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I am Sandra - faithful steward. listener. shepherd. dream believer. hard worker. collects brass bells, boots. Jesus follower. contented. star gazer. homemaker. farmer. prayer warrior. country woman. reader. traveler. writer. homebody. living life large.

Monday, February 27, 2006

February's end

Hard to believe it's the end of February; I'm hoping March will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. We're to have rain mixed with snow showers tonight and tomorrow with clear skies on hope springs eternal.

I'm home after speaking at the 2006 Mid-Atlantic Direct Marketing Conference in Reading, PA on Saturday. It was a very long drive, just a mile or two shy of 1,000 and I'm every so glad to be home. I do enjoy speaking and teaching and meeting like minded folks who are proud and happy to be engaged in agriculture. My main audience is small acreage, hobby, family and female farmers who are interested in increasing farm income. Actually, that's the primary title - Increasing Farm Income Using Agri-Culture, Agri-Education, Agri-Tainment and Agri-Tourism. I teach people how to work their farming business so they can increase farm income to the point where one of the couple can stay home.

My undergraduate degree is in Recreation, Parks and Tourism and it didn't take me long to figure out that thirty acres and a handful of critters would work me to death but not make me much money. So, I merged the aforementioned and teach other people how to do the same.

There were between seventy-five and one hundred people in the morning session and about fifty to seventy-five in the afternoon session. I should have made an exact count but was too preoccupied to tend to all my housekeeping duties.

The odometer shows only a few miles shy of 1,000 being driven since Thursday when I left and last night when I returned home. It was a long drive, most of it straight up the Valley and it was beautiful. Coming home I drove through three or four snow blizzards that lasted for five minutes and then ceased. It was very strange driving but I enjoyed it greatly.

Today was spent trying to catch up...chores, feed store and still have to go to the grocery store tonight after supper. We didn't go to the grocery while at the feed store because Dave likes wally world and that's at the opposite end of the county. I have a feeling I'm going to be tired early tonight and want my comfy bed soon.

O, it's grand to be home!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Lovely Day

It's a lovely day here at Thistle Cove Farm. We've had snow for the last week plus and it's still on the ground. Before Dave and I left for vacation, I set out round bales of hay for all the animals...sheep and horses. Then, I asked a friend if he would eyeball the hay and, if necessary, put out my hay while I was gone. I don't work the horses as much in the winter as in the warmer months and their primary focus is grazing. Some would say that's true all year 'round but who listens to them. Anyway, all animals fared quite well and, while we were gone, only one little wether (castrated male sheep) had to be rolled to his feet. I'm keeping his fleece come spring because part of it is red and brown and part of it is solid black. He was the lamb who went where he wasn't supposed to go and caught caught in the fence. He tore off part of his fleece and it grew in very black. It will make a nice fleece for me and I look forward to working with it.

Another fleece I'll keep is Samuel's fleece. I wrote a children's story about Samuel and must always keep his fleece for myself. He's the son of Zach, a Romney ram, and Carly, a Shetland ewe and has the sweet disposition of both his parents.

Dave and I went on a cruise. That's funny because for years we've looked askance at people who would go on a cruise...we just couldn't imagine. Now that we've aged a bit we can well imagine the lure of a cruise. Someone waits on you hand and foot and all you have to do is show up. We went on a NCL cruise out of Charleston, SC (poto above is of the new Cooper River Bridge) and traveled to Grand Cayman Island, Playa del Carman, Mexico and Key West, Florida. In GCI we went on a submarine dive, over 100 feet, and saw marine life of all sorts. We even saw a barracuda at a feeding station, a site most rare and one rarely witnessed by divers of decade's experience. Or so I'm told. In Mexico we went on the mainland and then to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. That was beautiful and I wondered at the lives of the people who have lived there. The inner sanctum, so to speak, was only for royalty and the religious leaders; the workers all lived outside the walled "city". Thus it was and so shall ever be, eh?

Key West was fun and we visited the Key West Treasure Shop and spoke with the owner who was part of Mel Fisher's dive team when he found the Atocha. We saw gold coins, emeralds and other artifacts from 380 year old buried treasure. We also saw treasure from a ship that went down just off New Orleans and had a shipment of gold, jewels, etc. that was headed to Spain to shore up their coffers. Because the ship went down and the bounty never delivered to Spain, Spain was forced to sell the Louisiana Territoritory to France who, in turn, sold it to the USA. And, that, as Paul Harvey says, is the rest of the story.

It was a delightful time and Dave and I both enjoy the same activities...museums, history, sightseeing...somewhat less stressful activities as adventure tourism is too active for us. We also enjoyed meeting the NCL cruise staff who are from different countries from around the world. We spoke with a lot of people from Romania, Crotia, Turkey, Australia, Jamaica and Serbia. It's a great way to broaden's ones horizons and get a crash course in geography and history.

We came home in a driving snowstorm and I immediately had to put out more hay for the horses. They have been eating their fair share and more due to the extremly cold temperatures we've been having. I need to take some photos of the horses and the sheep and want to do that in the snow...the horses especially have very curly coats right now and they look beautiful.

My time since arriving home has been spent in writing articles, getting caught up on correspondance and sending out hand knitted items for charity auctions. I hand knitted mother and daughter hats for the Lions Club Auction and a child's hat for the PBS auction in Harrisonburg, VA. Dave is delivering the mother/daughter hats today and the other hat will be mailed tomorrow. Gosh, I can't remember when that auction is...sure hope it's not too late.

The Blue Ridge Gazette editor, Dennis, has graciously invited me to write for the Gazette; please find it at . My first article should appear sometime today. Leslie, over at www.greenberryhouse.blogspot/com first told me about the Gazette and when I visited I found it to be a delightful site...full of information about The Blue Ridge Highlands. And, no, while I'm not officially part of The Blue Ridge Highlands, they are, officially, part of the Appalachians so it works out. Please do visit the Gazette and find out what you've been missing.

My farm chores are finished for the day but I've "miles to go before I sleep" and must move on to the next task at hand.

God bless you and keep you and cause His face to smile graciously upon you until we meet again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Farming as My Way of Life

I'm also writing for the Blue Ridge Gazette and this article is also found at www.blueridgegazette/

The first half of the 20th century found people leaving the family farm in droves. This was due, in part, to the heavy physical labor required and the perception that life would be easier and more (financially) rewarding off the farm.

Ironically, the second half of that same century found people leaving their city jobs and returning to the farm for exactly the same reasons as their parents had left. People have found out for themselves, as well as finding out the hard way, that work accomplished with their own hands and heart is more rewarding than the work accomplished simply for a paycheck. That honest work contributes to an honorable way of life and when we are worthy stewards over God's gift of creation, we reap rewards and benefits only dreamt of in office cubicles.

The back to the land movement of the 1960's continues into the twenty-first century with the numbers of family, small, hobby and female farmers comprising the majority of new farmers. Women, especially, have become the new pioneers in the farming movement and sheep, goats, rabbits and other small livestock make up their new farms. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, women farmers number 19,500 and, as a population, are growing faster than the decline of the traditional male farmer. Yet, overall, in the USA farmers are fewer than 2% of the population.

We would do well to remember Maslow's Heirarchy of, shelter and clothing are *needs*, everything else is a want.

My kith and kin first settled the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-1700's and became farmers and shepherds. Both sides of my family have always had a milk cow or two, chickens for both eggs and pot, hogs, sheep, beehives and gardens. In Les Hamrick's book, Roots & Wings - The Family Record of Benjamin Hamrick, one of the cover photos is of my female relative, Jane Hamrick. She's in what might be her best dress, seated in her garden spinning a long draw at her Saxony spinning wheel. What's remarkable is her Saxony spinning wheel could be the twin of the Reeves Saxony wheel on which I spin while seated in my sunroom, overlooking the horses, sheep and cattle grazing the Appalachian mountain pastures.

My logo is a 1934 photo of my Daddy, Ellsworth James Bennett. He's kneeling on the ground with his arms encircling twin black lambs. Twin black lambs were a rarity because, at birth, they would usually be killed, stripped of their pelts and then sold to Miss Viola. She would turn those pelts into a French Mouton Fur Coat and then sell the coats to rich New York City women. Daddy was the baby boy and allowed to keep those twin least for a time.

Appalachian Wool Works - Happy Sheep Make Beautiful Wool is my nod of the head to my kith and kin. Of course they would have eaten their sheep as well as used their fleeces and sold both to market but my darlings have no such worries. My sheep are fleece providers only and are well known for their fleece luxuriousness, length, strength and beauty. Like people, when sheep have low stress, the right food and nutrients and drink from crystal clear mountain rivers, they respond by giving their absolute best.

When a woman becomes a first time farmer, rancher or shepherd, she finds out she's, generally, considered to be an anomaly. She has to prove herself in the areas of livestock whereas with crops it's usually a different story. Crops are somehow equated to gardens and gardens to herb gardens and kitchens where, traditionally, women have reigned. Crops in the field and livestock have been a man's domain and he's sometimes a bit reluctant to relinquish his pun intended.

I've found younger men to be more accepting of me as a farmer and shepherd. Perhaps this is because they see me as a Grandmother figure and they want to lend a helping hand more? I don't know and it really doesn't matter just as long as they keep coming 'round to help out. One young man, James, is very protective and is always calling to ask, "what'cha need help with this week?" He's helped with my sheep by de-worming, feet trimming, shearing and is going to help with fencing and barn repair this spring. A young couple, Danny and Tammy, share both the work and the reward when it's time to cut, kick, bale and put up hay. Ken and Joey have also pitched in when I’ve been in desperate need.

Whoever is here at mealtime puts their feet under my table. It’s the way I was raised and I see no need to change. Millionaires and farm hands have sit down to a table groaning with food and, hopefully, the experience has made us all better. Perhaps that’s one reason why I’ve almost never been without help - people know they will eat and eat well thorough out the day.

The Internet has increased my market from locally (where I struggled to sell anything) to worldwide where I'm known for the quality of my fleeces and my rare breed American Curly horses. The horses number around 4,000 in the world and are known for being hypoallergenic and calm with exceptionally gentle dispositions and temperaments. People from Norway, Japan, Canada and all over the US have visited Thistle Cove Farm because they are interested in a horse that doesn't disturb their allergies.

The Internet has also allowed me to enlarge my personal world as well as my worldview and, I hope, has made me a better person. It has allowed me to sell fiber, goods and horses all over the world and has given me many friendships and has taken me to places I never dreamed of visiting. It’s helped many of my dreams come true.

Since I was six years old I've known I wanted to farm and that dream came true when we bought Thistle Cove Farm in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. It took more than four decades but God gave me the desire of my young heart. The lesson of tightly holding onto hope continues to serve me well as farmer and shepherd.

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