How long have you been practicing the traditional skill of keeping chickens? I raised chickens…
What is the name of your Farm, Ranch, or Homestead?
Milk & Honey 1860. Named for the fact that this is our own little promised land, and for the year this house was built.
Where are you located?
Butte Valley, which is between Chico, Oroville and Paradise in Northern California.
How and/or when did life as a farmer, rancher or homesteader begin for you?
My husband and I are both city people…we never even had dogs growing up. I’m talking townhouse kids who go to public school. I always dreamed of the country and a big old house and an orchard and sheep and chickens and aprons. I just wasn’t sure it would ever really happen and it was so different than how I was raised…so it was an organic progression, that’s for sure. I’ve always sewn, and put up jam, and grown tomatoes…and we even managed to start keeping chickens on the down low in our backyard the size of a postage stamp in town. My Grandma, who was at home with us like a Mom and was raised during the depression, still had a lot of the old ways, even though we lived in a townhouse. She hung laundry out and put my hair up in rags and told me stories of growing up farming during the Great Depression. Barefoot in orange groves and only eating what came out of their own garden. I remember getting a hold of a Martha Stewart magazine when I was a teenager. One with a huge bowl of colorful eggs. That’s what I wanted. All she had to say about my dream was, “You don’t want chickens…you just think you want chickens.” No, I wanted those eggs…and I knew it. My Great Aunt & Uncle also had a beautiful place in the country with an orchard and a little garden…and to me, that was the dream. I knew there was a lot of reality and a less romantic side, but I was pretty sure that’s what I wanted someday. I think that dream met up with the fact that also organically, we ended up with more kids than we really had initially thought we would have…and when the 4th baby came…I was really, really ready for a change from suburbia. We started homeschooling that year, and it was just a life I slowly began to feel very unsatisfied with. I knew there was more and I wanted it. We waited and prayed…and waited and prayed and begged. But we were just kind of stuck. By the time the 5th baby came by surprise…I was desperate. I was ready for space. Nearly 5 years after beginning our search, this house picked us. 40 acres with the original 1860’s house, in dire need of fixing up…it was perfect…but very scary. It was a big girl and needed so much more than a little tlc. But we figured that if we didn’t take the risk, we may regret it forever…but we also were very aware we were jumping in way over our heads and could also fail miserably! When we looked at it the first time the kids were running up the stairs and picking bedrooms and I just remember hushing them and saying “we can’t afford this house!”…but here we are, where we were supposed to be.
While we still lived in town I had been researching sheep and had fallen in love with Leicester Longwool. I reached out to Wild Rose Farm on Whidbey Island, Wa to inquire and nearly a year later, they contacted us with available breeding stock from a sale that had fallen through. We just happened to be in escrow for this property and I could say yes! I had no idea how we’d actually pay for them, but I knew they were ours. Aidan, our eldest, and I had been wooed by a copy of Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts I had gotten off eBay, and we were in the sheep dream together. We were headed for the country, the perfect sheep came to us at exactly the right time…and I was definitely going to get more chickens.
So…this is a major wildfire area. The Camp Fire that just burned Paradise, burned halfway down our back acreage. Thanks to the animals, we were in super good shape and the fire didn’t even get close to the house. But the story really starts with the fact that I never wanted goats. I wanted sheep forever and had even started a little cash savings in a mason jar for a milk cow…but didn’t want goats. Ever. So when we moved in July of 2015, and the 40 acres were mostly solid waist high grass and wild whatever…my Mom was freaking out that it would burn. As a city girl, and a recovering vegetarian I knew I didn’t want to eat goats…but milk goats sounded ok. I loved the idea of milk…and chevre…that could be good. So I took my little bit of savings, (that wasn’t even close to enough for a cow) from my little glass jar, and reluctantly bought my first milk goat off Craigslist. I go to pick her up and they ask if I have more goats. No, because I don’t even know if I want this one. They say she’ll cry all night so I have to buy another one. So here I come home with 2 goats. But at least we can start clearing some of the property without me doing it myself in 100 degrees with a city lawn trimmer, right? So…weeds, check. Wildfire prevention, check. Goats I’m not sure I want, check.
We’d been in the house since July, and I was now feverishly painting down the stairs the week of Christmas…just trying to get enough paint down for it to feel clean and like ours. Then I figured for our tradition of a handmade Christmas, let’s make soap. Easy enough. Goat milk soap is supposed to be super great and it can’t be rocket science, right? I had no idea what I was doing, but it was getting down to it, and this family needed a handmade something. We made soap…and we did it together. That’s what matters right? We got it done by the skin of our teeth with everything going on like homeschooling and all those daily goat escapes that I was beginning to dearly love…and it made me wonder even further why I had the blessed creatures. So I told people to throw it away if it was no good….because I actually had no idea. I couldn’t keep the goats in the fencing, and I definitely didn’t know how to make soap. So my intentions of having a little homestead, and fixing up the house…accidentally became something more. And this is why we say, we accidentally started a farm, that accidentally turned into a business. I’m still hoping to get back to the homesteading dream…because the farm has taken so much that I never planned on. We have big plans this year to start getting an orchard in and keep growing the garden area. But first, we have to make more soap.
What do you grow and/or raise?
Dairy goats (we keep Saanen, French Alpine and Nubian), English Longwool sheep (Leicester Longwool, Teeswater and Wensleydale), Sebastopol geese, Aylesbury ducks, a variety or rare and heritage chicken breeds and we just added White Holland turkeys last year which we’ve been enjoying very much.
What traditional methods do you use on your farm to grow your crops and/or raise your animals?
I’d have to say one of the most traditional things we do is milking by hand. All of the goats and our sweet Brown Swiss cow, Camilla, are all milked by hand each day. We love the connection to the animals and land…and the slowing down…how simple it is. How it’s what’s been done for thousands of years. Isn’t it just one of the most important things we do as humans, and specifically as women and mothers. We breastfeed our babies which is one the most more beautiful and significant things we can do as women…and I just feel that same connection with taking the milk. Its milk. It’s life. Thousands of years of tradition. That’s the good stuff.
What is one of your favorite farm-infused recipes you wish to share?
We have so much fresh milk and eggs that this is a great recipe for the family. So simple and easy to whip up for everyone in one pan. We love local honey and fresh berries on top…but maple syrup is delicious, too!
Wild Rose Farm Dutch Baby
From: Ken & Nan Leaman of Wild Rose Farm on Whidbey Island, WA
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 Cups Milk
1 Stick of Butter (1/4 cup)
2 T of Vanilla Extract
8 Eggs (at Room Temperature)
Oven safe pan (like a cast iron skillet)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees (with the pan inside the oven so it can heat up too).
Toss the stick of butter in the pan (that’s in the oven, nice & hot…be careful!). As the butter is melting, beat the eggs in a blender on a medium speed for one minute. Then, while blending, add in the milk, then the flour, then the vanilla.
Carefully take the pan from the oven and swirl the butter so the sides of the pan are coated. Pour the batter into the pan, let bake until the top is golden brown and it looks like it will explode out of the pan (about 25 minutes or so).
Cut a wedge & top with maple syrup or honey…maybe add whipped cream and berries?… So delicious.
What is at least one farm tradition you uphold?
I feel that the whole sheep to shawl process is very traditional and is something we’re passionate about. We use the sheep to take care of the land for wildfire danger, while we enjoy the beauty of the creatures themselves and have the benefits from their lovely wool. The breeds we keep are heritage, rare and somewhat endangered, so it feels good to be preserving breeds that would otherwise be lost, while promoting the traditional and historical value of keeping sheep. We hand knit shawls and even dishcloths for everyday use out of their wool and people absolutely love watching the wool be spun on a spinning wheel. It’s not something most people see everyday…especially when it’s a teenage boy doing it! Our 17 year old son is a hand spinner and a wonderful knitter. We love the tradition and we love doing it together.
What inspires you to continue a farm lifestyle?
The wholesomeness and quality of life. I love the freedom we have out here. I love the connection to the land and the animals. Being with creation and doing life the simple, old way just feels good. It’s hard and it’s more work than some days feels sensible. But I love the character and humility it’s built in us. You can’t work this hard, have things happen that are totally out of your control…and not have it change you. We’re going to keep going. There are so many more farm lifestyle things I want to get to…like figuring out how to make cheddar cheese from the Brown Swiss cow milk. But one day at a time. It’s a lot to learn and a lot of doing that I don’t always have the time for with everything else going on. But I love how much we are able to do, like having a fresh raw milk for all these precious kids to drink…and how much time each year my little ones get to lay in a pile of puppies.
What words of inspiration or uplifting wisdom to you hope to impart on the future generation of farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders?
George Washington was the first to import Leicester Longwool sheep to America in hopes of improving his flock at Mount Vernon. In honor of that, two quotes of his that I love…
“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.”
“I would rather be on my farm, than be emperor of the world.”
Where can people find you/your products online?