Who Would Have Thought

Reflections of our truck and our life.

As Mr. J and I moved about the farm with morning chores, we heard a persistent low “mooooo” from Dude, our steer. His bawling tells us that there is not enough grass in his pasture, and he is expecting us to resolve the situation. Our grass is greening, but we are not at the spring flush so we decide to haul out the last roll of hay from the barn to keep our small herd happy for another week.

This roll of hay weighs about 600 pounds and requires some maneuvering to get it from the barn to the bed of the truck. But we have polished our technique over this past winter and work well as a team.

I drive the truck to the pasture, position it at the top of the hill, then Mr. J gives the roll of hay a heave-ho setting it on an unrolling path down the hill.

We then walk the length of this unrolled hay to spread it out.

While tossing hay here and there I pause and think:

Who would have thought.

Who could have predicted twelve years ago when we bought this truck that we would use it to haul rolls of hay to our cattle. In Tennessee.

Who would have thought we would be right here, right now, with this truck, in this field.

We had a vision when we bought the truck. We had a plan for our lives.

We knew we would pay it off and keep it for many years. It needed to be able to carry our three boys comfortably into adulthood.

We wanted the option of towing a trailer for camping.

And maybe at some point we would need the four-wheel drive to go off road.

Our truck has done this and more.

This truck has served us well.

It has carried soccer gear, ski equipment, and surfboards.

It has hauled loads of compost and fruit trees for my gardening exploits.

It has worn the license plates of California, Virginia, Nevada, and now Tennessee.

When we bought this truck in 2011, we could not have anticipated being on a farm in the South. It never occurred to us that Mr. J could earn a living working remotely with a computer and phone. Who would have thought that this truck would one day haul pigs and sheep to our own homestead or pull felled trees out of the woods.

God has a plan. He nudges. He guides. And if you are lucky, you can see a few steps ahead on your journey. But most of the time we just bumble along.

When I look back, I can see how we were gently positioned to be right here. Right now.

Truly amazing.

Who would have thought.

The old ways and planting potatoes in February.

Ivan was born three hundred yards behind where he lives today. The road is named Clarence Lee Rd, after his father. His family home was one of the first two in Morgan County, but it has long since burned down. That’s ok because it didn’t have running water. Ivan didn’t live in a home with running water until after he returned from the war.

Ivan’s father, Clarence was a good man – an even better father.

I am learning to keep bees from Ivan, so we have lot’s of time for stories as we assemble hives and frames in his cozy workshop. It is here that I am learning about bees and “old ways” of doing things.

Ivan said his father always planted potatoes in February.

February? Really? When?

Well, when the weather dried out for a few days. Then they would have new potatoes to eat in early spring.

Huh. I have potatoes that are sprouting. Let’s give this a try.

So, I did.

We cleared the weeds remaining in the garden from last fall, piled them in a 12 foot low point in the garden and burned them. I then added some compost, placed my potatoes on top, and covered with more compost. Finally, a layer of broken down straw that the chickens have been working over.

Will we have potatoes in the spring? I have no idea. But I have nothing to lose. All the materials were on the farm and the potatoes I planted were inedible. The only thing it cost me was time.

Here’s to learning the “old ways” and giving them a try.

The Advantage of Neglect

Letting nature take its course.

Last year I took advantage of a state program called Tennessee Tree Day. This program provides the opportunity to purchase native saplings at very low prices. We have a goal of adding tress to our current pastures and this seemed the perfect fit for our goals.

We picked up the saplings at our local extension office. Planted them the next day. Mulched around the base with wood chips and provided protection from wildlife with some t-posts and welded wire around each sapling.

These trees did not thrive. Mind you, I did not water them weekly as suggested. I relied on the mulch and rain to be enough. All that remains of last year’s efforts are sad little sticks that may or may not still be alive.


Fast forward one year.

Saturday. The day for larger projects. And a Saturday in winter when you have time to catch up on things that have fallen off the plate.

Today we decided to bush hog the upper field. We hope to use this field as pasture in the future, but right now it is mostly brambles and broomsedge. With spring coming and grasses just starting to grow, we have got to mow down the brambles and sedge so the sunlight can get to the grass. Giving the grass an advantage, a leg up in the fight for sunlight and nutrients.

This is the first time we have worked this field since owning the farm. We have neglected it until today. We just didn’t have time.

But we have been watching it. Observing. Noticing that among the sedge and bramble there are saplings.

Oak. Pine. Hickory.

These trees planted themselves. We had left the field untouched. The saplings thrived in our neglect.

So, instead of mindlessly bush hogging the entire over-grown field we carefully walked through it looking for baby trees. We cleared the area around the ones we wanted to keep. Then Mr. J bush hogged the field avoiding our baby trees.


Why trees in a pasture?

The trees provide shade for our livestock, food in the form of acorns and hickory nuts, habitat for birds, and potential lumber in generations to come.

Why not?

So, I did a thing.

I learned to pressure can.

I was terrified of this thing called pressure canning. I had visions of large metal pots exploding and causing dire harm. I just knew I would do it wrong and kill my family with spoiled food. On top of that, the food would taste bad, and we wouldn’t use it.

Despite all this, I bought a pressure canner last spring. It sat on the shelf in a closet for much of the summer. My brain began to hurt just thinking of learning this new and very foreign thing.

I lurked for months in a pressure canning Facebook page. Seeing beautiful jars of food. Reading rave reviews of recipes. Following the latest food bandwagon.

Finally, I gave it a try. I summoned my courage. Set aside an afternoon and evening. Read the instructions step-by-step. Gathered my equipment. Gave it a try.

You know what?

No explosions. We didn’t die. The food is delicious.

After canning several different recipes, I no longer need to reread the step-by-step instructions. I understand the process. I can do this thing.

Is there something new you want to learn? Summon your courage. Take a deep breath. Give yourself some time and give it a try.

If I can do it, so can you.


Why pressure can?

It is a way of preserving the harvest, whether that be veggies or meat. The food is shelf stable and ready to heat and eat. This fits well with our goal of growing as much of our own food as possible. Pressure canning adds another level of resilience to our farm.

What am I doing?

Thoughts while moving hog fencing.

This week I began to rotate my two four-month-old piglets through the cow pasture. The cows had been moved out of this pasture the week before, so it is now available for the pigs.

In this rotation I am moving them daily. I use two hundred-foot hog nets to make a paddock. Moving these nets to make new paddocks each day takes about 15 minutes.

I walk the piglets out of their pen at the barn mid-morning, and bring them back at 4pm for dinner. For six hours each day they chew on the grass and root for worms, grubs, and who knows what else. They literally roll back the grass with their snouts looking for delicacies.

This process requires attention and effort on my part. It requires more than just dumping a bucket of food in their pen, checking their water and walking away.

I moved their nets this afternoon in the brisk winter air, observed the “damage” they had done to the pasture, and asked myself

What am I doing?

Most immediately I am pulling up short white polls attached to electric netting, gathering them in my arms, and resetting them on fresh grass. But why?

Providing the piglets with fresh pasture each day gives them a clean, healthy environment and supplemental nutrition. Moving them daily using small paddocks distributes their fertility (aka urine and manure) throughout the pasture and limits the destruction they do to each area.

I look at the pasture they are tearing up, walk around using my boots to replace the clumps of grass they have displaced and ask myself

What am I doing?

Well, I think I am improving the soil. The work the pigs do could be considered destructive, but what if we thought of it as disturbance. Sort of like aerating the soil. I am inputting my time and labor by rotating the piglets daily, but they are also working for me by just being pigs.

Will this intensive rotational grazing be destructive or beneficial to our pasture? I don’t know. I won’t really know until later this spring. I will observe what grows in the areas the pigs have worked. Has it improved or declined? Do the areas they disturbed look barren or healthy.

We will see.

I will trust. And wait. And try.

Opening a Farm Stand

On working to develop a hyper local economy.

One day last week my mind was occupied with the words hyper local. Those two words kept rolling around as I worked to sort out what that means to me. At dinner that night I shared with Mr. J that I think hyper local is the answer to my goals for community and economy.

When our cows escaped last year, it was neighbors that stumbled upon our troubles that helped us to get them back home.

When our pipes froze in the last storm it was neighbors across the way that drove over to help us out.

I source honey and milk from neighbors within a five-mile radius.

My eggs and pork and many of our vegetables come from our own farm. Soon our farm will supply us with lamb and beef.

That is hyper local.

Our aid did not come from friends out of state (though we did benefit from their prayers). Help came from people across the street or down the road.

It doesn’t get more local than that.

In this global world, hyper local is the solution. At least as much as possible.

So, I am starting a farm stand.

(Actually “farm stand” sounds a little too grand for what I have going on right now, but a girl can dream.)

I won’t advertise on social media. I don’t want people going out of their way to find me.

I want the neighbor who is driving past our farm regularly to be the customer. I want to be on their way, not out of their way.

It’s winter. I don’t have excess produce to share. I do have eggs. I will start with eggs.

A sign by the road letting neighbors know I have something to sell.

A cooler with my farm fresh eggs inside.

It’s a start.

It’s Blackberry Season

Thorns, armor, abundance.

I have been keeping a close watch for blackberry patches on the property. Scanning the edges where the pasture meets the woods. It is on those edges that you find abundance. I have been keeping track of the berries as they ripen. Waiting. Eager.


It is officially blackberry season on Fiat Farm.

There is something peaceful and satisfying in a berry hunt. It is simple and basic. Both challenging and rewarding. We have a small window each year to partake of this bounty. Now is the time to dive in.

Actually, there is no diving. Any blackberry picker knows that caution is required. Those bushes have thorns. The fruits are not easily won.

Caution is necessary. Once the fruit is spied you plan the best angle of attack. The arm reaches carefully, but still you know that it is likely blood will be shed. The prick of the thorn. A sharp piercing. A drop of blood. Sacrifice.

But the reward is sweet. The fruits are abundant. The pain is short-lived.

One can better face this thorny challenge by wearing long sleeves and pants. An armor of sorts against the thorns. This armor does not eliminate the thorns but makes them bearable as we reach for the fruit.

With work and sacrifice a reward is achieved. Abundance is harvested.

And we can begin to create blackberry cobbler and jam and syrup. Yum.

Processing Our First Chickens

When death is a part of homestead life.

We have a goal of raising as much of our food as possible. Being responsible for that food from start to finish. That means providing our animals with the healthiest life possible, and the most respectful death we can give them.

We have purchased dozens of chicks to raise for meat and eggs. I acquired all the tools necessary for butchering in anticipation of that day.

The day came sooner than expected with a sickly hen that was not getting better. Today was the day. We decided to use this hen as a practice and added an extra rooster to the process.

Our original plan for the day was to take down some old fencing, but this sickly chicken became the priority, and all resources were directed towards the effort.

Mr. J unboxed and assembled the chicken plucker. Our middle son nailed the kill cone to the tree and set up our workspace. I cleaned containers, heated water for scalding, and provided ice water for rinsing. I also collected the chickens.

I must say, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I had mentally prepared myself for this day. And it certainly helped that I started roasting whole chickens several years ago. There was a time when I was squeamish around a chicken carcass from the store. Not anymore.

We will make use of every part of those chickens. Nothing will go to waste. The sickly chicken (probably injured, not diseased) ended up in the compost pile We did not want to risk making any other animal sick. The rooster was butchered. The dogs will get the carcass, feet, and organs. The pigs will be offered the intestines and other bits. The water we used to rinse and clean was poured on the plants in the hoop house. The feathers have been tossed in the pig pen. If the pigs don’t eat them, they will end up in the compost.

We need to work on technique. But this is a start. You have to start somewhere.

If you want to grow your own food, you need to do the work. From start to finish. Life to death.

Finding Our Homestead and Smelling Roses

Embracing God’s grace along the way.

We decided to move to Tennessee for many practical reasons, but mainly because we felt we were following God’s plan. But how could we possibly know for certain. This uprooting of our lives, selling our home, and taking a leap was very sudden. And, yes, there were moments of doubt and uncertainty, but along the way God would give us enough of a glimpse to keep us moving forward along the path.

Once our decision to move was made, I quickly set the wheels in motion. We decided to move Thursday (see my December 9th post myfiatfarm.com/2021/12/09/a-punch-in-the-gut/) and I called my California realtor Friday morning. I told her I was putting our house on the market, and we met that day. I immediately began the steps necessary to sell the house – mostly purging, packing, and painting. The weekend was a blur with sleepless nights and house cleaning days.

By Monday morning I was exhausted. I knew I needed to find a realtor in Tennessee, but I had a busy day ahead and told myself it could wait until Tuesday. I made my breakfast and sat down to eat when I felt a prompting to call one of the recommendations I had collected for realtors in Tennessee. I had three numbers. Two of the numbers had names included with the realtor’s number. The third was just a number. I decided to call the third.

I pressed the number into my phone, listened to the rings, and heard a voice on the other end.

“This is Joshua Christian.”

The name Joshua is an English translation for the Hebrew word Yehoshua which means “Yahweh is Salvation.” Joshua is also an English derivative of the name Jesus. (Joshua – Wikipedia)

So, when I heard over the line

“This is Joshua Christian.”

I thought, of course you are. I call a number with no name on a whim, and I get Joshua Christian.

That morning, Joshua Christian became our realtor.

And he did a great job. Joshua understood what we were looking for and we began the search based on a price range and location radius.

But looking at the properties for sale, nothing felt right. The market was slim and anything that was a good deal was getting purchased quickly. After a week I began to worry. So, without letting Joshua know, I increased our price point and expanded our search radius. And I found it.

I found a property meeting our acreage and resource requirements, with pastures and ponds, located on Genesis Road.

Genesis Road.

We were seeking land where we could develop a regenerative homestead following God’s plan and this property was on Genesis Rd.

On top of that, I was “feeling” it. When we had purchased our last few homes, I always had a very visceral reaction. I knew it was the right home despite the wallpaper, paneling, or orange carpeting. I could feel the potential and rightness of the home. I was beginning to get that feeling with this property online.

Joshua said if we were serious about this property, we would need to fly out to see it. We made our reservations and flew out to Tennessee the day our home went on the market back in Southern California.

Arriving in Nashville, we then set off to meet Joshua at the property. There were a few things we noticed as we got closer – cell reception was poor, and the scenery was dramatic.

We found the property, drove down the lane to the front of the home, and got out to meet Joshua in person for the first time, shaking his hand.

“Something has happened since we last talked,“ Joshua began. We find out that two days before, the owner of the property, Jack, had a heart attack and was currently in the hospital having open heart surgery.

Oh, goodness. The gravity of this fell over us. The wife was on her way from the hospital to greet us and would be here any moment.

We then face the home. As I take it in, I smell a strong floral scent surrounding me. I think “how lovely that the plants were designed to greet guests with such a lovely scent.” But this leaves my mind as another car comes down the drive.

Lynda, Jack’s wife, drives up and rushes to meet us. We ask about Jack. She is stretched thin, her husband is in the hospital, yet she comes to help with any questions we might have. I give her a big hug overcome with all she is going through.

“I don’t know what we are going to do,” Lynda shares, “if we have to run this place one more winter it will kill Jack.”

This property had been on the market for two years. And here we are. Right now.

We tour the property trying to take in as much as we can with the time we have left in the day. It is a lot to take in. It is overwhelming. But it is beautiful. Amazingly beautiful.

We leave at dusk with the decision swirling in our heads. Is this the right place? There is so much work to do. The house is much larger than what we are looking for. Such a big decision. We need to think about it. Is this God’s Plan? How do we know?


Flying home the next evening, sitting next to Mr. J, I am reflecting on the house and the decision we need to make.

And then I remember: I smelled flowers. But not just flowers.

I smelled roses.

I turn to Mr. J. and ask, “When we first got to the house, and we were looking at it, did you smell any flowers?”


“No flowers? Did you smell flowers at anytime on the property?” I pressed.


“I smelled roses.” I said looking at him seriously. There were no rose bushes where I had been standing, and I smelled roses.

He understood. At that moment, we knew we were buying the property on Genesis Road with the help of our realtor, Joshua Christian. Because I smelled roses.


Roses? Why roses?

In my Catholic faith, the scent of roses, when no roses are present, is seen as a grace or consolation. It let’s one know that God is there and that His blessing is present.

We continue this homestead journey and embrace our path knowing that when I stood in front of Fiat Farm for the first time, I smelled roses. We pray for God’s continued blessing and are thankful for His grace.

Selecting livestock for the homestead

My thoughts and considerations…for now.

I’m sure more experienced farmers may chuckle as they read my plan, and I will probably look back a realize that, like most plans, it didn’t survive first contact. But I think it worthwhile to share how I am selecting the animals I am bringing on to Fiat Farm. There is a plan, and thought has been put into it. Whether it’s the right plan or not…time will tell.

We have acreage. We have pasture. We have woods. We have water.

Now we need animals.

But not just any animals. As a regenerative homestead our animals will play an important role in increasing the fertility of the land. Oh, yeah, and filling our freezer.

So, what are my considerations as I select livestock for Fiat Farm?

Here goes…

What is their role? As I research and select animals, I ask what role will it play on the homestead? Protection, pasture management, food? Most will have a dual purpose. For example, pigs will help with woods and pasture management along with providing pork for the freezer.

Can they thrive on our land? The animals must be able to thrive on our land with little to no input from us. We will provide water, some feed, minerals, and manage their frequent rotation to new paddocks; but most of their nutrition will be provided by our pasture and woods. I am selecting breeds known to thrive on pasture. I will need to supplement with hay in the winter, but the hope is that this is limited to January and February.

Are they healthy and disease resistant? I look for healthy, vibrant animals from a breed that is known to resist disease and parasites. The goal is to keep medical and veterinary intervention to a minimum. We cannot afford to nurse along a sickly animal. Rotational grazing practices (moving the animals to new paddocks frequently) and hearty stock will help us to raise a herd that thrives on our land. I am also reaching out to small farmers and asking about how their stock is raised before I purchase from them. I am avoiding stock auctions as many times that is where farmers take their problem animals to sell.

Are they a heritage breed that should be preserved? I want to preserve quality breeds from olden days. Why? I believe they have value. Much of the livestock bred carefully over generations to fit perfectly on a homestead have been discarded in favor of industrial production. I am looking for tried and true heritage stock.

Are they docile and low maintenance? Let’s be honest. Until two months ago I had never raised livestock. I have a huge learning curve and I need animals that will make this process easier for me. I am seeking breeds that are not aggressive and pretty much take care of themselves. This means breeds with docile temperaments, strong mothering instincts, and easy births. Honestly, I dream of waking up one morning to find my pregnant sow gave birth while I was asleep, and her piglets are healthy and happy. Mind you, we will be laboring to manage their movement through the paddocks, but I don’t want to have to go all James Herriot with my arm up a cow’s back end because she is having a difficult birth. At least not yet.

Will we eat it? Our livestock will both help manage the pasture and fill our freezer. We will raise what we like to eat. For us that means chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows. I have no plans to raise goats, a dairy cow, or rabbits. But remember that when I say “no.” God chuckles and says, “we’ll see.”

Having said all that, I would like to introduce to you our first livestock.


Magnus, our guardian dog, meets the girls.

For my first foray into livestock I chose the Large Black hog.

The Large Black are a heritage breed of swine listed as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy with just 300 breeding hogs as of 2008. They originally came from England, were popular through the 1940’s, then lost popularity after World War II when small farms gave away to industrial production. This breed did not do well in the industrial environment and their numbers dwindled.

I chose the large black because it thrives outdoors and will forage our pastures and woodlands. Our goal as a homestead is to limit the inputs required from outside our property to feed our animals. These omnivores will get most of the food they need from the plants, nuts, and grubs on our farm. They will live out in the pastures and spend their days looking for delicious food to eat.

They are known to be good mothers, easily giving birth to litters of 8-10 piglets. Docile and friendly they are perfect for the small homestead. We will add a boy to this group in a few months with the hope of having piglets of our own in the next year.

These two girls already have an important role to play on Fiat Farm. They are going to be my mobile tractors clearing the area where my gardens will go in the spring. They get to root around in the dirt and I get a tilled garden. Win-win.

The girls at work.

Look back at the first picture. Then look at the one above. Can you see the difference in their pen in just two days? They have been rooting around eating the grass, weeds and brambles from what was a wild and overgrown space. As they do this, they will add fertility with their manure and urine. Tomorrow, we will transition them to a larger space and start the move towards my garden area.

How does a suburban southern California girl decide she wants to raise her own food? About 8 years ago I discovered Joel Salatin. His approach to farming and enthusiasm for the land planted a seed that is coming to fruition now. Here is a short video overview of his philosophy and approach.

There’s a Better Way to Farm

If you like this, there are many more Joel Salatin videos to choose from on the internet. Maybe you will be inspired too.

The fun is just starting on Fiat Farm. I will keep you posted as more animals arrive.