This is the honest truth: in moving back to start a farm, one thing that we both looked forward to and which also unnerved us was the idea of having to depend on other people for help. On one hand, we looked forward to meeting folks and having lots of people around. On the other, we recoiled at the thought of imposing on people’s time and patience with our questions about planting schedules and irrigation systems and so on. And we worried about whether we would make friends in our new town, or whether people would over-involve themselves in our lives. But, while we had gardened on a home scale for years, we knew that starting a small farm that could feed potentially hundreds of people would require some new skills and more than could be learned in just books. And, while we craved a real and deep sense of front-porch community, we also worried about what that would mean and what kinds of commitments that would entail for us. We had just never really experienced it first-hand, so we worried that it might be something that we had idealized without really realizing the full implications of it.
So, the first thing we did was to talk to natural farming expert, Sabino Cortez. I grew up with his kids, and he has developed an outstanding reputation in the holistic gardening world. He was patient and soft-spoken and willing to share what he knew with us. Sabino took the time to give us pointers into new directions that, even after years of reading and studying and growing in our yard, we had never heard of. And his wife, Richey, has been quick to share her knowledge of natural and holistic health support resources.
We started in on the farm without a tractor or compost or even our beloved chickens. We began breaking the soil by hand with shovels and a broadfork and hoes. To be honest, tractors were necessary but also intimidating, since neither of us had ever used one. Kevin’s former high school ag teacher, Mr. Christian, even got a laugh out of it and put out an all-points bulletin asking for people in the area with tractors to come to our “rescue.” We put the word out that we were looking for a small tractor that would help us break ground for the initial garden plowing, even though we would be utilizing a no-till method after that. Our buddy, Will, contacted us about a tractor he had for sale. Our long-time friend (he and Kevin have been friends since high school) who is also a life-long farmer and tractor mechanic, Warren, offered to go look at the tractor with us and help us decide if it would fit our needs. He rode through the countryside with us to Will’s house and recounted local history and stories of mutual friends. Anyone who knows Will knows he loves to talk. If talking were a sport, he would be pro-level. So, he was happy to give us animated and funny lessons on how to use the thing. We bought the tractor.
Days when we would walk from our house to Hico’s downtown square found us chatting on the sidewalk and in local businesses with people who would quickly become friends. In our initial days when we had no stove at all (not even the one on the back porch), we spent many a mealtime at the Koffee Kup – a local diner with a national reputation for its downhome atmosphere and homemade pies. We soon became friends with the ladies who work there; we started talking to Heather, one of the waitresses there, and she had children who became friends with our children. Dina and Irene and Connie and everyone else there made us feel at home. Old men, whose names were wood-burned into the table along with pictures of cowboys and horses, would talk to us about cantaloupes and squash and tractors. At Wiseman House, a business that had actually been a draw for us in our decision to come here, we met Kevin and LaDonne – the owners whose welcoming hospitality made us feel at home in Hico. Again, their large family was soon eating and running and exploring along with ours. And, simple mealtimes turned into meaningful conversations about adoption and God and homeschooling and creativity and business. I met my friend, Kay (who is now the “rescue me from locked-in keys” and “talk about hot flashes and hormones” kind of friend), on the sidewalk in front of the antique store that we had frequented for years before our move – a store in which Kay now has a booth full of all kinds of intriguing objects with decades of history behind them. I met Staci at the same store, and she has become a sweet person to stop in and say “hi” to. When I had just been here a matter of two or three months and our daughter got seriously ill, Staci and her husband listened to my teary-eyed account of it all in the dark parking lot at the grocery store when we bumped into each other one night. They barely knew me, but I stood there crying. And they had no reservations about reaching out and offering any kind of help we might need. At that same time, Warren and Jon and other firefighters from a nearby volunteer fire department were offering their time to help us in any way we might find helpful to relieve some of the stress of the situation.
Our friend and handyman, Von, spent a lot of time at our house in the initial months, working on odds and ends with us. He always had some country wisdom to share with us about tractors, or chickens, or solar energy or whatever the current conversation was at the time. Through flag football, we met our now-dear and sure-to-be-lifelong friends Krista and Mac, a fellow couple who had come to Hico to follow entrepreneurial pursuits and find a life through homesteading and a closer sense of community. I love that Krista can call me up, and that she is now one of the only people in this world I can feel comfortable with on the phone. She also calls me for power tool advice and to whisk me off to the local county youth fair when the need arises.
Then came the get-togethers and the drop-by company. We discovered our love of raw milk and, subsequently, raw milk ice cream. Kevin bought me an old-fashioned ice cream maker, and we spent hours trying out new recipes and taking turns with our kids and our friends turning the crank until the bucket was full of cold, freshly-churned ice cream. Our friends Olah and Tammy (and Chili) and Elaine and Brad (and their awesome sons who are friends with our kids from our days in Austin) and Mark and Brian and Cassie and Cassie came from other parts of the county and state and country to eat ice cream and cook out on the back porch or over a grill. It seemed we were constantly feeling an outpouring of love and friendship and connecting with others. Even when all we had functioning in the house were two bedrooms and a gas stove on the back porch, we had friends who came over to enjoy our “refugee-camp-esque” life with food and music and children running around reenacting scenes from their favorite movies or marveling at fireflies. And the children. The house has been full and even fuller with children. On our son’s birthday, we had 15 kids spend the night – and it wasn’t even a sleepover! Our creative friend, Dean, has been up twice from Houston, our very spiritually-centered friend, Summer (along with her amazing, creative-genius kids), up once from Austin; and we always end those visits with a deep sense of gratitude for their friendship. Somewhere along the way, Warren found himself short-handed at his cattle business and called on Kevin and me to help direct cattle into the chutes so that he could vaccinate and brand them. I didn’t love the branding bit, but I had to try every part of the experience, so I got to brand one and even administer vaccines with the guidance of the vet. We felt honored to be part of it all.
We have enjoyed parades and street dances and reconnecting with our childhood health provider, Doctor Dayton, who is an icon here in Hico. He was the doctor for both my husband’s family and mine and even delivered my older brother! We have been able to spend more time with our parents and repay a tiny fraction of the support and generosity they have shown us over the course of our lives. They enjoy it, too, and so do our children. In working and schooling from home, we get to spend countless hours with our children, watching them grow and learn and have new experiences of all sorts. Our moms take turns keeping the kids when we have afternoons where we really need to knock out some work on running out-of-town business errands or painting or whatever is urgent at the moment, and Kevin’s mom is sewing bags and making jewelry for the shop. Even though my dad is in the nursing home, he loves to talk shop with us and look at photos of all the happenings around here. Kevin’s dad is a soil scientist who has been instrumental in the Fort Worth farmer’s market since the 1970s and remains so today. And one of his brothers is the top soil scientist in the state of Texas for the National Resources Conservation Service, while his other brother plans to feature his nature photography in our shop. So, the reconnection to family has been great, and conversations around the Thanksgiving table have been rich with talk of soil and planting calendars and wildflowers and grasses and programs designed to encourage small farmers. I have even been exchanging letters about all-natural, no-till farming and chickens with my Mennonite/ biologist/ farmer uncle from Kansas who wants us to make a trip up to see his place. He was a pioneer in wind energy, having one of the very first modern wind generators in the country and, as I understand it, was also instrumental in its development. For many moons they sold their surplus electricity to the local co-op. He has spent decades leading state wildlife counts of birds and butterflies, in addition to his years as a biology professor. So, we have conversations of a different sort that really speak to the techniques that Kevin and I feel are integral to the spiritual stewardship of the Earth that we want to maintain in all aspects of Two Clay Birds Farm. We have had cousins come by and stay for extended visits, too.
And, now, what was once unthinkable – accepting the help of people who are generous with their time and want to learn about farming and drop by for a visit – has become common and one of our favorite activities on the farm. Our Farm Volunteer Days have taken on a life of their own. We have connected over brunch and seeds with our friends Andi and Martha and Mike and Kay. And, we’ve formed new and lasting friendships with Heidi and her sister Angela, Kay’s daughter Jaylee, and Sandra and her husband James who inspired our Couples’ Farm Volunteer Day event by writing to us about how, because of almost unimaginable family stresses, they needed to get away from it all for a day. We have cooked and shared our love of whole foods and sent people home with eggs and heart-shaped brownies and ideas about how they can pursue their own dreams, whatever those may be. We’ve had a glass of wine and formed a ring of support for those at the table whose hands were covered in soil and whose hearts were heavy with loss and worry and a glimmer of hope for the future.
And as we’re nearing the opening of our farm-to-table shop, it has been great to gain insight and to trade thoughts with other business owners. The ladies at Hill Country Dwellings shared wholesale catalogs and business structure suggestions with us, and one of the sisters, who is an architect, gave us the idea for putting greenhouse panels in the ceiling of our store – an idea that has transformed the space. In fact, their Wednesday employee, an older woman named Mrs. Ferguson, was one of the first kindred spirits we met here – sharing her stories of her and her husband’s own adventures with children and home remodeling and even procuring a tub of blackberry cuttings for us from her neighbor. Donna from the Popcorn Shop took us under her wing when we got here; Wes and Jennifer over at Eis Sandwich Shop and their employees, Kim and Joshua, have become people we look forward to visiting with and spending time around. We met Melody and Beth who opened an antique store down the street from us and also share parallel interests in old things and living a connected life. We are for sure connected with one another now; Melody supplies us with antiques and cool things, and Beth sews the aprons for our shop. Melody also put us in touch with Happy Bleats Farm whose owner, Catharine, and her daughter spent the morning out here talking goats and lotions and soaps (we will be featuring her products in our store, too). We learned from her about our own goats and what to expect from them and for their care. One day in Dollar General, I reconnected with a high school classmate, Gayla, who runs a rabbitry business and has been instrumental in our introduction to rabbits, supplying us with all of our rabbits thus far! Her husband, Willy, is fun to talk to, a wealth of information, and helped us know how to install our dishwasher. With our quest for raw milk, we have connected with the people at two local raw milk dairies – Veldhuizen Cheese Shop and Liberty Dairy – and have greatly enjoyed getting to know the owners of each who feel so passionately about their healthful products and who like sharing that knowledge with others. In that same vein, we look forward to seeing the fruition of all the work our new friends Linda and Mike are pouring into their soon-to-open yoga and craft beer studio here in town. And, again, Kevin and LaDonne from Wiseman House have been invaluable, not only in their friendship, but also in their creative flow of ideas toward helping us fulfill our dreams.
With all of the support and connection with folks that we have had in person, the online outpouring of encouragement and feedback has been equally overwhelming. We cannot thank our online friends and acquaintances enough for the generous words and sharing of building ideas and farming and health articles and the like.* Recently, the online community we enjoy led us to an invitation to speak at the Stephenville Organic Gardening Club. We know that we will enjoy those meetings and the people who attend them for years to come.
So, if you’re reading this, thank you. You involvement in our business and our dreams serves to encourage and uplift us and give us fuel for providing nourishing, healthful food to the community at large. We cannot wait to open our doors in the next few weeks and begin this journey with you!
*This article is dedicated to our friend and constant online companion, Kristi Delk, who passed away suddenly last week. We are deeply saddened by her loss and by the fact that we didn’t quite make it to share the grand opening with her. She was always sharing articles about farming and gardening and children with us, and we looked forward to having her out to the farm and the new shop. But we know her spirit is with us; she is gone but not forgotten.