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.
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...
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.
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!
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!