Our homestead was born off of a back country road in Culpeper County, Virginia. We bought a beautiful home, almost brand new, on just over 3 ½ acres. Our son, since infancy, struggled with his digestion and his skin. As a toddler he was showing signs of extreme behavioral issues, and he worsened with each passing month. Our pediatrician was no help to us, and neither was the second pediatrician that we consulted. So I began to read. And I read. And read. And read. The evidence was overwhelming that my son needed help, but it wasn’t in the form of medicines and trials. It was in the form of nourishment. He needed healing from the inside out. Did you know that your mental health is directly related to your gut health? I sure didn’t until I immersed myself in research. A dear friend of mine became licensed as a Nutritional Therapist, and she helped guide my journey into helping my little man. This was by far the hardest hurdle our family has tackled, not only because of the time and financial investment, but also we had no support from our families. We were criticized, mocked, gossiped about, and we were treated like we were a freak show. “You need to lighten up,” “The way you guys eat is causing division in the family,” “Your pediatrician doesn’t support this, so why won’t you just listen?” It was all very hurtful, and quite frankly, I was weary from having to defend myself and defend my motives. But we persisted, and we saw amazing results.
Within three months, my son was well on his way to healing. As a two-year-old he was plagued with fits of rage that could not be soothed (no, this was NOT a typical tantrum…), he was meticulous about things being in specific order (pity the fool that accidentally changed that order!), his eczema worsened every month until it was to the point of bleeding, his sleep habits were sporadic, his gastrointestinal system was completely wrecked, and he was, for lack of a better description, unpredictable at best. But after three months of consistent, strict clean eating, he was a completely different child. He was suddenly predictable, his tummy issues were gone, he was reasonable, he could drop a tiny lego that he had put together and see it fall to pieces on the floor; he would smile and say, “I fix it!” and not have a complete meltdown. His eczema disappeared completely after four months of the strict diet of whole foods, pasture-raised protein, and all-natural products (soaps, toothpaste, cleaners…) with zero chemicals. After a full year his bloodwork came back normal as well (he had unexplained low iron, that did not respond to iron supplements). The lifestyle change worked. And the best part? Our families noticed. Our pediatrician noticed. One side of our family actually admitted to being wrong about us, apologized for adding insult to injury as we desperately tried to help our boy, and our pediatrician said “I don’t understand how, but this is working. You should keep it up!”
Again, the key to his healing was nourishment; healthy, whole, REAL food. But, the catch about those kinds of foods is how much they cost. Have you ever shopped for organic fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, dairy, etc.? We consider food to be an investment in our family’s health, so we committed to the investment, and it was a strain for our wallets.
Then, the thought occurred to us… We had started a garden the same year we moved into our house. But, what if we could do more? What if we could provide our own organic, high-quality food? That would be taking our family’s health to the next level, and was certainly better than buying even the best products from the grocery store. We started to dream, we read lots of books (the library LOVED me because I am pretty sure I kept their electricity running with all of the late fees I paid!), we came up with a plan, we prayed over the endeavor, and we jumped into executing that plan and accomplishing some of the goals. We tackled this in phases, starting with only one or two things per year until we felt confident in our choices and in our abilities. The garden came first because, well, it was the easiest thing to start with! Working with the soil, adding compost and manure, and watching the red clay transform to very rich, living, full-of-earthworms soil was an amazing experience, and of course was so rewarding!
Then we went with the next easiest thing, and the most common thing I think, which were the chickens. Every homestead needs chickens. They are like the cats of the pet world: leave them with plenty of food and water, and you can leave them for a few days without them dying. The chickens were definitely a fun adventure, and over the winter I added their soiled, composting waste to my garden beds. It was a win/win, because my garden improved greatly and my chickens not only provided eggs, but also the extra-large, bountiful veggies! I call chickens “the gateway drug” to homesteading. They are what get a lot of people hooked.
Next, we wanted our own dairy products fresh from our own farm. We had already had goats, two enormous alpine wethers that we bought to help clear brush. But obviously, wethers don’t provide milk. So again, we immersed ourselves in research, reading every book we could, talking to as many breeders as we could. We decided on Nigerian dwarf goats because of their size (my daughter wanted to show, so we needed something she could easily handle as a then-nine-year-old), and their rich milk. I knew I wanted to make cheese, and the full-fat dairy was amazing for growing little humans, so the high butterfat in the Nigerian dwarf goat milk was the way to go. I remember the first breeder we visited, A Better Way Farm in Virginia (www.abetterwayfarm.com, check them out!). I saw a Nigerian dwarf doe meander toward the fence, and I literally chuckled to myself and thought, “Is this a joke…?” Of course, it wasn’t a joke! Even though they may be small in stature, those does pump out the milk and are way easier to milk than I originally thought they would be. I was absolutely hooked after that visit. I was blessed with a very local goat mentor (she lived a mere 10 minutes from me, go figure! Check out Willow Pond Farm in Warrenton, VA! www.ndgoats.com). She helped me with learning about genetics, traits, pedigrees, the reasons for buying quality, registered stock, reputable breeders… you name it in the goat world, and she helped me sort it all out and understand. I am eternally grateful! After much “goat shopping,” we bought our first goats. And with the goats, and our enrollement as members of the American Dairy Goat Association, our farm name was born: Sky Paint (named after our incredible sunrises and sunsets).
After the addition of the dairy goats, we were feeling ambitious and successful in our homesteading journey. With that ambition, came the decision to go from one new addition per year to THREE! We started a colony of silver fox rabbits for meat, a flock of Icelandic chickens, and a hive of bees.
We were then faced with a major life change: A move to western North Carolina. It was terrifying and exciting, moving to a place where we didn’t know a soul. I personally was tired of spending so much time cleaning an almost 4,000 square foot house. I wanted more room to grow my dreams and to ride my pony girls (my first love is horses, so my two paint mares were a part of the homestead too!). The big house was certainly nice for all of the space and for large gatherings, but what one person may see as a dream house for such a young family was to me a major burden.
We gave up the huge house with the giant yard and literally moved underground. Right outside of Asheville, North Carolina we found a house called an earth-sheltered home. We are hobbits now, I guess! We had actually been researching earth-sheltered homes for two years before knowing we would even entertain the idea of moving. We did all of the work, put our house on the market, and one day I woke up and God said to me, “Your buyers are coming today.” And then, the VERY NEXT DAY, He said, “Your house ready for you now.”
It turns out, what turned out to be the buyers of our home had put THEIR house on the market and immediately had a ratified contract that very day. And then the next day, an earth-sheltered home came onto the market outside of Asheville. I mean…like…WHAT?! It was all so amazing to watch the path before us unfold. There were MANY BUMPS in that path. We emerged at the end of the path with skinned knees, bloody elbows, and probably two black eyes. But we made it to the end. So now, as we slowly renovate our 1,400 square foot home, our white-picket-fence dream includes energy efficiency at it’s finest, a house that takes me an hour to clean from one end to the other, and 10 acres at the base of a mountain that is mostly cleared with a barn and a riding arena and mountain trails for trail riding and…and…and…! I could go on and on.
It took years and years to watch our dreams and goals unfurl into what it is today, and it isn’t even over. We will continue to grow, to learn, to nourish not only our little humans but also our friends and extended families. Our little humans have learned huge, amazing life lessons that they would learn nowhere else. We relish dirt under our fingernails, sweaty brows, raising our own food, trying different things, meeting new people (you have GOT to try looking up #projectpollina), getting plugged into a community of like-minded lovers of the land and the mountains. It is a wild ride that I hope never ends, even with the hard seasons that come and go. I spend countless hours helping newbies get their homesteads going, offering advice and wisdom that was given so freely to me, I am a grower of all things green and lovely and tasty, I am a Herd Queen, a goat midwife, a tamer of Icelandic chickens (hahaha not really, they are feisty little buggers), a horse whisperer, admirer of even the ugliest of the predators (opossums are so cute), the veterinarian of my farm, a buyer, a seller, a marketer, a professional poop-scooper, a maverick of rotational grazing, a chopper of wood, a marksman when I need to be, I am becoming a skilled butcher, a cherisher of all living things, an adventurer, a homeschooling mom, a life-partner to the only man I could ever be married to, a lion tamer (I have tamaskan dogs that are very much like giant cats… I call them Tiger Bears sometimes…), a naturalist, a scientist, a chef, a house cleaner, a maid; I am strong, I am able, I have faith.
We may not always do everything right, and we may have many setbacks. But together? We are the Sky Paint Homestead.