Dreams do Come True
I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a small grassroots mini-series called the Homestead Documentary, and of course I said yes. I love sharing our story, and in so doing I hope to inspire others to follow their dream of country living. The Homestead Documentary will be released on January 9th, and I have a short segment at the end of Season 2, Episode 1. You can watch the segment that I'm in for free for five days only, from January 9th - 14th, and to do that you'll need to sign up using this link. After the free viewing period, the entire two seasons will be for sale using the same link. If you'd like to know more about the story of 5R Farm and how we went from living in the city with five backyard chickens to living the small farm life we live today, you've come to the right place! Keep reading this post to find out how we made it happen.
The change from city to country living happened later in life for us, and it didn't happen overnight. We were in our early 40's when we bought our country property, and it took us several years to make the transition to living here full time. As I look back at all that we've accomplished over the past 12 years, I want to let you know that it's never too late to follow your dreams. Even if you feel that your dream is out of reach, or if you feel a bit overwhelmed and you don't know how to start pursuing it, that doesn't mean that you can't make it happen. You don't have to jump in all at once with both feet, but you do have to start taking small steps if you want to make your dream a reality. Here's how we achieved our dream, one year, and one project at a time.
Flashback to December 2010. We were living in Portland, I had a good job, we had a beautiful home, and we had all that we needed to live a comfortable life. We enjoyed the usual things - dining out at nice restaurants, good wine, going out with friends, and taking vacations overseas. Even though we enjoyed the city life, my corporate job was starting to take a toll, and I was feeling burned out. I began having thoughts of "Is this all there is? Is this how I am going to spend the next twenty years of my life?" Over the holidays that year, we began talking a bit more seriously about our dream of moving to the country. We decided what the heck, let's start looking for rural property within an hour of Portland and just see what's available. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, but within four months we found the perfect property for us. I swear I'm not making this up - the day we first went to look at the property that we own now there were two bald eagles soaring overhead. I took it as sign that it was meant to be. The property had an open southern-facing exposure that would be perfect for gardening and building chicken coops. It was at the end of a small private road and surrounded by trees. It was beautiful and secluded yet still within 15 minutes of the cute historic small town with a few shops and restaurants. In short, it was absolutely perfect, so we purchased our 4.5 acre property in St. Helens, Oregon in the spring of 2011.
There was an existing house, a garage/shop and a woodshed on the property, but there was no established garden and no other outbuildings that could be used for a chicken coop. We began spending 3-day weekends at the farm, putting in the beginnings of a vegetable garden with a few raised beds and a fence to keep the deer out. I planted strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. The property had been in foreclosure and had been ignored for a few years, so my husband worked to tame the wild vegetation and battle the invasive blackberry and thistle. He built a small chicken coop so that we could bring out our five backyard chickens to enjoy the farm life, and it was then that I decided to name our property 5R Farm. We named it after Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona - the feathered ladies that inspired us to follow our dream of moving to the country. Our move didn't happen right away though, for the first two and a half years we split our time between the city and the country. We had a friend staying at the farm to keep an eye on things during the week and to help us with projects when we came out on the weekends.
It wasn't long after moving our city chickens to the farm that I was ready to add more chickens. In 2012, Mr. 5R Farm built a much larger chicken coop, and we welcomed two dozen new chicks to the farm. I soon discovered the meaning of chicken math (the way that a small flock becomes a large flock in a surprisingly short amount of time!) and along with it the joys of rainbow eggs and all of the beautiful varieties of chickens to tempt us crazy chicken ladies. Several of my adorable baby chicks grew up to be roosters which added a new element of fun to the farm. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing a good rooster taking care of his ladies, and nothing more frustrating than the chaos that ensues when one has too many roosters! I've experienced both, but I can tell you that I will never be without roosters as long as I have chickens. A good rooster is worth his weight in gold as a flock protector. Another benefit of having roosters is that they allow you to hatch your own chicks, and that is one of the most heartwarming experiences of farm life. It also happens to go hand in hand with chicken math ;) so you see how easily that can happen!
Next up on the project list was a greenhouse. One of Mr. 5R Farm's specialities is repurposing old things, and he built a beautiful greenhouse with old storm windows and salvaged deck boards and doors. Having a greenhouse allowed me to up my gardening game, and I began starting almost all of my own seeds for each year's garden. Every year we improved upon the garden bit by bit, adding more raised beds, installing trellises to grow things vertically, and covering the grass in between the beds with with wood chip paths. As my harvests grew, I began learning how to preserve and can more types of food. The mud room, pantry and freezer soon became stocked with all manner of garden grown goodness - potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, marinara sauce, tomato soup, applesauce, canned greens, pickles, jams, roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers, pesto, and so much more.
We added honeybees to the farm in 2013. Being a beekeeper is one of the most challenging things that I've learned to do since moving to the farm, and it's also one of the most fascinating. If you've thought about giving beekeeping a try, I encourage you to take a beekeeping class and read my bee blogs to give you an understanding of the work that is involved. Despite the hard work and the occasional bit of anxiety, hive inspection days are always so much fun. It's amazing to watch the colony at work up close, and that first taste of your own honey will be the most delicious thing you've ever tasted. I always feel a sense of pride when I see 'my bees' pollinating the garden, and it's truly a wonderful experience having beehives.
Once we had the chicken flock, vegetable garden and a beehive established on the farm, it became harder and harder to leave everything and return to the city on Sunday afternoons. I missed not having my backyard chickens to start my day with, and I felt like I was just living for the weekends. So we decided to move to the farm full time in the fall of 2013. I scaled back my job in the city to 30 hours a week, and I began telecommuting two days a week. That worked for a while, but it was still stretching me a bit thin. I began to think about leaving my environmental consulting job and starting my own business so that I could work from home every day. This was perhaps the hardest part of fully realizing our dream, but I felt it was essential. My husband is self employed, so giving up the predictable, steady income from my job was a big decision, but we decided it was worth the risk. I took that last big leap of faith and left my city job and went to work for myself, and I've never looked back. Selling eggs and handmade soap are small income generators on the farm, but that's not our main source of income. I have a wetland consulting business and my husband plays music, and that's how we afford to live the farm life, which although it is very rewarding, farm life doesn't pay the bills - at least not yet!
Now that we were living on the farm full-time and I was able to be here most days, I decided upon the next big thing - turkeys! We've been raising heritage Narragansett turkeys for going on eight years now. In the beginning it was my intent to raise them to provide the Thanksgiving turkey for our family, and we did do that for the first few years. But if you've been following me on social media for any time at all, you know how head over heels I've fallen for these big, beautiful and charismatic birds. I share lots of photos and videos of their antics on my instagram @5rfarmoregon, and I also love talking turkey, so let me know if you have any questions about raising turkeys! I have several favorites here including my main tom Ringo, and a couple of sweet lap ladies - Pumpkin Pie (also know as Miss PP) and Peppy. I currently have a flock of eight turkeys, and I keep them just for fun and for their gorgeous speckled eggs. You can also read all about my experience raising turkeys on my turkey blogs.
There is a constant ebb and flow to farm life now. Some years have kept me very busy with splitting bee hives and harvesting honey. Other years are busy with hatching chicks and turkey poults and expanding our flock and then I am overrun with eggs in the summer. Some years I focus on mastering how to grow new things in the garden. Other years I'll add new flower beds around the farm, only to realize the following year I can't keep up with weeding and watering them, and that's okay. One of my favorite sayings is "You can do anything, but you can't do everything." It certainly applies to farm life, and I try to always remember these words when I'm feeling overwhelmed by everything I've taken on. These days I try to be better about setting down the to do list and taking some time for myself to just sit and enjoy the simple pleasures of farm life and appreciate everything that we've accomplished. If there's one piece of advice I could give to aspiring homesteaders, it's to take that first step, I promise you won't regret it.