiber rabbits.  Many of the changes also happened inside our home.  I’ve always prepared food from scratch, but with a garden just outside the door and three young kids, we made the commitment to cooking healthy, fresh food and using homemade and natural products.

What size is your farm? What kind of community do you live in (rural, urban, suburban, etc.?

Our farm is a tiny one at the moment, just 2.5 acres carved out of the woods in a relatively rural town near Saratoga Springs.  In one month we are uprooting ourselves and moving to a 5 acre farm in coastal NH.  We’re hoping that our new farmhouse will be a home we can grow in for years.

What is your favorite part of homesteading?

The absolute best part of homesteading is sharing the experience and daily life with my family.  My 5 year old twins and almost 2 year old are part of the reason we homestead, but also part of the daily homesteading work.  The lessons we all learn and the time shared working together is just as valuable to me as the fresh food grown in the garden.

What is your least favorite part?

It’s all roses and happy chickens right?  Actually one of my least favorite parts of homesteading, specifically with animals, is the amount that animals tie us to our homestead.  As people who love to camp, visit family and explore, animals often limit how much time we spend away from home.  We have wonderful people who care for our animals, but I still feel pulled to home whenever I’m away.

What has been the most helpful book you have read?  

There are so many fabulous homesteading books out there.  One of my favorite inspirational books is Living the Good life by Scott and Helen Nearing.  This book isn’t quite a handbook on how to homestead as much as a glimpse into the reasons, decisions, and ideas of some of the forerunners to the modern homestead movement.

What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle?

This lifestyle is the only way of life my children know.  We spend a lot of time talking about where our food comes from and why we make the choices we do. 

Why are you doing this?

We are choosing this lifestyle for many reasons.  The reasons start big with the problems facing our planet under current practices and come all the way down to enjoying healthy, food around our own table every night.  I’m doing this to enjoy the simple pleasures of working our own land and imparting and sharing these values with my children.

What accomplishment are you the most proud of?

When I ask my children where their food comes from, they point to the backyard, not the grocery store.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is dealing with the heavy clay soil and clearing the forest around our home to get the needed sun and soil.  With the upcoming move to the NH Seacoast, we are thrilled to have a barn, fields, and cleared land, but we are already anticipating a new batch of challenges.

What is your favorite animal to raise? Why?

Chickens, no goats, no chickens, no rabbits, don’t forget the bees.  I must say I love them all, but nothing beats chickens for a wonderful food source and not too much work.   That said, those goats we have are constantly entertaining and are so soft to touch.

What plans have you for the future? What are your goals?

Over the next few years we hope to continue to increase the amount of food we produce on our own land.  We also hope to expand our fiber animals (goats and rabbits) to create a small fiber/breeding farm.  I love to experiment, so I am always interested in trying out new practices and expanding my knowledge.

What has been the most helpful piece of advice to receive?

Take it slow – hah, maybe I should have actually taken this advice.

How did your family react when you began? Were they supportive?
Did they think you were crazy?

My family has been a bit between the supportive and ‘are you crazy’ attitude.  None of our family grew up on a farm.  While my family always gardened and lived simply, having animals and growing a substantial amount of food is a new idea to them.  Most of the time, after a simple explanation, our families has jumped on the wagon and thrown in their full support.

Finish this sentence: If I dreamed my perfect homestead/farm, it would include:

A cow, turkeys, a spinning wheel, more – more - more, and some little elves to help me get the housework done.

We're sitting down this week with Cheryl Aker Hubbard of one of our favorite blogs, Pasture Deficit Disorder. With equal measure of humor and determination, Cheryl journals her family's transition from city dwellers to country folk. I can't introduce Cheryl any better than her blog does, so I won't even try. Instead, I will quote what Cheryl wrote. While you read on, ask yourself, "Do I suffer from PDD? If the answer is yes, you'll certainly want to continue reading about Cheryl's cure by following along with her blog and facebook page.

An Introduction:
"If any of this sounds like you, you too may have have Pasture Deficit Disorder (PDD):
You yearn to be in or near your pasture. Maybe you don't have a pasture of your own, but you long to hang out with your family and a cast of furry characters and possibly some backyard chickens.  You might take great joy from growing food right in your own backyard.  Maybe you think you were born in the wrong century and could be transposed right into a Little House on the Prairie book.  Or you might crave a simpler (but no one said easy) way of life.  You may be someone who derives satisfaction from doing things for yourself - whether it's a craft, cooking and baking, home repairs or building something. Maybe you've made something from scratch and had friends/neighbors/coworkers ask why you did all that work when you can just go to the store and buy it.  You wear shorts and boots to do your chores/feeding.  Or you wear your rubber boots with your PJs to do your chores/feeding.  Do ALL your animals have names?  If you've ever worked on a project after dark by head lights, flashlight or a might have PDD.

Towards the end of 2011, we realized our dream of purchasing a small piece of land to develop into our own little homestead! We live with seven  furry "kids": three dogs and four cats, thirteen chickens and five ducks (so far). This website is to help chronicle our (mis)adventures.  Pretty quickly after buying our land, we realized we were starting to suffer from PDD anytime we were away from our pasture. Long before we moved into a house there, our pasture was "home". 

We are modern-day homesteaders learning to do as much for ourselves as we can:  we are learning about growing more food in our garden each year, preserving our harvests, cooking/baking for ourselves instead of using store-bought, taking advantage of great deals on foods and preserving those, building and fixing things ourselves, raising animals; keeping composting worms and bees."
We asked Cheryl to share with us her story; how she began to homestead, why, what challenges she faced along the way, and her future plans. This is what she had to say:

How did you get started in farming/homesteading?

My grandparents on both sides had farming/ranching roots.  My paternal grandfather was a cattle rancher his whole life.  My maternal grandfather always lived in the country and raised animals, fruits and vegetables and canned jams.  My husband’s grandparents on his dad’s side always had land and farmed.  And his dad raised hogs for a short time when my husband was very young. My husband and I have always gardened, but when we moved back home to Texas in 2010, we started exploring the idea of living on some acreage and raising as much of our own food as possible.

When did you begin? How?

Throughout 2010 and 2011, it seemed as though our dream to live on our own land would never happen. We started out wanting to develop and live on a piece of family propery, but that didn't pan out. If we were going to buy land, we didn’t think what we wanted in a piece of land existed – pasture, trees, good soil, good access – or if it did, it would be WAY out of our price range or too far away to be able to commute to jobs in the city.  We had even settled on a house in a suburban subdivision; but seven days before closing, the national bank we used to do business with yanked our financing.  We were devastated.  But eventually we started looking at land again, because we truly wanted a homestead. In the spring of 2011, we fell in love with what is now our property, but couldn’t get the financing because big banks don’t want to finance raw land.  Finally, about six months later, we found a local bank willing to give us a chance!  And so our adventure began…

What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle?

We are so grateful to have the opportunity to raise food for ourselves and share our lives with all kinds of critters. We currently have three dogs, four cats, thirteen chickens and five ducks…and we’re just getting started! (laughs)  When you have pets and farm animals, you experience the circle of life up close and personal.  Sometimes it’s fun and joyous, sometimes it’s hard and heartbreaking.  But it’s always real and true. We also feel such a sense of accomplishment when we put up our own food.

Our land looked like a moonscape when we bought it.  It had been over-grazed and abused for several years.  Combined with the recent droughts, it was just plain wrecked.  We’re still hurting for rain, but it is unbelievable how different it is now, full of healthy grasses and teeming with life.  We believe that the health of the land in is direct proportion to the number of the owner’s footsteps upon it.

Before we lived here, we would visit the land on our way home from work on Wednesdays…we just couldn’t make it, waiting until the next weekend to be there again.  As we tromped around the perimeter of the property, we would stop and talk to the native pecan trees – they are well over 100 years old We would ask them how they're doing and thank them for letting us share their land...for they have been there MUCH longer than we ever will be.  Some may find that odd.  We don't.  We feel so peaceful and at home there.  We truly value the land and have vowed to be excellent stewards of it.

Why are you doing this?

This is our retirement.  We are establishing our homestead so that we can live the life of our dreams now, and in our retirement.  We love raising our own food, learning to can foods, doing things for ourselves.  We love the peace and the beauty and the quiet.  We love that we can see millions of stars, and even saw the milkyway one night.

What size is your farm? What kind of community do you live in (rural, urban, suburban, etc.)?

We have 10 acres in a very rural area of our county.  We are surrounded by large acreage farms that are still farmed for corn, cotton, cattle and other feed grains.  But we are only about 35 miles from downtown of a major city with healthcare, transportation, shopping, etc., which is also where we both work.

What is your favorite part of homesteading?
Interaction with animals and nature.  We are keen observers of animal behavior!  And learning new skills and doing things for ourselves.

What is your least favorite part?

Losing animals.  I know it’s part of life.  But it’s one of the hardest parts because we identify so closely with them.

What accomplishment are you the most proud of?
Besides the total turnaround in the condition of our land, it would have to be our chicken coop, dubbed the “mansion” by a friend.  We have been learning about woodworking over the last five years, but neither one of us had ever built a building.  The coop for our chickens and ducks is 8 ft x 12 ft.  One third of it is sectioned off for storage of all the feathered kids’ supplies and the other two thirds is their living quarters, with roosts over a “poop deck” and nesting boxes, leaving the floor wide open for the ducks. It is surrounded by a fenced yard that is over 4,000 sq ft.  We dug every one of those post holes by hand too.  It is painted to match our house and tucked in nicely among several trees. We are also proud of putting up food for ourselves – especially our raspberry jam, which is fabulous on anything, but truly amazing on warm brownies.  J

What has been your biggest challenge?

Time and money!  Seems like every project we complete and cross off the list has been replaced by at least six others.  And it seems like we’re always needing to wait for another paycheck (or three) before we can finish something on that list.

What is the most practical piece of advice you would give someone just starting out?

Be patient – while looking for the right property or with any project you take on.  It takes a LOT of time to do things right and get them just how you want them.  And most projects are going to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expected.  J

What is your favorite animal to raise? Why?

So far, it would have to be the chickens – partly because outside of dogs and cats, chickens and ducks are the first animals we have.  I never knew how therapeutic chickens (and ducks) are!  No matter how bad my day has been at work, when I get home and go out to feed them, it all disappears.  If you really take time to appreciate them in their maximum chicken-ness, they are remarkable critters and quite entertaining!  The bees are also pretty darn amazing – the more we learn about them, the more we are in awe of them.

What plans have you for the future? What are your goals?

As I mentioned before, this is our retirement plan, our last home.  We have great visions for this little homestead:  new fencing all around, a clean pasture with no mesquites (and as few weeds as possible), a barn, a workshop, a storm shelter, a greenhouse, an expanded garden, livestock, more bees, many more trees planted, landscaping around the house, a fruit orchard…

What is your favorite recipe?

It’s impossible to name just one.  I enjoy cooking – when it’s not a race with the clock after work. (laughs)  So I’m always looking for and trying new things.  I make all of our bread, coffee creamer, yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, etc.  I like any recipe that can be made ahead of time or in large batches so that we don’t have to cook as much during the week.  Oh, and it needs to be made with whole foods as much as possible and processed foods as little as possible.

What has been the most helpful book you have read?

Wow, I can’t narrow that down.  For one, I’m an avid reader.  I have or have borrowed almost every book on homesteading known to man! (laughs)   And I’m a big magazine reader – GRIT, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farms Home, Mother Earth News, etc.  I’m starting my own library with these books: The Self-Sufficient Life & How To Live It, John Seymour; Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Living, Abigail R. Gehring; Backyard Homestead Guide To Raising Farm Animals, Gail Damerow; A Chicken In Every Yard, Robert & Hannach Litt; Story’s Guide To Raising Ducks, Dave Holderreal; Keeping Bees, Ashley English; Folks This Ain’t Normal, Joel Salatin; Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Joel Salatin.

How did your family react when you began? Were they supportive? Did they think you were crazy?

A few of them started out wanting to see lots of pictures of everything we were doing…and then I think they may have gotten tired of our enthusiasm. (laughs)  We definitely haven’t had anyone volunteering to help dig holes or build fence or anything. (more laughs)  Honestly, it is about all we talk about. This land and this lifestyle is so much a part of our lives, who we are, who we want to be.  Not to be cold, but really, nobody else’s opinion matters.  The important thing is, we are very happy and content.

Finish this sentence: If I dreamed my perfect homestead/farm, it would include... exactly what we have now and the things I mentioned above in our future plans/goals. 

And with a view like this, we can see why! Be sure to visit Cheryl at Pasture Deficit Disorder and on her facebook page and when you do, please give her a big "Hello" from all of us, too.

Lally Broch Farm is a wonderful blog and farm run by Sean and Sonja Twombly. At this sweet farm, you can find horses, chickens, waterfowl, dairy goats, rabbits, and even Vietnamese pot belly pigs! Regardless of what you’re raising, your certain to find a nugget of knowledge at Lally Broch Farm. It is with happy hearts that we interview Sonja.

FCC: How did you get started in farming/homesteading?

Sean and I became accidental farmers, really. Growing up, my grandparents owned and operated a real farm, 10,000 chickens at a time to provide meat for the local chicken market and fields of veggies. I remember walking about with Grandpa in huge barns full of little chicks and later, collecting eggs. Growing up as I was outside of Boston, visits to Maine and the farm was heaven to me.

Our life of farming began when my 14 year old daughter, Caitlin, discovered that the horse she’d ridden for 7 years was being sold. Distraught over the prospect, we agreed that she could buy her horse, Jasmine, if Cait got a part time job to help pay for her. She did and we got to work building a simple shelter and fencing off some field.

Sean wanted chickens and we answered an ad at the local co-op for 5 free, one-year old Rhode Island Red hens. Later, we answered another ad for free hens. These were heart-breaking. Nearly 80 plucked-bare hens and roosters crammed into a small 10 foot square room, window-less and filthy. I wanted to adopt them all, but of course, we had neither the room nor the means to keep that many hens. We took home the 8 worst-looking of the lot and began taming and rehabilitating them. Within months, the new girls were eating from our hands and sitting with us when we visited the coop and run.

Fearful that Jasmine was lonely without a companion, we accepted the gift of a goat buck from my sister’s herd. Initially, I was unimpressed with the thought of keeping goats, but it was absolutely out of the question to add another horse. Little did I know how deeply smitten I would become by our goats.

We are currently home to 13 dairy goats (9 does and 4 bucks), 2 registered Vietnamese Pot Belly Pigs, 1 retired senior Quarter Horse, 12 Bourbon Red turkeys, 18 ducks (Mallards and Black Swedish), 3 China Buff geese, and 100 chickens. We keep Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Australorpes, Barred Rock, and Silver Lace Wyandottes for eggs for ourselves and our neighbors and we breed Buff Cochins, Black Copper Marans, and Americaunas. We added a lovely black Angora bunny to the farm last month and are eagerly awaiting his mate’s arrival mid-Summer. Additionally, we have a Lion Head doe and a handsome miniature Lop buck, 6 working barn cats, and 3 very lazy dogs.

It’s amazing how a life of farming starts! You only plan on getting a few chickens and suddenly, you have a full-time farm job. Sonja has a true heart of gold as you can tell from the way she rescued and healed those hens.  

FCC: What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle?

What began with a choice that we hoped would help teach our daughter “if you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard, you can achieve your dream” has changed our entire lives. In some ways, our story is probably like many of yours; a young family, working two full-time jobs in this uncertain economy, trying to make ends meet. What started with us thinking it might be fun to try to grow some of our own fruits and vegetables on our small 4 acre +/- slice of land has become a journey into really providing for ourselves. It’s changed how we view the food we eat, what it is made of, where it came from, and how it was handled. It opened our eyes to terms like “GMOs” and “battery hens”. It led to our first getting mad, and then, determined. These changes have not happened overnight. This journey we’re on is still in progress. But, as a great author penned, “when you know better, you do better”. We want to do better.

Doing better is a great goal for EVERYONE to have. It is necessary to educate yourself and then act. As Sonja says, work hard and achieve your dream.

FCC: How is your method of farming unique?

 I think that, though there are some basic principles that most farmers follow, every farm and homestead is unique in how they approach their goals and what works for them. For example, we milk our goats once each day. Considering the 2 full time jobs we keep and the time we set aside for
our ministry work, in addition to running the farm, it would be nearly impossible for us to be tied to having to be home to milk twice each day. It just doesn’t fit into our life. So instead, we separate all the goat kids into one stall in the barn and all the does in another to spend the night. First thing in the morning, we milk the does and then release the kids to spend the day with their Mommas and the rest of the herd. Using this method, we collect half the milk we could, but the tradeoff is that we spend half the time we would and our evenings can be more flexible to spend with family or pursuing other necessary activities.

 Though we are not vegetarians (…yet), our philosophy of not eating our animals or raising meat here at Lally Broch makes for some additional work for us. As an example of what I mean, when we hatch chicks, there are bound to be some roosters hatched. It is not feasible to keep and care for a horde of roosters. An excess amount of roosters in the coop area is not safe for our hens and the cost of keeping animals that are not contributing to the upkeep of the farm is cost prohibitive. We are often advised to cull and eat them, which makes some financial sense. We do not. Instead, we care for them in their own run until we find suitable homes. I am not naïve, not yet stupid. I understand and accept that I cannot control that some of our lads may end up in someone’s stew pot, but I feel better knowing that I did what I could to give them the best life possible while they lived here and I sold them (as opposed to just giving them away) to folks I spoke with in person, looked in the eye, and felt good about. (If our roosters became aggressive, that would be another thing. We do not keep aggressive animals. Period. We do not rehome aggressive animals. Period.

 FCC: What is your favorite part of homesteading?

I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I complete a chore and can step back. We have always worked full time, but there is a different feeling (besides aching muscles) of building something with your hands, whether it is digging holes for setting posts, preparing a new garden bed, or mucking out stalls to replace soiled wood chips with fresh wood chips - seeing your work come to fruition is rewarding.

Also, the new babies. Be they fluffy or downy in variety, they are always a welcome sight. Watching goat kids romp or poultry chicks scratch and play is such a delight.

 Many of us can relate to the joys described here! On the farm, you work every day. Rarely do you get a break or a vacation. It’s great to be able to step back and look at the fruits of your labor. Do this regularly and stay positive!

FCC: What is your least favorite part?

I think that almost everyone has the same heartbreak at losing an animal- regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes it can overwhelm us with feelings of, “Why are we doing this?” when we lose one. And, it happens to all of us who are trying to lead this kind of life. Thankfully, the days of accomplishment generally outweigh the unavoidable days of death.  

FCC: What accomplishment are you the most proud of?

That is a tough one. I am not sure I can pick just one thing because all of what we do works together to create a complete picture. I am so thankful that our hard work is paying off in that we are finally at a point where I will be farming full time. To reach that goal, it took more than planning breeding
lines and planting gardens. Sean and I worked together nearly non-stop over the last few years creating and perfecting our lines of Lally Broch Farm Goat’s Milk Soaps, Organic Soy Scent Shot Melts, Mosaic Eggshell Jewelry, and Recycled Farm Chic Accessories. We opened our Etsy shop ( to feature our unique hand-crafted items and this year, I have been also marketing our products to local businesses and at artisan markets. We are very proud that our jewelry is being sold at the Out of the Woods ( shop in Belfast, Maine. And, we are really looking forward to growing all the facets of our homestead.

FCC: What has been your biggest challenge?

 Not biting off more than I can chew. Because of my drive to “do all things, be all things”, it is hard to say “no” to requests- even when those requests drain my time, energy, and rob my joy. I am learning that I have limitations (*Gasp*) and that it is okay and appropriate to choose how I will spend myself. This is, I admit, a work in progress, too. It is also a challenge to overcome those “what if” thoughts. It is scary to lose the safety net of another income. Times are hard and they are getting more difficult for most people, it seems. The thought of a bad crop, a predator decimating our flocks or herds, or some other set back is a constant concern in the back of my mind. I don’t dwell on those thoughts, but they live in the shadows, nonetheless. 

While Lally Broch Farm has made some amazing accomplishments, they found some challenges along the way. It is so easy to get piled with tasks and work, so you do need to learn your limitations and be OK with growing at a steady pace. Hard work pays off, but don’t be too hard on yourself!

FCC: What is the most practical piece of advice you would give someone just starting out?

Imagine the life you want to live. Work and plan your growth towards that goal. For us, it was imperative that we not go into debt with our venture and that our growth moved at a planned and sustainable rate. Those phone calls from well-intentioned friends telling you about a free horse that needs a new home, for example, can be hard to turn down. But, “free” sometimes is another way of saying “Vet bill you cannot afford.” Before saying yes, we ask ourselves questions like, “Will this animal add to the sustainability of our farm.” If it is to be a pet and not a working animal, “Do I have the time to care for and the money to provide for this animal?” If this is to be a working part of our farm we ask, “Will this animal contribute to our reaching a goal this year or next?”

All of the questions Sonja listed above should be considered at your own farm! We have all heard countless stories of people becoming overwhelmed with animals. You have to make sure you can afford AND care for what you keep. Animals should not be neglected and by honestly answering some of the questions Sonja listed, you can make sure that you’re making the right purchase.

FCC: What plans have you for the future?

We planned to add our breeding stock of Bourbon Red Turkeys and Angora bunnies to the farm in 2013. We are part way to reaching that goal. We’ll be learning to harvest fiber and have arranged for it to be spun for us into yarn this fall/winter. We’ll learn how to spin ourselves, too; another step towards self-sufficiency. In addition to adding the second story to the barn, we are in the process of fencing in more fields for the goats. We’re also very excited to participate in a series of artisan and farmer’s markets this year.
Next year, we’ll focus on breeding good quality, registered Lamancha goat kids, Angora kids, Mallard and Black Swedish ducklings, Buff Cochin, Black Copper Marans, and Americauna chicks, and begin breeding our Bourbon Red turkeys. We’ll become more proficient at harvesting, cleaning and spinning fiber. We will complete our barn with paint and trim. We have plans to double our garden size to be able to offer CSA shares to 6 families and with careful breeding of our dairy goats, we’ll have additional goat shares available, too. And, we hope to be able to excavate a large pond for the water fowl to enjoy.
In 2015, we already have plans to add some Cashmere fiber goats to the farm and expand the garden further.

 It is a great idea to have clear goals set before you! When you have goals, it’s easier to run an efficient operation and avoid things “getting out of hand”. Sonja shows her dedication with laying out her hopes and aspirations as well as having a timeline figured out. This type of organization is important in long-term farming!

FCC: What has been the most helpful book you have read?

My copies of “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” written by Edward C. Smith and Chris McLaughlin’s “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Small Space Gardening” are never far from reach. I have not found a favorite goat care guide. Hmmm… maybe we should write one? ;)

You can visit Lally Broch Farm on FACEBOOK and on their WEBSITE. Sean and Sonja also have an excellent line of products that are available for purchase on ETSY. Be sure to pop over to their pages and tell them how much you enjoyed reading about their fantastic farming adventure.



Homestead Highlight: The Handsome Homesteader

Marlana blogs at The Handsome Homesteader where she shares her family's adventures raising animals, gardening, and inspiring her young children to get their hands dirty.  Their adventure began last year when they moved from the east coast to the family farm in the Midwest.  Now they are reinventing themselves and focus on growing their own food and taking pleasure in what they have.

The Handsome Homesteader blog shares a slice of their life: the good, the hard, and everything in between.  I am not only inspired by Marlana's decision to make the enormous change of moving her family halfway across the country, but by her commitment to raising her children to value the simple pleasures in life.

Read below to learn more about their journey and stop over at The Handsome Homesteader to follow along on their adventures.

How did you get started in farming/homesteading? 

Marlana - My parents own an 80 acre farm in NW IL, along the Mississippi.  I have always loved it there and feel most at peace when I am outside brushing a horse or feeding chickens.  It’s where I am meant to be.

When did you begin? How? 

Marlana - It all started last year, we moved from DE to IL and now we are across the river in IA.  We do not have our own farm, just help out with my parent’s place.  We do have our hens/ducks in our back yard though! 


What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle?

Marlana -  It’s super important to me.  I want to be as self sustained as possible.  I also want my children to know how to garden, can, cook, bake, animal husbandry, work for what they have, be grateful for the little things…….

Why are you doing this?

Marlana - For my children.  They MUST know how to take care of the Land and why it’s important to be able to provide for themselves.  They need to know what it means to slow down and be grateful for what they have……the little things.  

What size is your farm? What kind of community do you live in (rural, urban, suburban, etc.)? 

Marlana - The family farm is an 80 acre farm with half of it tillable land, the other wooded.  The house is an old farm house and we have horses, chickens and ducks.  This is a transition year for the farm….we are going from a working farm to a more homestead/natural/organic way of farming.  Think Joel Salatin.  It’s a HUGE struggle in an area controlled by Monsanto but we are doing what we can!

What is your favorite part of homesteading? 

Marlana - The joy I feel when I sit back and look out my window and see fluffy chicken bootys or a baby horse.  How excited I get when I see a speckled egg, watching my kids dig up the fattest juiciest worms to feed the hens……that’s what I love.
What is your least favorite part? 

Marlana - Throwing/stacking/moving/putting up hay.  I hate it.

What accomplishment are you the most proud of? 

Marlana - Raising kids who are not afraid to get dirty and have learned to work!  


What has been your biggest challenge? 

Marlana - Learning to be grateful for the things I have.  You never realize how much you HAD until it’s all been stripped away.  Only then can you really sit back and appreciate the simple parts of life.  God really drove that point home with our family…..even if I had a million dollars in the bank I think I would still shop at thrift stores and grow my own food.

What is the most practical piece of advice you would give someone just starting out? 

Marlana - Don’t let anyone tell you to quit!  

What is your favorite animal to raise? Why? 

Marlana - The hens.  I never knew I would love sitting in the shade watching chickens but it’s so peaceful.  And there is absolutely nothing cuter than a teeny tiny fluffy chick. 

What plans have you for the future? What are your goals? 

Marlana - In my head I see a smallish farm, a tire swing and a willow tree next to a pond full of ducks.  A pasture full of ponies and horses….a cow and maybe a goat.  Some chickens sitting next to me in the shade, a big garden full of food we grew and hops for the handsome home-brewer.  A small house we built and lots of love.

What is your favorite recipe? 

Malrna - This is tricky because I love to eat-in fact my husband gives me a hard time because I claim every meal is my favorite!  If I had to pick one though, it would be my mom’s potato pancakes.  I only eat them on my birthday because they are so delicious, and I always eat WAY more than I should.

What has been the most helpful book you have read? 

Marlana - The Country Encyclopedia.  It’s full of advice from an old fashioned farm gal. 

What has been the most helpful piece of advice to receive? 

Marlana - Take care of the weed problem early in the spring….not in the middle of summer when the snakes/bees/creepy crawlies have already made it their home and you need pruning shears or a chain saw (or blow torch) to get rid of them because they are the size of your house. 

How did your family react when you began? Were they supportive? Did they think you were crazy? 

Marlana - Almost everyone was supportive-we are lucky that way.

Finish this sentence: If I dreamed my perfect homestead/farm, it would include: a whole lotta love and hugs. 


Homestead Highlight - Sheila Menendez of Hope Farms

Sheila Menendez started her blog, Hope Farm, as a means to connect with others and make known what her life on a small -timey farm is like.  She posts the good, the bad, and the ugly, not necessarily in that order.  Sometimes, she doesn't post as often as she would like to - this often means that they are busy working the farm, pulling weeds, or visiting with friends and family.  The blog and the ever-growing pile of laundry often come last  in a long line of priorities.  

Interviewing Sheila for the homesteader highlight, I was reminded of my grandparents.  Not that Sheila and her husband Ed are old.  Not by any means.  But their strengths and values remind me of a generation that had to live purposefully, with grateful hearts and enduring spirits.   Read on to learn more about this beautiful spirit.

How did you get started in farming/homesteading?

 Sheila - I suppose I’ve always been connected animals my entire life – having always had horses and later, chickens. My husband grew up in upstate New York and he was involved in the FFA (President in his senior year of High School) and 4H as a youngster. In fact, his mom, Marie, started a 4H group and kept it organized for a good while. So, all that to say, there has always been some level of farming or homesteading in my blood – while I could certainly be considered a city-girl, growing up in the Inland Empire of Southern California – it’s something that can’t leak out; that desire to grow your own food, be a good steward of the land, and to excel at animal husbandry. We got started in 2005 – back in California – but really gained momentum in 2008, here in North Carolina.

When did you begin? How?

Sheila- I always say there’s a story that leads to every story so let me start in the beginning. Prior to living in North Carolina, my husband and my then-toddler and myself lived in the mountains just
south of Banning, California in an area called Twin Pines. We had a mini-homestead then with some Barbados sheep, chickens, and a couple of goats. But in October of 2006 the Esperanza fire ripped through the area taking over 30% of the homes and while ours did not burn, we lost our business and decided to make a major life change. We needed to live in a location where we could afford to live within our means, grow our own food, and raise our son to know what that was like. We prayed for guidance and I have often said that “God rolled out the red carpet right to this old farmhouse on a few acres.”

What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle? 
Sheila - It is the whole sum – the compilation of the two of us merging together – it is who we are – literally. We probably appreciate this lifestyle because we’ve lived many ways – city, suburbs, we’ve both traveled, and now we’re consistently home and we like it here! I think this lifestyle has shaped us and continues to make us better individuals; it is very important to us to live this lifestyle. This lifestyle wasn’t always a lifestyle – which I find fascinating – it used to be the norm! Without launching into a diatribe about feminism and tradition, let’s suffice it to say that while homesteading and farming might be different now, it’s not new. We’re not reinventing the wheel here.
Why are you doing this?

Sheila - Because I like to eat good food, I like to cook REAL food, and I want to leave my tiny corner of the earth a better place for my son and his children. It goes vastly beyond just wanting to do something, though, it moves into necessity, the beauty of creating and nurturing a space that nurtures you and your family right back with more than just calories and vitamins. This “homesteading” thing build character, back muscles, adjusts attitudes and clarifies life’s important points.

What size is your farm? What kind of community do you live in (rural, urban, suburban, etc.)?

Sheila- Our “Small-Timey” farm is just under four acres – we’re very rural – in a rural county with just under 28,000 residents. The closest town, with a population of about 1500, is 8 miles away. I call our farm “Small-Timey” because of late the definition of a farm has been under fire. Here in the southern Piedmont of NC a “Farm” that most are used to identifying with are row crop farms – you know; corn, soybeans, cotton, and usually consists of hundreds of acres with half-million dollar tractors sitting idle for half of the year. We’re open to the idea that homesteading and farming is what one does with the space they are stewarding, so size is really not important. So, to put our farm in perspective, I dubbed it that way, and when I walk fences I’m really glad it’s so small. It’s exactly what we need; exactly why God put us here.

What is your favorite part of homesteading?

Sheila - Sigh. I have to choose a favorite part? Hmmm, I suppose I love the beauty. We’ve worked hard for six years here, on this farm, and it is indeed shining. This doesn’t necessarily equate to money spent, either, in fact it is the opposite. Some of my favorite places on this property are the spaces we’ve created with re-purposed, recycled, and re-used junk that was unwanted. Like the 1940’s Lord & Burnham glass greenhouse that was disassembled in Liberty, NC and reconstructed here on the farm – piece by piece by my husband – it is old, weathered, the glass is not perfect and yet, it is perfect! There is beauty in creating your own food stores by canning and preserving, raising your animals and also in teaching your children to respect the hard work that goes into each day on a farm, big or small. The beauty, I think, comes from the satisfaction of a job – whether in the beginning, middle (groan zone), or final stages – which is worth more than money.

What is your least favorite part?

Sheila - The death of animals, whether preventable or not, is my least favorite part of homesteading. Learning by trial and error can sometimes be the best teacher, though, and unfortunately sometimes that means that crops will fail, fences will sag, and sadly, animals will die. Not due to negligence of course, because that wouldn’t play a role in a proper homesteaders play of life, but death and having the say so over that death – by having to euthanize or ‘cull’ – however you want to label it - or what-have-you can be agonizing.

What accomplishment are you the most proud of?    

Sheila- Getting to the point where we don’t need to rely on the grocery store quite so much – it is less and less each year that we need overall – for the last two years we have really increased our food production and this spring/summer of 2013 has been remarkable in this aspect. I love cooking fresh food that came from my back yard! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t grow or mill flour, nor do I have a sugar-cane field – but we have cow & goat milk, eggs, fresh veggies, fruits, berries, nuts and meat. While I’m not sure how I feel about the term “self-sustainable,” because I think homesteading invokes a community effort – in the way of bartering and helping one another – I do think it’s important to know how to grow vegetables and take care of animals.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Sheila- I’ve avoided this question and now it’s the second to the last one I’ve left to answer. This challenge comes down to the “good opinion of others.” I has to be more difficult that challenges and obstacles here on the farm. The animals and the fences, the feed, the cleaning, shoveling shavings – all of it – is easier than mustering the strength it takes to have mercy and grace for another’s opinion – however strong it may be – on what you and your family are doing (or not doing.)

What is the most practical piece of advice you would give someone just starting out?

Sheila- Give misery a chance to evolve into triumph. Things won’t go right at first, and expect that lots of things will go wrong in the middle and then again before the end of a project. Things will go completely and irrevocably wrong – roll with it. I mean, go ahead and vent your steam but move on. When frustration sets in remember these four little words: “Do the next thing.” Whatever that may be – even if it is a load of laundry. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Know that this “lifestyle” is fraught with obstacles and “for every modern convenience one eliminates, one creates two jobs.” Ed Menendez – my hubby said that in November 2012 when we turned our electricity off to see if we could manage without it. We made it three months and during that time we obtained three solar panels and began using renewable energy to run our well-pump and power several outlets in the kitchen, dining room and living room. It was an experiment to remember. All of that said to reiterate: learn from the failures – embrace it, extract the lesson, and move on.

What is your favorite animal to raise? Why?

Sheila- What?! Just one? This is like putting a bag of potato chips in front of someone and saying they can have “just one.” Haha! Okay, okay – so I would have to choose the cow. Our Jersey cow, “Hattie,” has me smitten with cows. She is very special and we have bonded. I love cows! Although I must say that my first true love is the horse – the most honest animal on the planet – the mirror to our hearts. And the thing about chickens is…just kidding. I’ll stop there.

What plans have you for the future? What are your goals?

Sheila- Stay small-timey, grow the best, most nutritious food without chemicals that I can, take one day at a time and enjoy the gift of the present, be full of grace and mercy – the list is endless. I’d really like to learn all I possibly can about homesteading and farming and pass that gift on to others. To share what we have and know with anyone serious about learning it. Soon, the idea of homesteading, farming & stewardship of the land will either come to the forefront of the minds of our culture, or we will face the most disastrous consequences, environmentally and all other ways, as a human race, we’ll ever face. Ultimately I’d like for this little farm to support our family financially – and while that might sound like a tall order – consider the sub-goal of living beneath our means. It can be done – we’ll do it.

What is your favorite recipe?

Sheila - HAHA! You’re funny. Do I look like I have ONE favorite recipe? Lately it is with Swiss chard that I have a love-affair; this is sort of an un-recipe because there are no measurements.

You’ll need:

One bunch of Swiss chard – washed thoroughly – hopefully from a farm that uses no synthetic chemicals….just sayin’.

Garlic, onions, olive or coconut oil & sea salt

Heat the oil in your favorite pan (we all have that favorite pan) over low-medium heat. Chop the onion and stems of Swiss chard and sauté. Add minced garlic when the onions and stems begin to soften. Stir often. When onions are the consistency you like, chop the greens of the leaves and add to pan. Sauté JUST until wilted and a bright green color: Season to your liking. Enjoy!

What has been the most helpful book you have read?

Sheila - I’m reading “Gaining Ground,” by Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm in Virginia and it’s a page-turner. Not only is he a good writer, with humorous stories, he is intuitive. This book is encouraging to me in a lot of ways. This quote from the Smith Meadows blog sums it up: “Preconceived notions about farming often are different from the realities, and what works well when described in a book doesn’t work the same way every time.” So, this is truth. And while a book can be helpful, I’ve always been one to learn best by my own trial and error. I also picked up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and plan to read that as soon as I finish Mr. Pritchard’s book.

What has been the most helpful piece of advice to receive?

Sheila- “If you don’t do that math, you’ll give the farm away.” Although I’m not much on meticulous and tedious planning, especially in the farming aspect, it does help to have some sort of goal when it comes to how much money the farm will need to operate with. In the beginning, as with any business, it starts with some form of capital – whether personal funding or a loan, what-have-you – so in a sense the best advice is really to do the math. Figure it out, as much as you can, in the beginning so that when you start farming or homesteading, that it can carry itself! You’ll need money to use as a tool – but don’t go spending it on the first (especially not NEW!) item you *think* you *might* need. The goal is symbiosis – one section of the farm might support the next endeavor and vice versa – all of it should work for the good of the entire operation.

How did your family react when you began? Were they supportive? Did they think you were crazy?

Sheila - At first it was innocent enough – a few chickens for eggs, one pig to raise, then came the cow(s) and goat(s) and soon we were fully engaged in this homesteading lifestyle. Our families, each within their own levels of approval or unspoken disapproval were tolerant for the most part. My mom would probably be the most supportive, engaging, and non-judgmental about the entire operation My dad falls in to the same category – he’s been known to come out here to visit and pull weeds, work on projects and be supportive just as my mom has. Some of my family has never been out here to visit (from California.) I would have to say that there was a monumental shift within the family when we turned our electricity off. Several other individuals (family members) just could not fathom why we would do this, let alone how we were going to “make it without electricity.” And then the following school year we decided to home-school our son. “But isn’t he missing out on socialization?” Yeah, he is. He’s missing out on socializing with all of those kids that have potential to take a gun to school and shoot people. He’s missing out on school food; you know – pizza, chicken nuggets, French toast, sausage biscuits, Salisbury steak (if you can identify it) and oh! Let us not forget milk;  plain, chocolate or strawberry with lots of High Fructose Corn Syrup – the nectar of the political lobbying gods. Please, he’s not missing out on much. Check into why public schools were invented. Educate yourself before forming an opinion that bastardizes another person’s choices.
So as you can see, by the slight detour the above paragraph has taken, yes we have experienced some of the “you’re crazy” moments. That’s okay. I like this quote from the movie, “Alice in Wonderland” –

The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?
[Alice checks Hatter's temperature]
Alice Kingsley: I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.

Finish this sentence: If I dreamed my perfect homestead/farm, it would include:

Sheila- Everything I experience from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, including the hardships and challenges. I LOVE our farm! When I think of “wants” I re-route myself back to the idea of being grateful for what I already have – this makes everything sweeter. Truly, when one has shelter, companionship, food & water, and a bit of land – it is a feeling of wealth far beyond what the culture of money tells us we should have. We have everything we need. Here is one of my favorite bible verses to remind me when I begin to worry:

Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Can I get an “Amen?” As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

FCC thanks Sheila for giving us a glimpse into life at Hope Farms.   Please visit Sheila at  or on Facebook at Hope Farms

Lesa Wilke is a self-sufficient pioneer located in Northeast Ohio on ten acres. Better Hens and Gardens is a fantastic blog geared towards helping others through the sometimes rough process of rural living. Lesa understands the difficulty of going from the hectic and busy city lifestyle and transitioning into the rural lifestyle of gardening and animal husbandry. Keep in mind, Lesa does not just go outside and frolic among the goats and chickens while drinking ice tea. Lesa can build barns, help deliver a goat kid, weed a garden, manage a bee hive, and then come inside and fix up a delectable meal. Farm Chit Chat is honored to be able to interview Lesa Wilke of Better Hens and Gardens and Bramblestone Farm.

FCC: How did you get started in farming/homesteading?
Lesa: We started by growing fruits and vegetables at our suburban homes.”

The best way to start anything is to just dig right in! If you find yourself “hmmm”-ing and “ahhh”-ing, it’s hard to actually get things done.

FCC: When did you begin? How?
Lesa: We began in approximately 1985 when we built our first home on 3 acres and added vegetable gardens and fruit trees.  We work for a large corporation that transferred us about 10 times, but each time we moved, we recreated our vegetable gardens and planted more fruit trees.  Then, in 2004 we moved onto 10 acres in Northeast Ohio and told the corporation we were done relocating.  Those 10 acres became Bramblestone Farm.  Now we have not only the vegetable garden and fruit trees, but also raise Nigerian Dwarf goats, Buckeye chickens, and honey bees. 

Farming and homesteading takes such great dedication, even through the hard times! Moving your farm can seem like starting over from step 1, but Lesa shows that hard work pays off for those willing to really commit themselves.

FCC: Why are you doing this?

Lesa: “I became very concerned about where our food was coming from, how it was being produced, and that many had no idea where/how their food was made – I think that producing and eating real food is important”

FCC: What does it mean to you and your family to live this lifestyle?
Lesa: It means that we understand where most of our food is coming from, what’s in it, and how much work it takes to make it.  It is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding work unlike what we sometimes do in our “day” jobs”

It’s so easy to forget where our food comes from when we shop at the grocery store. Oftentimes, the work of a farmer can be taken for granted. Producing your own food helps gives you the security of knowing how your food is grown and lets you reap the rewards of your toils.

FCC: What is the size of your farm? What kind of community do you live in?
Lesa: “Our farm is located on 10 acres, and it’s actually in a city, but in a part of the city that is still somewhat agricultural.”

FCC: What is your favorite part of homesteading?

Lesa: “Being closer to nature – in the world today we can get so far away from the natural world – but nature is amazing and incredible if we just observe.  I really like working with the animals too; there is just something so relaxing about watching the animals go through their daily lives.  It seems to me that if more people had animals and the time to care for them, there would be a lot less stress and more happiness in the world.”

FCC: What is your least favorite part?

Lesa: “When an animal is ill or suffering.”

Lesa knows the high points and the low points of farming. There is such joy when we are able to sit back and enjoy a breeze or watch as an animal takes their first steps; however, she has also endured through the pains of seeing an animal in pain. These highs and lows are something that every farming experiences at some point.

FCC: What accomplishment are you the most proud of?
Lesa: “Sticking with it even though we’re still working “day” jobs.”

FCC: What has been your biggest challenge?
Lesa: “Having enough time to do what’s needed on the farm, yet still work full time.”

Working full time at a “day” job and then having work to do when you come home is a hard task! Just like you cannot skip a day at work, you can’t skip a day at the farm. Animals need to be fed and gardens need tending. It can be very tiring, but it’s worth it!

FCC: What is the most practical piece of advice you could give someone just starting out?
Lesa: Take it slow, and plan as much as possible (read as much as possible on each subject too).  Take one step at a time, then plan the next step, then take that step.  Build slowly on your successes and learn from your mistakes.”

FCC: What has been the most helpful piece of advice to receive?
Lesa: “Don’t Give Up and It Should Be Fun!  Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged because it’s so much work, sometimes things don’t go as planned, and you’re not sure what to do or where to turn for help.  People aren’t necessarily supportive either – it can be tough to stick with it –  don’t give up your vision/dream but remember, it should be fun too.”

FCC: What is your favorite animal to raise? Why? Lesa: “Nigerian Dwarf goats – they are small, easy to handle, easily housed, sociable, friendly, and adorable.  Plus they produce surprisingly large amounts of incredible tasting milk that also makes delicious yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. I really enjoy planning the goats' breeding each year with the goal of improving dairy conformation and milk production, then having kids, and seeing them mature.  We’re on milk production testing, do linear appraisal, and have recently started showing the goats, so we get a lot of feedback on how we’re doing in terms of achieving improvements.  It’s fun working with them because they’re so loving and cute, and it’s impossible to be unhappy in a barn full of baby goats! ”

You can see Lesa’s passion through the way she talks about her goats! Lesa puts so much time and research into ensuring a happy and healthy herd.

FCC: What plans have you for the future? What are your goals?
Lesa: “I plan to retire soon, and start working more on the farm.  I’d like to begin producing more things to sell from the farm or at farmers markets.  I’d love to start growing alfalfa for the goats, add another barn, would like to add some moveable high tunnels, grow lots of raspberries for market, and perhaps get some interns for help.”


FCC: What has been the most helpful book you have read?
Lesa: “Not sure I can narrow it down to one book, but perhaps Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living“ is one book that should be on every homesteader’s bookshelf.  I think that reading and learning as much as possible about the different aspects of your homestead is a very important component in developing a successful homestead.”

FCC: How did your family react when you began? Were they supportive? Did they think you were crazy?
Lesa: “Most didn’t think the gardens and fruit trees were too unusual and were supportive, but when we started adding chickens, goats, and honey bees, we got a few “are you crazy” or “you don’t want chickens/goats/honey bees, they’re (insert appropriate bad descriptor)!”

Despite the reactions of others, seek after your dreams and goals! If you love what you’re doing, keep on doing it. People may not understand why you want to raise all the animals you have, but take heart in the fact that there are so many other like-minded people just waiting to meet you!

FCC: Finish this sentence: If I dreamed my perfect homestead/farm, it would include…
Lesa: “Bramblestone Farm with goats, chickens, honey bees, vegetables, and fruits is pretty close to my perfect homestead dream – I would just like to have more time to spend there!”

Thank you for reading in on our interview with Lesa! Be sure to pop over to Bramblestone Farm on Facebook and tell her how much you’ve enjoyed learning about her homestead. You can also visit her blog at Better Hens and Gardens or check out BramblestoneFarm’s website.

At first glance, you may mistake Marissa Carabin for someone who spends her days in front of a camera instead of behind one capturing pictures of her livestock. For good reason; Marissa is absolutely stunning with her petite frame, dark eyes, long mahogany hair and warm smile. But, don't let her model perfect appearance fool you, this woman knows her way around a barn and can shovel out stalls with the best of them! We interviewed Marissa of Abundance Farms to discuss what drew her and her husband, John to begin a life of farming together. What follows is a candid look at Abundance Farms, located on 10 acres in a rural Texas community.

How did you get started in farming/homesteading?

Marissa: "In 2011 (while living in Montana), I went to a feed store to buy dog food. I heard "cheeping" and just had to go investigate. I saw a feeding through full of chicks! I had never heard of PEOPLE owning chickens, just big food companies. I ended up buying two "99% certain they're going to be hens" chicks. A few months later, I ended up with a hen and a rooster in the middle of town! Thankfully, we moved to Texas shortly after and rented a small house with acreage. Within just another few short months, I had acquired all kinds of birds and mammals. Before I knew it, I was farming!"  

It takes time and planning to make a success of any business. For every person who doesn't understand your choice and tries to discourage you, there will be another helping you along, sharing tips, advice, and their knowledge to make your journey a little better.

Marissa shares, "The best advice I've ever been given is to be patient. If I'm not able to accomplish something in a relatively short time, I begin to doubt my abilities. Farming has really taught me the value of being patient and just watching and listening. My biggest challenge has been overcoming my own fears. I used to be the type of person where if there was ANY chance of failure, I didn't do it. I knew what I was good at and stuck to those things. I was afraid of every looking like a failure. For example, a year ago, I was afraid of horses. They're big, strong, and can be quite scary. Horseback riding started as an attempt to get away from that fear. After buying Luzia and trying to deal with her being a fairly unhappy horse, I began to become fearful again. More than that, Luzia is a pretty tall girl and I am also afraid of heights! Getting over my fear of Luzia has been a very big challenge, but I have overcome it and feel myself being able to overcome more fears since then."

Viewing obstacles as challenges or opportunities opens the door for success. And, that is how it was with Marissa and Luzia. Marissa explains: "I don't have any traditional accomplishments (like awards), but I am very proud of my work with Off The Track Thoroughbred mare, Lizia Minera. She came to me underweight, uncared for, and untrusting. She threw her head constantly in defiance. (I had her checked for soreness and there was no injury there.) She didn't go anything slower than a trot, she fought against me when it came to steering, and she had a habit of rearing. Now, she's made such great improvements! She rarely tosses her head, she doesn't try to run off as soon as I get on her, she walks when I ask, trots when I ask, and canters when I ask. We still have quite a journey ahead of us, but we have both made leaps and bounds together!" 

FCC: What is your favorite part of homesteading?

Marissa: "My favorite part of farming is being able to see the fruits of my labor. Many of the animals I work with are in an effort to improve a breed. I really like being able to work towards the idea of perfection, especially in chicken breeds. There are so many factors to consider in breeding and when you finally have a bird that looks just right or begins to display the traits you want, it's so exciting!" 

That excitement is tempered with the ever present reality that sometimes, despite the best effort and care on the part of any farmer, livestock occasionally becomes sick or injured and dies. Marissa relates, "My least favorite part of farming is injury and death. It breaks your heart every single time. I've taken in a few rescue situation animals and seeing them in pain, really makes my heart ache. Anytime a baby doesn't make it, you feel like a failure and as if you should just quit. But you carry on regardless and pray things go better next time." When you feel the enjoyment that Marissa does of "being able to see our farm flourish and grow, watching all our hard work and effort grow healthy and produce is a HUGE reward." It is easy to see that Abundance Farms will carry on and thrive in the years ahead.

What plans have you for the future? What are your goals?

Marissa: "My plans for the future are to be able to process my own wool and mohair since I have sheep and goats. I'd also like to be able to do some shows/competitions with Luzia. In the realm of chickens, I am going to continue to try to improve a couple of breeds and be able to supply other chicken lovers with good, quality birds. In the end, my goal is in quality production of goods and to continue working and training with horses. (Yes, I have lots of goals.)"

Before we finished our conversation, we had to find out a few fast favorites to share.  

FCC: What is your favorite recipe?

Marissa:My favorite food is spaghetti! While I have never made my own sauce, I enjoy making my own noodles. I am constantly trying our different noodle recipes I find online and I don't have a favorite yet, but I'm still on the search!" 

FCC: What is your favorite animal to raise? Why?

Marissa: "This is a hard question! The animal that I have the most experience in is chickens. In a lot of ways, they’re also the easiest (vet bills are general cheaper and there is an abundance of resources regarding chickens). On the other hand, I really enjoy working with my horse, Luzia, but she’s my first and only horse, so I can’t really say that I “raise” horses. So, I’d say my favorite animal that I own is Luzia, but my favorite animal to raise is chickens. Chickens are a blast to breed and learn about as well as they can be quite comical to watch! I love feeding them watermelon and listening to all their noises." 

Marissa left us with this sage bit of advice: "The best piece of advice I could give anyone is to start off small. It’s so easy to get neck deep in animals and while you may love each and every one…it’s much easier to take care and learn about one animal than it is to do the same with twenty."

We had a lovely virtual visit at Abundance Farms and hope that you'll see for yourself the wonderful things Marissa and John are doing. You can also follow along with Abundance Farms on FACEBOOK, PINTEREST, or take a virtual tour on YOU TUBE, too. If you enjoyed the images on this post, visit their ETSY SHOP to see their assortment of stunning photographs.

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