Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'm the new Saturday chick

Hello all! I'm Kristin (with an "in"), nice to meet you! My husband Daniel and I manage Briarmoor, one of Polyface's rental farms.

For my first post I thought I would expound upon our journey to Virginia. In May 2005, my husband joined the military. In the fall of 2005, we discovered Joel's book, "You Can Farm", and the general idea of homesteading. We felt something ring true in our spirits, and knew we had found our calling in life. However, with my husband's five-year commitment to the army, we couldn't rush out to pursue our newly discovered passion. Instead, we began where we were. We built a small chicken shelter, ordered 25 baby chicks, and started to learn. We were so excited! We brooded the little chicks in a cardboard box in the bathroom. When they went outside, I was extremely nervous that we would get in trouble for having 25 chickens in our Californian, suburban, military-base backyard. Miraculously, we didn't! The experience went well, although I cried when we processed the first chicken.

We weren't in California very long before we moved to an arid, miserably hot part of Texas. Behind our apartment complex there was a dead, dried-up empty lot for sale. We called and asked to use a small part of it for a garden. The owner was thrilled and gladly said we could use all the space we wanted! So, we experimented with our first (horribly unsuccessful) garden. We began composting. We read everything about homesteading and farming we could find. And again, being in the military, we moved.

Finally we ended up in San Antonio, Texas for about 3 years. We tried to purchase a house in the country with a few acres so we could begin to homestead, but that consistently fell through. Eventually we bought a suburban house about 1 mile from my husband's work-- very convenient commute, very inconvenient for farming. We were, however, undeterred; our 1/16-acre backyard had a 6-foot high privacy fence! In the height of our backyard-farming endeavors we had a teeny little pond, raised lots of meat chickens, had 8 egg layers, 2 pygmy goats, 5 rabbits, an attempted garden, and a compost pile. We rotationally grazed all the animals around the backyard, and had the best grass I ever saw in Texas. We gave our neighbors eggs in exchange for their loyalty to us, instead of to the homeowners' association. And we learned so, so much! To this day, the sound of a goat bleating will pull me out of bed in a fraction of a second, ready to rush outside and hush her up so the neighbors won't hear!

I'm sure you can imagine how shy we were to have anyone find out how truly "weird" we were- we didn't want people to see our backyard and think we were out of our minds. I'm certain some of our neighbors already thought that, but over time we discovered that our friends didn't; they thought our backyard was amazing! We began teaching them how to take care of chickens and compost. Eventually we approached our church about using their 10-acre plot of land for a community farming project. They said yes. We now had 10 acres in our care, amazing! We began teaching about 6 families in our church about animal husbandry, sustainability, and raising their own food. Instead of raising 25 broilers in the backyard, we were raising 350 at a time with our friends, and selling them to fund the project. We planted a few trees, raised egg-layers, tried to garden (again unsuccessfully), and dealt with a lot of vandalism and destruction from the surrounding neighborhood.

Amazingly, time passed quickly- our 5 years in the military was almost up-- what to do next?? We knew farming was the next step for us. We were very tempted to stay in Texas and continue suburban farming on our church's land- we had developed many close friendships there and didn't really want to leave. However, Daniel felt led to apply to the Polyface internship program. He was accepted, and so in May 2010 we moved to Virginia. We've never looked back- as soon as we were here, we knew we were home. A rental farm became available towards the end of Daniel's internship, he was offered the job, and we gladly accepted. We moved to Briarmoor on October 10th 2010. We're so glad to be here! Farming is definitely the life for us.

Although our 5 year journey to Virginia seemed painstakingly long, I know we were always where we were meant to be. Each valuable experience led us here, and we wouldn't want to be anywhere else!


Kristen said...

Awesome post, Kristin! You and Daniel are so inspiring!! Great job!

Jeffrey Clark said...

Nice story. I joined the Army in 2001 when we were having our son and I needed a job. I've always wanted to farm but thought it unpredictable. I have gardened every year since I was 12 even while living in an apartment in grad school--where I discovered community gardens--and have always put up a good bit of my produce for winter.

Anyway, I discovered the "You can Farm" book in 2009 while living in Kenya but had just signed the commitment to keep me in the Army in exchange for a PhD (in Entomology) for the next 5 years. So now we are in the DC area where we got a house w/ a 1/3 acre yard and are members of the Potomac buying club. Have already put in a 1500 sq ft garden, blackberries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and apples.

I've left yards like this in KS, TN, and Kenya (where I got strawberries from Ethiopia and managed to start new plants from seed). I showed local folks how to propagate so hopefully there are some folks growing strawberries in the mountains around Kakamega forest now--they had never tasted a strawberry before.

Anyway, I'm stuck in the Army until retirement now--no point in getting out w/ only 5 yrs to go--but should be in this area for most of the time. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my job as my field is rather specialized but it was never my true calling. To keep my sanity we just bought 97 acres of old farmland in Bedford PA for the retirement farm and finished planting a half acre or so of sugar maples last week up there. Plan to start trying some new things like winter wheat and popcorn in the near future. For the suburban yard, chickens or honeybees are next.

Glad to see there are others with similar bents. Most folks think I'm weird though my co-workers in Kenya enjoyed the 15 lbs of cheddar and 3 or so lbs of mozzarella I left behind when we moved. Can't get these in the markets there so you have to make it yourself if you want them.

Jamie said...

Great story, Kristin! I'm so proud of you. I'm so happy that we're all finally here, together!

Jeffrey, what an amazing journey! Good luck to you and may your retirement farm be successful and plentiful.

skell said...


I am currently trying to use my church's extra land and it has been a challenge.

Was it hard for you to persuade the congregation? How did you present your plan? I am really curious. Our church would be great for us to rent from in order to get some experience.

Kristin said...

Jeffrey-- Thanks for sharing your story! I love that you've left beautiful gardens in all the places you've lived- what a blessing for those moving in after you. Thank you for your service to our country, we truly appreciate it.

Skell-- We prepared a written proposition for our pastor and elders. We stated the objective, how it would benefit the church body, etc. We included pictures, too. We also tried to anticipate any questions or criticisms ahead of time and answer those in the proposition. Our church was fairly small (100-150) and there was a lot of interest, so we didn't have any trouble. We also showed the documentary "Fresh" at the church one friday night to help everyone understand a little more. I hope that helps! :)

MajaBee said...

You inspire me because I don't feel very successful at gardening and not giving up is key, isn't it? How wonderful, that you've been able to share that with your neighbors and church family, and now, through Polyface, with us!

skell said...

That does help!!!

Kristin said...

Thanks for the kind words, MajaBee! :)

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