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!