A space and a story: What we do at Eight Owls Farm

“So what exactly does your farm…. do? Do you sell vegetables or what?”

Man, has this question been tricky to answer from the very beginning. We had a loose business plan when we bought the farm. To grow vegetables + mushrooms, raise goats for meat and milk, and sell primitive arts and crafts. However, after being here for just one year–what we were actually doing was starting to feel quite different than what we had originally put down on paper.

Mostly because, we had no clue what was about to go down when we closed on our 9.87 acres in September of 2012. We didn’t know we would be a collective 225 pounds lighter just under two years after we closed than we were when we first rented a farm in fall of 2010.

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Jan 2011 on rental farm (left) Nov 2012 just after buying our land (right)

We certainly had no idea that so many people would want to drive here from all over creation just to land in this nest and talk about transitioning into homestead life. We didn’t know that those people would have such a intense reaction to this homestead and our story that was taking place on it. Not to mention, we were just starting to see just how much potential this scrubby, steep, scrappy little homestead had.

There was only one problem, when people started to arrive in droves in 2013 to take homesteading workshops from this art educator turned farmer–we weren’t quite ready for it to do so well. Having loads of folks come through our farm felt quite different than our plan to grow veggies and cuddle goats. Our infrastructure wasn’t in place, this vacation home foreclosure to farm remodel was a long way from complete, and we were very used to having a quiet and secluded sort of life. But, we met some truly amazing folks and we kept getting told how inspiring and important what we were doing was.

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My favorite picture from summer 2013 of our #1 future farmer and co-owner of Five Farms Camp, some folks that we have just loved hosting for the last three summers. It was also the first picture of me I had liked in a very long time and I was roughly halfway through losing the weight I lost. 

Since we do love to give back to folks in whatever ways we can–we made the decision to just keep going, but to go smaller while we were still deep in our “demo + trees” years. We reopened on a smaller scale in 2014 to what ended up being even bigger crowds.

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Mountain Sun Community School visit in Oct 2014 (top left) June 2014 goat workshop (top right) lamb to classroom visit jan 2015 (bottom)

By January 2015, we had learned a ton–about what we liked, didn’t like, what we felt good at and what we didn’t. This Farmer knew she wanted to move from teaching workshops to hosting them and become a student her own self. To share funny stories to make this life feel more approachable as well as share the mistakes we made in the beginning with other folks so that they won’t make them too. To be doing those things in much smaller and more spread out doses–so that we would have more time out here on our own. The Forager knew she didn’t want to ever get overrun with custom bow orders again, so she stopped taking orders for custom primitive art and just focused on making it. We both started to see that we did actually want to get back to that plan of providing vegetables to our community in some way one day. We gave the whole hosting thing a trial run by hosting the women’s month long building series in spring 2015 by Build Like a Bird. Sure, it took us a full half a year out here working on our own to process the experience and continue to refine how we will move forward–but we learned a TON. Not just about building, but about laying the next round of brickwork in our business, our farm, and our lives. It was an experience full of growing pains, but here’s hoping they end up being great ones…it certainly already feels like they were.

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Women’s basic carpentry workshop by Build Like a Bird, May 2015.

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It took three years and a lot of blood, sweat, and a ton of tears–but we feel like we finally have a solid foundation and know what we want this business to do and what we don’t. So here it is, an answer three years and five months in the making. Our journey thus far has led us to a more refined version of what we set out to do and we coupled it up next to what it actually snowballed into. Out tumbled a new business plan, dusted off and tightened up. So, here’s a snippet to finally answer that age old question of what we do at Eight Owls Farm.

The mission of Eight Owls Farmstead is to inspire and empower the community to get more connected to the natural world by providing organically and sustainably produced produce, food, and crafts as well as provide a space for hosting education and events about sustainable food growing systems and living in more purposeful and artful ways.

What we DO:
Art. We both make and sell various types of art – t-shirts, primitive arts and crafts, and supplies from the natural world for artists to craft with.

Produce. If we have extra produce in 2016, it will be available retail at Whistlestop Market in Cedar Mountain or by pick up from the farm.

Hosting. From March 1 to November 1 each year, we accept applications to host a limited number of small scale homesteading, art, and writing retreats, workshops and events from well seasoned instructors we know. We host homesteading immersions for beginners that want to try living this way on for size for 2-7 days. (Note, we will only accept a limited number of event applications and immersion folks a year–we live here too, so we are trying to find a better balance with keeping the home in homestead. Special preference is always given to women’s events and education.)

And that’s it. Because that is plenty. Less like a shotgun approach to a farm based business and more like the precision of my trusty .22.

I’m sure I will teach about homesteading again one day, when I have a lot more than five and a half years of experience under my belt. But for now, I’ll stick to teaching art classes… something I feel more confident about since I have 22 years of experience making it. That, and learning right alongside folks as passionate about this way of life as I am. My wife wants to stick to the heavy lifting, primitive art and wild plants. In the meantime, we are both fine with just sharing our space and our story of losing weight from living this way and eating organic.

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May 2015, when we finally got to learn what it was like to have a farm AND a truck. 

That’s all we’ve really got to share, a great space that was underestimated at what it could become and an even greater story of two ladies who tried even when they were told they wouldn’t be able to do it. Two ladies that are happy to share what has worked and aren’t ashamed to share what didn’t. Those things are starting to come together to paint a picture of Eight Owls Farmstead. And I sure do like what it looks like–just as much as I’m sure I’ll like that it is an ever growing and changing picture that only gets easier to see and more beautiful to me with each passing year. I just love that too.

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“Great works are preformed not by strength but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

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“I thought If those men can do it, I can do it. I thought it would be a nice lark. It wasn’t…. This is no trail. This is a nightmare. For some fool reason they always lead you right up over the biggest rock to the top of the biggest mountain they can find… Why, an Indian would die laughing his head off if he saw those trails. I would never have started this trip if I had known how tough it was, but I couldn’t and I wouldn’t quit.” –Emma Gatewood

Man this resonated for me, a quote by the first woman to ever walk the Appalachian Trail at 67 years old.

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