Entering the Quiet

Winter in Texas is just as unpredictable as every other season here. So far, 2018 has provided many weather related challenges including an incredibly hot, dry summer, followed by - dare I say - too much rain this fall. It has been a doozy of a year and one filled with an incredible amount of loss here on our farm.

Winter either comes as a welcomed gift to a farmer who is craving the chance to just sit down for a bit and relax, or it ushers in high anxiety levels because it is a lean time of year with virtually no revenue stream available. Pair that with a really rough beginning of the year and winter is a season of dread for some farmers. Just being real. And honest. I am friends with many farmers and food producers who have chosen a life and career in agriculture. This year has been rough. We are all completely dependent upon the weather. But really, that means you are too.

Market pricing is reflected on your receipt. And, the weather plays a major role in that market pricing. The next time you see a price that is a bit higher than you are used to paying for your favorite vegetable, please know that oftentimes the farmer that grew that food likely worked 16 hours a day and might not have even been able to keep any of the harvest for his or her own family because every penny from sales was needed to keep the lights on. Again, just being real. And, it hits close to home.

This summer, our chickens laid eggs like no one’s business. We were thrilled and decided to take the plunge and commit to attending the weekly Dripping Springs Farmers Market on Wednesdays. People loved our eggs and came back week after week for more. We had eggs while other farmers nearby had flocks taking breaks due to the heat of the summer. We were so grateful for the revenue stream. Then, out of nowhere, it started to rain, and rain, and rain and it only recently has taken a bit of a break. However, the minute the rains started a couple of months ago, our chickens decided to stop laying. We have had two months of no income from egg sales. Our farm depends in part on those sales. Our chickens are starting to lay again, and we hope to be back at the market soon. The minute more of them start earning their keep, we will be back.

From the get go, we knew we didn’t want to ever be completely dependent upon one income stream here. We knew diversity was key. And, since our farm focuses half our time and energy on production and the other half on education, with events for the community sprinkled in, we just learn to pivot and get creative around here.

This winter, to be completely honest, is a lean one. We really took a hit with the lack of egg sales, and the cancellation of a large number of events due to rain outs. When we post on social media about how grateful we are for people who buy tickets to attend events, or take part in workshops, farm school, and summer camps here, we mean it with all of our hearts. It actually brings beautiful tears to our eyes because you are the reason the farm continues to move on from season to season and reach more and more of our community. THANK YOU! Every post like, share, and comment keeps social media active for others to see our page. Every registration for an event helps us feed our livestock so they can feed you. We have so much in store for you as we grow!

We had big plans to put in place this year, and instead, as referenced in a previous blog post, we have spent this year repairing nearly everything huge here that has broken, including our septic system, our well pump, our farm truck, major plumbing repairs, appliance repairs, and our A/C - heater in our home just this week. Add to that 6 deaths among family and friends and two friends receiving a cancer diagnosis this year, and we are really looking forward to the newness and fresh start that 2019 has just got to have in store.

Farming requires resiliency to a level that is nearly impossible to describe without living it. And, since not everyone is called to be a farmer, supporting one is the next best thing. As we enter the quiet of the winter season, know that our responses may be a bit slower, and you may see fewer posts on social media. We’re still here, just taking time to enjoy the quiet, reflect on how we can continue to support local farmers around us, and offer more opportunities for our community to get involved on our farm. Feel free to reach out and stay connected. We would love that! And, get ready, because 2019 is already shaping up to be incredibly amazing as we already have the entire year planned and can’t wait to post the calendar and offerings soon.

In the meantime, please support your local farmers even during the winter months, in any way you can. We have a special offering for you that will be announced this week, so stay tuned and check your email. (Hint: it is something fun for the whole family during the holiday season!)

And, in case you would like to be inspired, here is ONE of my stacks of books I will be reading this winter. I keep learning, so I can keep teaching you and your children. I’ve committed the rest of my living days to this calling on my life. Join me. It’s a wild, unpredictable ride, but worth every bruise and tear. See you in 2019!

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Unlearn

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If you've met me you know, I love to continue to learn new things. Sometimes it is a hobby that I like to take to the next level like knitting or crocheting. Other times it is something related to an advocacy effort I am involved in. Most of the time, I spend my energy learning about our food and how it impacts our health, so that I can practice new skills and turn around and teach what I know here on the farm. Here's the thing. So much about learning new skills at my age, involves unlearning.

Raised in a generation where fast food was on every corner and a trip to the golden arches for a weekend meal out was on the regular, it is sobering to realize how that potentially could have impacted my health over my lifetime. Now, before I go any further, I need to give a disclaimer. Our family was the typical suburban family growing up. Since fast food was on every corner, it was a fun trip out to play on the playground and grab a quick meal. However, my brother and I were very fortunate that our mom LOVES to cook and she has skills! Her food could beat out Martha any day if you ask me. This means that although we did visit fast food restaurants growing up, our diets were comprised mostly of wholesome, balanced, flavorful, and beautiful meals. Eating great at home with our family as well as eating fast food were both just normal aspects of growing up. 

It wasn't until I was an adult, with a child of my own, that I realized how the fast food industry choices were impacting how I parented and how I took care of myself. I, too, saw that fast food as an option was perfectly fine on a regular basis until one day, it occurred to me to look into the quality and nutritional content of that food. What a wake up call! I couldn't imagine continuing to see fast food as an acceptable option for feeding myself or my growing family, even on an irregular basis. I knew I had to unlearn a few things about how I viewed food.

Habits are hard to break. How society views food is a societal bad habit that potentially impacts every single person, from the farmer who commits to growing and raising food for the community, to the adult who buys the food to feed their family, to the restaurant owner who holds wholesale accounts with food distributors, to the policy makers who determine what is actually even deemed food to begin with, to the chemical companies inventing products that are potentially unsafe to be anywhere near our food, to adults who vote with their dollars to buy the food as well as actually vote or not in elections, to educators who determine how and what to teach about food to the next generation, and to the children who will learn all of the habits being modeled for them by society as a whole. Take a moment, if you will, to break down each part of this scenario. Do you feel there is room for improvement anywhere? Is there any area you feel you could pivot a bit and help create a paradigm shift in thinking in order to model healthy choices for the next generation? 

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For many of us, there is so much to unlearn in order to make room for new information. Making a choice to clean out the old files in our brains in order to allow room for healthy new habits to be stored could be a game changer. Not only for ourselves, but our families, our community, and generations to come. Of course, I relate so much to the food industry because it is my livelihood, but what if we even extended this concept to each part of our lives. It seems more prudent now than ever to remain open-minded, willing to listen to each other, and work together as a community to find common ground and share life together in a peaceful way. 

I can't think of a better way to begin brainstorming and sharing, unlearning and learning again, than to share a meal, visit a farm, and talk, really talk, about moving forward together. Let's create a healthy, sustainable way of life around healthy food choices that involves growing and/or supporting the growth of nutrient-dense food for all. This is a lofty goal, and one that is way too big for just a handful of people to tackle. One thing I have learned is that folks want to be involved, but they just don't know how to get involved. Learn more about my goals in this article written beginning on page 5 for the In Practice Journal from Holistic Management International below. Then, register for an event here this fall and lets start brainstorming and working together to unlearn and relearn new habits as we develop ways to model regenerative practices for the next generation. 

 

Raw and Real

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Have you visited the farm? Have you met me in person? If so, you know I like to keep things real. If you ask me how it's going, I am going to tell you how it's going. For real. The good, the not-so-good, and depending on how well I know you - the ugly. You get the ugly if you know me well. See what you have to look forward to when we become friends? ;-) I have come to realize that this blog should represent the same transparency. After all, it is all about community and there is no better way to connect with one another and truly help meet the needs in the community other than being real with each other. Social media has so many great benefits, but one downfall I see is that most people only post their highlight reel, even businesses. It makes sense, right? You have a business and you want people to see all the great reasons why folks should buy your products or use your services, right?

Here's the thing. It's NOT REAL LIFE. Unexpected stuff happens. Pivoting quickly becomes necessary. Entrepreneurs know, or quickly learn, that flexibility and thick skin are a requirement of the job. Sometimes though, gigantic stuff happens and the pivoting turns into spinning and stress levels sky-rocket and quality of life starts to dwindle. Whoops! Time for the alarm to sound!! This is a wake-up call and one we have recently encountered. Prior to me receiving my Holistic Management International Beginning Farmer and Rancher Training, I would have normally struggled greatly when the scales tipped too far and the stress levels were just too much. However, my training has taught me how to constantly monitor, make changes, adjust, and maintain true to my holistic goal. 

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The raw and real 2018 at Hills of Milk and Honey so far includes many wonderful, amazing blessings, and ones that I do not take for granted. Before the business was even a year old, the farm was awarded the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Grant, we sold out of our home school spring program, as well as every preschool program, and several of our summer camp weeks had waiting lists. Our guest house on AirBnB has been booked every single weekend (no joke!) and many weekdays. I was invited to a live interview on 91.7 KOOP radio with Mark Rashap's Another Bottle Down segment and the podcast is featured on his blog The Illuminated Bottle. Hills of Milk and Honey was the cover story for the Hill Country View Magazine in April and the farm received the award of Runner Up for the Dripping Springs Century News "Best Of" contest in the category of Entertainment Venue this year. I have to pause right here and say...

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THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has helped make the beginning of this very unique business journey a success! You are all appreciated very much! It is because of your willingness to pick up the phone and encourage friends to register for events with you, or your sharing of social media posts, and even your commitment to putting on your boots and volunteering your time on the farm to get the work done, that's helped us continue to move forward with our plans every single day.

Here's the thing...in the beginning of any business, there are two things that are needed: capital and hard work. And I mean REALLY HARD WORK. I have never felt more physically, mentally, or emotionally as strong in my life as I do right now. Farming can do that to you. I call it a benefit. It allows me to continue to remain flexible and focused on my holistic goal of teaching others the importance of regenerative agriculture and growing and raising nutrient-dense food. It does not mean that I have super powers. It just means I am committed to the process, and will do whatever it takes. Right now, I know what it is going to take in order for the next phase of the farm to remain successful and sustainable. It is going to take being real and raw from here on out. So, here goes...

We've had some unexpected, crazy turns of events stacked on top of each other like a not-so-beautiful parfait here on the farm so far this year. As a family, and as a business, we have relied on our faith and our family and friends to help us navigate through some honestly tough times. My side of the family has sadly lost three loved ones just in the last several months. It is a bit heartbreaking to not live in the same state as the majority of your loved ones during times like these, but life goes on. Goats still need milking twice daily, chickens continue to lay eggs, and the humans still need to eat. One foot in front of the other. Smile. Teach. Muck stalls. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. All the while, dreaming of hugging your family miles and miles away.

In addition, the farm suddenly encountered a large number of big ticket repairs one right after the other this year including major electrical, major plumbing, several sudden appliance replacements, a septic nightmare and a complete water pump replacement for our well. Also, our truck that we rely on heavily took a turn for the worse, and needed a sudden costly repair to hold it over for awhile, but desperately needs to be replaced. Our Livestock Guardian Dogs have been amazing at protecting our animals, to the tune of way-too-many trips to the vet for general anesthesia to pull porcupine quills as well. Yes, savings to the rescue (thank you Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University training), but y'all, this was an absurd number of financial nightmares to juggle at once. 

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On top of it all, I ended up in the hospital with an acute kidney related issue that required an unplanned surgery and recovery to care for my solitary kidney. This was all happening while I was in the process of hiring my first employee and trying to raise money through an all-or-nothing Kickstarter Campaign to build an air-conditioned classroom space for summer camps here. I was so fortunate to find an amazing chef, willing to wear several hats, and jump in to do it all - Chef Jana! Nearby friends took care of so much here including shopping, meals, farm chores, and even milking goats at o-dark-thirty in the mornings. There are no words adequate enough to explain how grateful I am for everyone's generosity. And, although the Kickstarter Campaign did not fund, I received several direct donations sent to the farm from complete strangers because people "believe in what I am building here on the farm" and they wanted to provide money towards the farm's goals anyway. Talk about tears of overwhelming joy and gratitude when I open the mailbox to find gifts like these!

I recovered fully, and got back to the grind as soon as I could in the spring to fully prepare for a season of summer camps. In order to pull off providing necessary air-conditioned space, we reconfigured our home for a season so that it could be used daily for the camps. Although I was happy to provide the air-conditioned space so kiddos could cool off, I was very happy to move our furniture back into our home and have our space to ourselves again. I live, breathe, eat, sleep, and nearly never leave the farm. So, giving up our home for a bit was a stretch and we are working hard to have a building in place by next summer for our campers for sure.

These last few months here may not look much different from other folks, or even you. Appliances break, loved ones pass away, illnesses happen, and life goes on. In our case, so much happened all at once, and tore through our savings, required a constant restructuring of plans, and caused there to be literally no down time whatsoever, that we have taken a step back to give ourselves an honest look at the future and this is what has been determined...

Hills of Milk and Honey provides a unique service to our community as well as to our own souls. It is a real treat to hear a child "get it" when you teach about the importance of dung beetles, or you hear the squeals of delight when they get to place their ear literally up to the glass of an observation beehive to her the collective buzzing of honey bees, or even learn how to milk a goat. I was born to teach. I know this with every fiber of my being. I was also born to farm and combining the two is a no brainer. These are my strengths and teaching others is how I impact my community in a positive way. This is important. It's my calling.

Do you have strengths that you can offer to the farm? Maybe you have a bit of time weekly or monthly that you would like to commit to volunteering here. If so, contact us. Perhaps becoming a Buying Club Coordinator to get our eggs out into the hands of our community sounds appealing to you. You might even be interested in joining others in financially supporting the farm, or you or someone you know may be interested in discussing investment opportunities to help us take the farm to the next level. Whatever your interest might be in joining in the Hills of Milk and Honey community, we look forward to seeing you soon! 

Register for our July 21st Breakfast with Bo!

The very best way y'all can support us right this minute is to register for a breakfast event this summer, or sign up for the fall home school program, or book your parent and preschool days on the farm. Tell your child's school about field trip opportunities here and help us get in touch with decision-makers to plan those field trips. Small farmers and producers like us love pouring our heart and soul into providing nutrient-dense food and educational opportunities like this to our community, but we can't do any of it without your support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cheers, from a farmer focused on pivoting towards quality of life a little more, which means you may see me off the farm from time to time here pretty soon!

-Farmer Amy

 

 

 

 

What do you know?

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What do you know about regenerative agriculture? Does it sound like a made up term that is just a fad that will fade from current vocabulary in a few years? Is it a term you've heard before? My hope is that we not only keep the term around for a long time, but that we bring it to the forefront of conversations and make it a priority in our daily lives to do so. 

I picture this sounding a bit like this at first, "Hey neighbor, have you heard that there is a farmer down the street thinking about starting to sell shares of beef through a CSA? Do you want to go me with to get more details?" Or maybe, "Friend, I heard that we can get a good portion of our veggies from the farmer's market, would you like me to grab you some while I am there?" And, "Kids, did you know that we can save the poop from our pet rabbit and use it as compost in our garden out back? Who wants to help me grow healthy food for us to eat using rabbit poop?"

The above examples are a great place to start. Buying from a local farmer, sharing in the task of picking up the food, teaching kiddos how to help create healthy soil, are all great conversations. Tell me. Is this the norm in your house? I get so caught up in the fact that nearly every minute of my life is dedicated to farming and educating folks about regenerative agriculture, that I sometimes forget that my vocabulary that supports my work probably isn't the norm for most folks.

What do you know? Do you already know that healthy food starts with healthy soil? If not, are you surprised to learn that soil health plays such an important role in the nutritional quality of your food? We would love to teach you and your family why that is the case. We are just entering our second year here on the farm at Hills of Milk and Honey, and we've been doing a LOT of planning with folks in the permaculture community to get a foundation in place for creating a healthy farm, that sequesters carbon, holds water, limits erosion, and ultimately grows nutrient-dense food for humans and livestock we raise. 

As conversations among the community continue, we hope the vocabulary continues to grow too. The example conversations above are truly a great start, but it is where we go from here that matters most. You see, in order for me to feel comfortable creating this farm in the first place, I surrounded myself with incredible mentors. They each add incredible value to the farm. A common thread of conversation among most of us is that we know what we are doing and why we are doing it, but we are not sure if those in our community truly understand what we are up to. So, we have work to do to help get the word out about the importance of regenerative agriculture. Say it, learn about it, ask about, do it, and turn around and teach it. We all can take part!

I would like this to be the beginning of some incredible conversations that go a step further, revolving around regenerative agriculture. Comment here, email, call, message me, attend an event, or submit an RFP to teach a workshop here. We have lots of ways for folks to get connected. Let's chat. Let's create a vocabulary that makes sense, and one that helps us really get the word out about the importance of the following:

1. Voting with our dollars. 

2. Voting in local, state and national elections. 

3. Volunteering on a local farm or ranch.

4. Avoiding the use of glyphosate and the like.

5. Sequestering carbon.

6. Capturing water and using it wisely.

7. Building or helping out at gardens.

8. Buying food from Farmers Markets.

9. Using less plastic and creating less waste and encouraging stores to do the same.

10. Composting.

These are a small fraction of topics, but it is a great place to start. What do you know about the above? Share please. Ask questions. Get started. Ask for help. Gather friends and attend workshops. Support local. Learn, learn, learn, and get your kids involved. It is my dream that the list above becomes normal topics of conversation, that don't need special attention, and are the norm. The advocate in me lives, sleeps and breathes only through this lens right now because that is how important I think it is that we talk about these things. The health of my family depends on making great decisions about how food is grown and raised. I want to be a part of helping this be the case for you and your family too. Plus, there is something incredibly magical when you get to be a part of a community coming together to learn together and connect with the land. It's happening here at Hills of Milk and Honey, folks. Come join us. It's hard work, but it is incredibly rewarding. We look forward to seeing you on the farm!

 

The Necessity of Diversity

My heart fills with pride when I sit down with home schoolers that attend our weekly home school farm day and participate in intense conversations about our food system. Y'all  - they GET IT! We are nearly 7 weeks in to a pilot home school program this spring and in reflecting on what has been successful about the program and what adjustments need to be made, I've enjoyed hearing the kids' perspectives. They know what's up and they are already great leaders. This fall, our home school program is going to be even better because of their input and wisdom.

This hybrid co-op program that consists of 3 year olds through 13 year olds has been the best experience for me, as a farmer. I purposely combined my background in education with my love of farming in order to help children, and adults, get involved in the slow food movement. Good food takes time to raise and grow, and it takes great planning and care of the soil in order to preserve the ability to retain nutrients in our food. This home school program has allowed me the opportunity to involve children, on a weekly basis, in the farming process.

Lessons have included topics on whole earth care, livestock care and management, pollinators, soil health and composting, gardening, and more. We will soon have demonstration cooking lessons, homesteading lessons such as fiber arts and soap making, and the children will also be given the opportunity to present on a topic that interests them at our harvest celebration on the last day. It is always my hope, when teaching anyone, that I share knowledge I have gained, while acting as a role of a facilitator. We can all learn so much from each other. This includes adults learning from children and I think I've learned as much from them as they have from me.

When I sat down with a group of home school children last week to discuss enterprises and the financial factors a farmer must take into account when choosing enterprises for their farm, I had the most amazing conversations with the kids. When discussing all areas of consideration when choosing to add layer chickens as an enterprise, the children did a great job coming up with the list of all items that have a dollar amount attached to them. Among the items were the cost of the chicks, the cost of the feed, the calculation that includes the fact that it takes approximately 5 months before they start laying eggs, the cost of the brooder, the cost of the coop, the cost of the cartons, the cost of hauling water to the coop, etc. I mentioned to them that we needed to factor in the cost of the farmer's time and expertise. I wish I would have recorded the conversation. There was an "aha!" moment at that point as the kids tried to figure out how much a farmer should make, while still allowing the calculations to work out that put the price per dozen at a point that the public would be willing to pay. 

We discussed market pricing, minimum wage, wages that consider college degrees, wages that were similar for similar lines of works, and more. It was a very mature, well-thought out discussion on the cost of real food. I merely facilitated the conversation and double checked math calculations as they considered all aspects of the enterprise. It was eye-opening for them to start at the beginning and work their way through the process. 

At the end, they ran the numbers to figure out how much money in a year would be made given a certain number of chickens that the land could handle, and they determined that a farmer cannot live on that income alone. They discovered that it is necessary for a small farmer to diversify their income streams. And yes, they came up with the word: diversify. They brainstormed different enterprises that could be added to a farm that would bring in more income. And, eventually one of the kids said to me, "you know, teaching people about farming brings in more money than the farming itself does in most cases. It makes sense that you have decided to also teach people, and not just commit to farming enterprises alone."

Ding, ding, ding, ding! This, folks, is why I am doing what I am doing. This is why I think it is SO IMPORTANT for adults and children to get involved in the food system, support local small farms, and vote with their dollars. This is why I encourage the children to share their ideas with adults about what they want from their food system. They don't want chemicals on their food that could cause worry about potential illnesses related to chemical use. They want nutrient-dense food choices. They want to have opportunities to learn how to grow and raise their own food. They want to be able to grow up healthy and strong and not have to scrutinize over every label and research the background on every company to know what foods are safe to eat. The kids deserve to grow up in a world where the norm is healthy, nutrient-dense food, free from chemicals, where the processes used support soil health and regeneration. 

This spring has just been the beginning of the journey here as we provide opportunities for children to get involved in the food system in these ways. The best is yet to come. And, look out world, because these kids are armed with knowledge and ready to speak up and teach others what they know. Here on the farm each one, teaches one. We share what we know, and we are all better for it! 

In this season of the farm, we are in an interesting predicament. We have been overwhelmed in a really great way with all of the people wanting to get involved here on the farm. We have waiting lists for nearly every opportunity we offer here. We are in need of an air-conditioned classroom space in a most desperate way. Right now, all activities take place outside in our picnic area, in the barn, in the garden, and on the pasture. Pretty soon it will be too hot for most of those areas, and we need to be able to rotate kids through a cooler space throughout the day. In some ways, the $15,000 all-or-nothing Kickstarter fundraiser seems like a huge ask, but really, we feel like it is a simple way for the community to join up with us here at Hills of Milk and Honey in providing more opportunities for us to continue the process of "each one, teach one" here on the farm. Will you help us meet our goal? It is going to take a village, as they say, to create this paradigm shift in how we participate in the food system. Your financial support, of any kind, is much appreciated. And, if you are interested in enrolling your child(ren) in our Fall 2018 Farm School Enrichment Program register now before it sells out!

Thank you,

Farmer Amy

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There Is An Urgent Need To Develop Regenerative Practices In Our Daily Lives

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word: sustainable? How about the word: regenerative? Do you view the two words as interchangeable?

For many, the word sustainable brings to mind the concepts of reusing, reducing, and recycling materials in household use. In some cases, businesses have adopted policies and procedures over the years that address these concepts as well. Is it enough? How do those practices create sustainability? They are worthy practices to consider and participate in, but do we need to do more?

I invite you to consider a paradigm shift in thinking. Close your eyes. Think about the word regenerative and what comes to mind?

Every time I hear the word regenerative, I think of the four seasons, the natural cycle of life, and the beginnings and endings of each day. The word POTENTIAL comes to mind. There is so much potential for positive change when we allow the natural order of things to occur. If you walk out into a forrest that has not seen human footprints in years, you will be able to see that older trees have died, fallen, and started to degrade into earthy material among their own leaves once again. You will see living things sprouting up in or near the fallen tree. Wildlife may have taken up residence within the hallows of the dead tree. That wildlife likely has reproduced several times over since the last human passed through. As the wildlife forages for food, it spreads seeds where more plant life will emerge. As the seasons change, the land and the wildlife change too. The end of each day brings with it a hope of the new day. This is such a gorgeous illustration that my mind paints when I think of regeneration. 

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Do you think about these things now that you are an adult? If not, did you think about these things when you were a child? If so, do you know the point in your life when that connection to the cycles of life faded? Can you pinpoint it?

What happens when we stop thinking about regeneration? What happens when we don't allow ourselves and our children time to just take it all in and learn from our surroundings? How are we, as humans, affected by regeneration?

When we stop thinking about, acknowledging, and making it a priority to validate and support regeneration, we allow ourselves the possibility of becoming disconnected with nature. It is my hope that reading that line causes you to pause for a moment. Is this an area of your life that could be improved? I am a work in progress, but have made a commitment to myself and my family to practice the art of noticing and paying attention to nature and its patterns.

Regenerative practices play a big role in our food system. Do your kids know where their food comes from? Is it a topic that is often discussed in a home? How about at school? Digging deeper, do you, as an adult, truly know where your food comes from? You may know that apples grow on trees and onions in the ground, but do you truly know where your food comes from? What would happen if you could meet the farmers and producers that grew your food and you could shake their hands and smile in person every time you picked up your food? Would that build community and trust? What would it mean to a small farmer if you offered a bit of your time and expertise to help them out with a project on occasion? And, can you imagine how beautiful of a gesture it would be if you invited a neighbor to take part as well. You could help regenerate a community by just one or two simple acts.

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What has happened over the last 60+ years? Why the disconnect? So many adults and children do not truly know where their food comes from. Do you view this as a concern? If so, would you like to know why it happened and how to quickly turn the tide? Take part in workshops and events here on our farm, and buy farm fresh products from us and other small farmers. This is going to take an "all hands on deck" approach, but Hills of Milk and Honey family, we can do this together!

Our society, as a whole, has become very busy. Social media has replaced many human-to-human interactions. Online ordering has replaced chatting with local store owners. Curbside grocery pick-up has replaced us even picking out our own vegetables and fruits at the grocery store. Our society has moved in the direction of automation and efficiency for some time, and during this transition, we've drifted a bit away from reality. (Disclaimer: no judgement here, I have an Amazon account like most of the rest of you, too.) These practices are not, in and of themselves, unworthy practices. Striving for a balance is key here.

The reality is that farming has become big business. This means small farms that have tried to hang on, provide a sense of community, and produce high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, have been swallowed up. The average age of the American farmer is 58 years old. This should SCARE us all! For every 6 farmers over age 65, there is only one farmer under age 35 to take their place. This means that in the next 15 years, the majority of agricultural land will change ownership. Why should this scare us all? I am glad you asked! ;-) We need to grow farmers! Not just any farmers, though. We need to grow farmers committed to regenerative practices. And, here at Hills of Milk and Honey, we are committed to doing just that.

Monocropping, the method of growing just one crop on a large scale, over and over, and over on the same land, while tilling in-between harvests, robs the land of the ability to regenerate and build up healthy soils full of minerals needed to continue to produce nutrient-dense food. It does not allow the opportunity for deep roots from perennials to grow into the soil and draw down carbon. Nature does not do this!! Let me say that again. Nature does not do this!!!!!

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If we take a few moments, to look at the natural order of life cycles in nature, we will see abundant diversity. This is because nature knows best to to remain healthy. Whoa! If you are local to the Dripping Springs area, go visit Hamilton Pool, Reimer's Ranch, or other nearby parks. Take a walk and look around. Are there rows upon rows of the same plants? Nope. This is because nature knows what nutrients are needed in each soil space, and it fills that space with what is needed at that time.

As we continue to build out and invite our community to learn more about regenerative agriculture here at Hills of Milk and Honey, we hope that you will arrive with an open heart and open mind to learn something new (that really is something very, very old). We focus on learning from each other here at the farm, as we all have valuable information and insights to share. We focus on practicing regenerative grazing and cropping methods. We feel polyculture practices allow us to align ourselves as closely as possible to the natural order of life. 

We invite you to join us for various camps, workshops, tours, film screenings, events and more. We are just getting started over here folks, as we just celebrated our first year on the farm, but love building community and look forward to having you grow with us on the farm!

 

It's a WHOLE New Year!

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Hills of Milk and Honey family, you are incredible! It is because of your valuable feedback, input and requests that we have developed a calendar full of events for all ages to take part on the farm during the spring and summer of 2018! Our training in Holistic Management teaches us that we must consider all aspects of the farm, as a whole, when we implement new farming practices. Our health and wellness training teaches us that we must consider our whole self (mind, body, and spirit) when implementing new wellness practices. And, we all need outlets to be able to just dream, be in the moment, rest, be creative, connect with the land, love on people, and foster healthy intergenerational relationships. Everything we are committed to in this new year rests on these principles.

Join us this year and learn about the whole process of self-care, land care, and care for others as we gather our community together to learn from each other. Check out all of the possibilities!

Spring Classes

Our spring calendar is full of classes including keeping backyard chickens, composting with worms, learning about wellness through healthy eating and self-care, meditation, companion planting in the garden, building easy raised bed gardens, creating a pollinator-friendly garden, raising dairy goats, and more.

Special Event

We also have a special event on April 21, 2018 (weather permitting) where we will provide an outdoor screening of Farmers For America. Watch the trailer. This film screening event takes place on the same day as a shelter building workshop with optional overnight camping. Those building the shelters will have the opportunity to join in on the screening and then retreat to their shelters for the night and enjoy farm fresh eggs for breakfast the next morning! The film screening is open to all ages, but the shelter workshop is geared toward ages 13-18. This will be a fabulously fun weekend on the farm, so mark your calendars now and register today!

Intergenerational Farm Activities

In an effort to create intergenerational learning opportunities on the farm, we are offering a workshop for teens and seniors to join up and take part in an abstract art lesson together after touring the farm. Teens also get a dedicated workshop just to themselves as well. In addition, we have a wonderful program that gives preschoolers a chance to enjoy the farm, seniors a chance to enjoy the farm, and a special time for the seniors and preschools to enjoy the farm together. What is better than a 3 year old and 83 year old giggling over finding worms in the garden together?

Farm Produce and Eggs 

Our gardens are in their infancy and we are giving our community a chance to take part in making sure they thrive. We contemplated offering a small CSA this spring, but opted instead to use this year to experiment first. So, from time to time you will see us offer chances for folks to come garden with us and in exchange for your help, we will send you home with vegetables as a thank you. Keep a look out this spring for upcoming dates to participate in these garden days! And, as soon as our chickens start earning their keep again, we will have eggs for sale this spring, so stay tuned for details on purchasing pastured eggs from our farm. They are currently taking a winter break, but production should begin again shortly. :-)

Home School Program

This past year we have hosted many home school groups on the farm, so we decided to launch a program just for home school families. We are offering a eight week spring session on Thursdays from March 22 - May 10, 2018 from 9-3 each day. Families have the opportunity to choose between leading small groups and receiving a discount on the program, or paying full price for a drop-off program.

Summer Camps

We have made plans to offer a summer full of fun for all ages through our summer day camps, including a preschool camp, an elementary camp, a middle school camp, a camp for children with autism, and a camp for teens and young adults with autism. This year campers all get to become a Farmer for the Week! We've been working on curriculum all year and can't wait to host our campers this summer for these day camps on the farm!

Volunteer Opportunities

If you are craving some time to get in on the action over here, there are ample opportunities for teens and adults to volunteer to help with routine farm chores or special projects. We sign off on volunteer service hours for high school and college students, so jump in and help out your local farmer. We have fun and usually get a great workout in at the same time!

Guest House Stay on AirBnB

Our guest house has become a popular destination for travelers visiting the Hill Country, as well as locals looking for a quiet night not too far away from home. We've even earned Super Host status in our first year on AirBnB. Reserve your stay today! Almost all spring weekends are booked already, but we have plenty of weekdays still available. Visitors staying in our guest house help out our farm immensely as the income we receive from the farm stays helps off-set our livestock feed costs. So, thanks for supporting your local farmer.

Girl Scouts

We offer Girl Scout troops the chance to visit the farm to complete badge requirements, participate in overnight camps, or even partner with the farm on Take Action projects and Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards. We would be happy to add Boy Scouts as well if any troops are interested. 

Job Opportunities

Up until now, we've operated on a very sparse crew that consists of me, myself, and I - Farmer Amy! On occasion, when larger groups visit, an extra hand or two joins in to help out. With everything we have planned this year, it's time to provide some employment opportunities to our community. We have several options for those looking to work with the community in a farm environment, and hiring is completed on a rolling basis until openings are filled. So, check the job postings, and send us your resume and cover letter. Let's have some fun working together on the farm!

More

We also continue to host private group tours, birthday parties, special events, photography sessions, and more. Take a few minutes to navigate our website and check things out. We can't wait to meet you!

Gratitude

Farming is not easy. Not even the slightest bit. It requires an amount of persistence, flexibility, patience, endurance and creativity that really can't be compared to much else. So much of what happens on a farm is completely out of the control of the farmer. Mainly, the weather. It's risky business. When you attend a class, buy a dozen eggs, or volunteer your time on the farm, you are making it possible for a small, local farmer to continue the goal of healing the soil and providing nutrient-dense food for the community. Our most treasured gift is you. Every time you tell someone else about the farm and invite them to take part in our community, you provide job security for a farmer. So, thanks for sharing, networking, and connecting others to Hills of Milk and Honey! Let's make it a great year, together.

- Farmer Amy

This is not about you and it's not about me

I have been doing a little experiment, of sorts, lately. While hosting camps, classes and tours this summer as we kick things off here on the farm, I have been asking folks of all ages if they understand the benefits of livestock on a farm. Most will answer as expected, which is that farmers and ranchers raise livestock for milking or for processing for meat. This is true, of course, but there is so much more!

I hope this serves to educate as I share a concept that may seem new to many, but is actually not new at all. The earth is in a state of change, at a pace that at the very least requires awareness, but in my opinion requires action now. Yes, I believe climate change is real. I actually have found that most folks agree on this. The awkward, and sometimes heated conversations come when people debate about whether we allow the earth to change without any intervention by humans or whether we work together to prevent further damage to our planet. 

Every goal I have made for myself, my family, and my farm is based on the latter. I truly believe communities of people can work together with open hearts and open minds to learn from each other while working toward a common goal of protecting the earth for generations to come. Our farm is brand new to us this past year, but the land was cared for well by the previous owners. We are grateful for their dedication and we look forward to continuing the work on this land as we build a place where community can visit time and time again to learn how we are using livestock as our primary tool in our regenerative efforts on the farm.

When you visit Hills of Milk and Honey for a tour, or attend a camp or class here, you will hear me talk about Holistic Management International's (HMI) approach to caring for the land and healing the soil. I just recently completed the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Training Course with extremely knowledgeable instructors and great classmates who provided thoughtful discussion. This training has made it possible for me to have the knowledge, the support, and the connections needed to move forward with my farm and meet my goals which span generations, not just my lifetime. What I'm doing on this land is not about me, but about what I leave behind.

HMI focuses on promoting healthy land, healthy food, and healthy lives. They are currently running a 20/20 Campaign which allows people to support the following goals monetarily or otherwise so that others, just like YOU and me, can learn and take part in protecting our soil and our water so that generations after us have healthy food and healthy water. HMI has developed the following goals to be met by 2020. Will you take part in helping achieve these goals?

  • Heal 20 million acres of land
  • Sequester 1 billion tons of carbon
  • Educate 25,000 people
  • Sequester 400 billion gallons of water 
  • Help farmers and ranchers reduce their bare ground from 70% to 40%

At Hills of Milk and Honey, we are committed to doing our part, not just because HMI thinks it's a great idea, but because we believe the science to be true. When brittle environments exist, we as humans have an opportunity to heal the soil. We can intensively graze livestock in small areas at a time providing high impact for a short duration and allow ample time for rest. This requires a farmer to be very aware of his or her land to the point of noticing the slightest changes. The farmer must be aware of what to look for with growth or lack thereof in the fields. The animals must be moved more frequently to newer paddocks than conventional methods would suggest. Year-long and even years-long planning must take place with detailed records kept along the way. Livestock help trample brittle land, naturally fertilize it, and "mow" it without the need for humans. Our job is to know when to move the livestock so that they can help heal the next area of land, and so on. The concept is simple, but it requires a paradigm shift for many. We aspire to teach others while we continue to learn too.

We invite you to pivot with us and see from a fresh perspective as we scale up our farming operation, save money, and gather all of the tools and equipment here at Hills of Milk and Honey to put this into practice. Sign up for our monthly newsletter and follow along on Facebook and Instagram so that you will be the first to know when we release tours, classes and workshops for children and adults. Healing soil, sequestering carbon and water, and reducing the bare ground on our farm is important to us. Mr. Bamberger has done just that, right here in the Hill Country. He is an inspiration to me and by watching this video Selah: Water from Stone you'll see what I hope to achieve on our little slice of heaven here in Dripping Springs.

~Farmer Amy

We asked, you answered, we listened

What happens when you heed a call on your life and give it EVERYTHING you've got? Blessings. Blessings come. And, they arrive when you least expect them. You see, this farm is a dream come true for me, and my family happens to enjoy it too. Right there, that's a blessing. We feels it is a gift to be able to own our farm and we can't imagine not sharing it with our community. That's where you come in!

We've been adding livestock all spring, working on projects, and building and repairing items all over the farm in preparation for what's next. Managing social media, building the website, and attending lots of training classes and workshops have been squeezed into the midst of it all too. In addition, we have been meeting with mentors, neighbors, friends, colleagues, and hosting private events, tours and workshops in an effort to get a feel for how our community would like to interact with our farm.

We couldn't be more thrilled with how this first year is shaping up based on all of your input. We thank you for coming alongside and joining us on this journey and we can't wait to get to know you more as these plans unfold. We have college students signed up for internships, homeschool groups working on creating custom curriculum to take place throughout the year, and we have plans in place for Girl Scouts to complete badge requirement workshops, hold overnight camps, and work one-on-one with me to develop and complete bronze, silver and gold award projects. In addition, we are having a blast hosting large and small groups for private, custom farm experiences.  Photographers have asked to bring clients to our farm for photo shoots and we've been partnering up with various experts in the farming and ag world to bring you, the adults, specialized classes and workshops on topics that you are interested in. We didn't see any of this coming, y'all. We just thought we would start our farm and teach a few classes to groups of students coming on field trips eventually. When a community comes out of the woodwork requesting programs like this, it does two things. First, it allows a local farmer to fill a need in the community. Second, the community is able to support a local farmer. How neat is that?

The biggest request we have received is our biggest announcement this month and one that is near and dear to my heart for so many reasons. I am a former teacher with a focus on early childhood education. In addition to teaching public school, I have also owned and operated my own preschool as well as directed several preschools too. This fall we are launching a recurring program for parents and their young children. This program is designed to be a special time to visit the farm in a guided "mom and me" type experience. (Dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nannies, etc. welcome too, of course.) There will be interaction with the land and with the animals, as well as age-appropriate learning activities and centers for children and their parents to engage in during the visit. We conducted a survey and received an overwhelming response. We gathered all the data and are now creating the curriculum for the launch of the program this fall. Sign up for our monthly newsletter and continue to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more announcements regarding this program and others we will be launching this fall. Reach out anytime if you have an idea for a program you feel would benefit this community or you have a request for a custom event. We look forward to seeing you on the farm soon. 

Thank you for blessing our family with your support. It is much appreciated!

~Farmer Amy

 

 

Food Security

Close your eyes and imagine waking up one day with no food available to feed yourself or your family. How would you feel? What steps would you take next if hopping in your car to head to the local grocery store was not an option? Would your concern for finding food cause you to become reclusive and just hope "someone" would solve the problem? Or would you reach out to your community in an effort to join forces and be a part of the solution?

My name is Amy Milliron, and I am the founder of Hills of Milk and Honey, which also happens to be my family's home. We are very blessed to live on land in the beautiful Texas Hill Country and are happy to serve our community through our farm classes, camps, tours, and events in addition to our upcoming CSA and buying club programs. It is our goal to provide GMO-free, organic fruits and vegetables, as well and eggs from pastured chickens in the near future. We would love for you to join the Hills of Milk and Honey community so we all can participate in solving issues related to food security together.

What does food security mean to you? Does it simply mean providing food for you and your family, or does it include ensuring access to healthy food for your neighbors and people around the world as well? We aim to offer opportunities for folks of all ages to learn how to take part in sustainable agriculture whether the desire is to learn how to raise the livestock and grow the food personally, or come alongside those who do. Buying food from a local farmer who focuses on sustainable farming practices allows farmers who are committed to doing so stay in business for years to come while also providing the entire community with real food choices. And, the best part is that Hills of Milk and Honey gives back to the community by donating a portion of the harvests to those in need.

There are so many organizations and programs already doing great work locally and globally in regards to food security. Our role at Hills of Milk and Honey is to focus on education and advocacy, because there are so many pieces to the puzzle and we can't do it all. Instead of trying to do it all, we desire to come alongside and support the efforts already in place by others in our community and around the world. It will be commonplace for us to make recommendations for community involvement here on the blog, in our newsletter, and on social media. So, check back here often, sign up for our newsletter, and check us out on Facebook and Instagram for up-to-date announcements. 

Individuals, groups, students, teachers, and anyone else interested in registering for upcoming events may find it helpful to browse around the website to learn about everything we have going on here at the farm. And, if you don't see what you are looking for, please contact us and let's create a custom class or event together. 

We are glad you stopped by, and we hope to engage in real conversations that lead to real change. Comments will be left open on this blog and we hope to keep it that way always. We are capable of multi-tasking to a degree, but the animals in the barn, the crops in the field and the students visiting on field trips will always take precedence. So, do a farmer a favor, and help keep the conversations healthy and constructive please.  ;-) Cheers!  

~ Farmer Amy