Huckleberry Farm’s PlumFund

This is a post I never dreamed I’d write, but then again, I reckon I never dreamed I’d be making the decision to begin life again on my own at 45. I’m writing this to give some background. To let you know why we are where we are. Another piece of my story in the never ending novel of life.

Many will say that we ask for what we get, good or bad. Maybe we do. I like to believe that, if we surrender our lives to {the reason I believe we are placed on this earth}, to worship and to serve, that we are nearly always placed exactly where we are supposed to be. It may not be what we dreamed of, and many times we certainly do not understand the five W’s:  who, what, where, when, and why. But when we believe with our heart and soul that it’s all going to work out for the greater good and our gut feeling reaffirms we are where we should be, if we stick it out, amazing things can and will happen.

Those who know me well enough know that I made a big decision a couple of years ago. A life altering decision. For months prior to that, life was becoming a place of uncertainty, everything I thought I had falling apart at the seams. Dreams shattered. Promises broken. Still, I trudged on. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

Looking back, we always see our situations more clearly. Now I see that those people reaching out to me were concerned for my wellbeing. The stories and explanations I was being told of why our lives were becoming so strapped and goals not being reached were selfish fabrications not centered and focused on our family unit,  but on one individual and that individuals’ sole desires. The bills that were chosen to remain unpaid for years (yes, you read that correctly-years) were business accounts that were solely in my name, not joint accounts. The promises broken were not only personal. In fact, the majority of them probably didn’t affect me directly. But indirectly, they hurt my very soul.

I will never forget the day that I had a grown man in tears, crying on my shoulder in my milk barn. The night before he had basically been told that he was stupid, he would never understand farming and the only thing he had to offer was labor. He had dedicated the previous two years of his life to the farm that he was supposedly not smart enough to be on and had a dream of having his own sustainable farm to support his growing family. But the complete insensitivity and lack of encouragement he had received the night before cut him to the core. And even though I was flabbergasted as the comments made to him, the best advice and support I could give him the next morning was that he only try and understand the person from whom those comments came. He was a stern man, being hardened by life himself, lacking empathy and ultimately, kindness.

Weeks later I realized how hurtful my own comments must have been. I offered no real advice or inspiration. No comfort or reassurance that he was working hard towards an attainable goal. I was crushed. Disappointed in myself. And I finally realized then what I had been avoiding and trying to cover up for years.

The light began to brighten and I began to fight for what I knew was right. I realized that our customers, friends and family should not have to be the ones to pay the high price for our selfish goals and desires. I realized that bigger wasn’t always better and I had no desire to feed the world. If I couldn’t even feasibly take care of my immediate community around me, how in tarnation would it even be a possibility to try to feed the world?

Long story short (or not!), my concerns, thoughts, opinions and arguments were not well received. In fact, they weren’t given any merit at all. And I realized I was fighting a battle I could not win by staying on the front lines. I grew weary of being the one formulating explanations to define behaviors I couldn’t comprehend. This was a battle that I would have to retreat from and re-engage from a different direction.

Fast forward. In May, 2016, I left the battle with the encouragement and support of my adult daughter, Taylor, and a very limited number of true friends close to the situation. And do you know one of the biggest concerns I had?  My customers. I couldn’t say a word. We just disappeared off the face of the earth for several months. We were in hiding, I guess, to maintain the safety of our animals that we had taken with us. That’s the only reason. Never was I worried about me. Nor my daughter about herself. But I feared for the safety and wellbeing of my Jersey cows and Taylor for her flock of sheep.

Truth of the matter is, had I said anything, I would never have been allowed to take my animals with me. They’re my girls. My livelihood.  No one else put the time and effort into them that I did. And Taylor owned her sheep from the beginning when she purchased them at age 15.  Everything else we walked away from.

Everything. For me, that meant leaving behind 1,000 acres, the herd of beef cows, the pigs, sheep, laying hens, meat goats, vehicles, retail food, marketing and agri-tourism business, neighbors, friends, church, 16 years of everything.  Well, except the debt of those unpaid bills for our business that were in my name.  Remember those?  Yeah, I got to keep those.  Oh, and six chickens.  Of course, walking away without fighting for some monetary value from the history of 16 years was against the advice of everyone I confided in.  But you see, it was never about money for me.  It was never about feeding the world. And fighting for something that came with knowing there were moral and ethical issues attached for me was unfathomable.  Was walking away from everything against better judgement?  Maybe. Against peace of heart and mind?  Never. There was never a doubt that I was going exactly where I was supposed to be.

The first few weeks after we left, I slept for a minimum of 12 hours nightly. I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally.  But I was at peace. Taylor and I got big girl jobs, maintaining our animals and working on beginning a new chapter in life.  We reconnected with old friends, made new ones, found a church home and began finding ourselves.
That was a year and a half ago. I won’t tell you it’s been all roses. We were all acclimating to a new life. For animals, that isn’t always the easiest. Different forages bring different issues.  New places bring new concerns.  Taylor’s sheep began lambing and seemingly overnight, before we realized what a problem we were having, a majority of her new lamb crop was devastated by coyotes and a soil issue on the farm we leased that we had not been informed of. That led to sleeping, literally, with the sheep every night.  We had been slowly looking for a farm to purchase as our intention has always been to find our own place, but when the landlord decided several months ago we could no longer graze the farm, but had to keep all of our animals in a confinement situation and only feed hay, the cost of our winter feeding we had prepared for quadrupled. Our search for a farm went into high gear.
We found 30 acres with an old farm house and an old red barn, big enough to house the sheep if need be, with room to spare. And though we never really considered living in town, this quaint little farm was surrounded by the heart of Springfield, it’s people. The possibilities and potential we immediately thought of encouraged and excited us.
The owners graciously allowed us to move in prior to winter setting in while we continue to work on financing. But this is where we find bigger walls. About half of the financing we planned on was through USDA. And while this institution is purported to help farmers, it does not really have any use or support for farmers “like us”. You know, we’d be considered crunchy in the world of farming. Crunchy because we’re the ones who don’t use chemicals to control bugs and weeds. Or artificial growth hormones to produce more milk or bigger beef. And no grains to our ruminant animals. No soy products or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). And we don’t take babies away from their mommas until weaning age. You know. We operate the way we believe God intended things to grow. Naturally.  And we work directly with our customers, offering the final product ourselves with no middle men.  Therefore, the prices we receive for our products do not match up with what the agency utilizes to show income for the farm.  With the lack of records in my possession since my name was not included in the majority of the business of the farm I was married to, it’s a difficult task to get them to understand or agree with our natural ways of farming.
This is where you come in.  I cannot explain the sense of peace I have had from the first time I walked into this old farmhouse or through the big old barn, imagining the animals that have wandered through.  I have walked these fences, through these animals and buildings and asked for God’s blessings on the fields and animals for health and safety, blessings on the friends, families and customers that will walk these fields with us, blessings on the fun and events and gatherings of our friends and family here, blessings of fitness and health of all, animals and people calling this farm home, blessings on the finances to make this farm possible, and blessings on the faith in our hearts and what we will be able to share with all who come through Huckleberry Farm. But we can’t do this without the financial support of our community. So far, we have been putting our dollars into the beginnings of making this dream a reality, but we are up against a very tight deadline to make it happen and the old “when it rains it pours” stage of starting a business over.

The vision and dream we have for our little farm is big.  No, not feed the world big, but big in importance and impact for the community. It’s our biggest desire to make Huckleberry Farm a destination for the incredible community of Springfield and to give back to our community through fun, education, experiences, and memories. But it’s only with the support of our local community that that will happen. So, we’re swallowing our pride and asking for help. We’re tearing down any walls that tell us we can do it all on our own and reaching out to you. We need our community. We need your support and encouragement. We need you to reach out to your friends and family and share our need. Our situation is not one of not being able to make payments.  What we are up against is that we don’t have the ability to put any percentage of money down on the farm in order to purchase it.  Everything we add to our meager savings is continuing to go toward immediate needs to fix, repair, feed or sustain the animals we have.  You can be assured we will continue to pour our heart and souls work into making this dream become reality for the city of Springfield.  We are grateful and humbled by the outpouring of love and support already shown us by the neighbors living all around the farm. And we thank you all in advance from the bottom of our Farmher hearts.

We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Huckleberry Farm and we want each of you to be a part of our dream. Our gates will (soon!) be open, inviting you in to experience a part of our story with us.  We believe in our dream and we believe in you, our community.

Remember the guy from the milk barn?  He and his family are operating their own little piece of sustainable farming heaven. Dreams do come true.

Visit our PlumFund to donate here.

Follow Huckleberry Farm on Facebook.

~dawnnell & taylor

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