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From Ponies To Foreign Dignitaries – Guest Post

Somewhere at Mom and Daddy’s house, there’s a photo of me, six years old, sitting astride a pony, staring into the distance. At that tender age, my dream was to have a farm with animals and spend my days tending to both, being a steward of what God entrusted to me.

Fast forward thirty years when Dave and I met as neighbors, then friends, and, twenty-two years later,  ended on an Appy Mountain farm when my beloved husband’s great heart literally stopped beating. (The beginning of our story is My Story on my blog.)

When we met, Dave was crushed by Cathy’s death; she, the wife of his youth, had fought cancer but succumbed only eleven months prior to our meeting. He was devastated, barely functioning, drinking himself into oblivion each night, smoking too much during the day. Even so, I glimpsed the man capable of such love and loyalty and knew I was willing to wait for whatever he had left when he came out of the shadowlands.

It took six years before we began talking of marriage and moving and our search took us to a  run down, rather sad homestead in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia. We sold our houses, moving almost three hundred miles and, in front of family and witnesses, were married on the front lawn of what we named Thistle Cove Farm. House restoration began almost immediately as we barricaded ourselves in three rooms and early every morning I would bang a wooden spoon against a cook pot, alerting the wild animals who’d sought shelter overnight, it was time to vacate the premises.

Dave fully supported my farm dream and loved living on the farm but, except in extreme emergencies, he farmed from the warm, or cool, side of the window. The first “livestock” I brought to the farm were Agatha and Esmeralda, The Fabulous Goatini Sisters who proved to be carriers of all things hilarious. They started my fiber quest…spinning wheels, drop spindles, looms, etc. and, eventually, sheep. Sheep are known as a “woman’s livestock”; fairly easy to manage and handle, especially if one is cautious about the breed and my colored flock of fifty was, at the time, the largest in the Commonwealth. American Bashkir Curly horses were brought to the farm and I began breeding colored, gaited Curly horses. They’re known for their calm, gentle, curious nature and (bonus!) their fiber may be blended with wool and spun.

At fewer than thirty acres, our homestead was the smallest in the valley and I began investigating ways to earn money. The other valley farms had hundreds of black Angus cattle, meat sheep and also raised hay both to use and sell.

As Thistle Cove Farm accumulated horses and sheep, I also began raising hay for my animals and as cash crop. My undergrad degree was in Recreation, Parks and Tourism and combining agriculture and tourism, networking and partnering with others, seemed a given. Appalachian Heritage Days in the Cove brought thousands of people to the farm where they watched as various artisans and craftsmen did things “the old fashioned way, one at a time, with their hands”.

Farm tours eventually brought in the quickest, fastest money. I paid folks $50 to demonstrate basket making, dulcimer making, honey bee hives, farrier/blacksmith, broom making, etc. and allowed them to sell their product.

Individual stations were set up for each artisan as five hundred school children were shephered from station to station, watching in amazement as people plied their craft. Usually, when parents found out the school trip was to Thistle Cove Farm, they were suddenly interested in being helpers. Everyone, except the teacher and the bus driver, paid $5.00 to visit the farm and eat lunch they brought with them. Adults were seated at picnic tables while children were seated on tarps and blankets and I could easily clear a couple of thousand dollars per morning.

On Sheep Shearing Day the farm was opened to the public and, again, artisans were invited (but not paid) to set up, demo and sell. Friends helped skirt (clean) sheep fleeces in exchange for a fleece of their choice. I also sold fresh fleeces for $250 to $400 per fleece, depending upon breed and poundage.

The fleeces were shipped to a family owned mill to be made into warm, woolen blankets and yarn, some kept, some sold. My last fleeces are being readied now for shipment and I anticipate having blankets and throws before winter ends.

At that time, Thistle Cove Farm was within driving distance of four colleges/universities and when they found out about farm tours, I was asked if I would entertain various foreign dignitaries. We hosted folks from Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Georgia and other countries. A Bluefield State professor asked if I would go with his group, funded through the U.S. State Department, to Russia to teach Agri-Tourism and eventually to Armenia and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Concord University allowed me, as Adjunct Professor, to teach Increasing Small Farm and Business Income. I’m in process of turning that classroom course and syllabus into a web course and book. I was blessed to teach at various venues: Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival, conferences, conventions and workshops on the East coast.

In my experience, it is possible to make money on small acreages using value added projects but one has to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers. There’s always someone who says, “It can’t be done” or “We’ve never done it that way before”. One has to have dream and vision, gumption and a willingness to both fail and succeed.

Dave and I were reaching our stride; he and I traveling together as we preached Agri-tourism as a good way to make a good life and the next adventure was flying to Paris then, using the European rail system, backpack around Europe. Shy of two weeks before flying to Paris he became ill and, a few weeks later, was diagnosed with cancer. After extensive treatment, he was sent home and we settled into cherishing what we’d been told were our last months together.

At 10:00 one Monday morning he called me to his side, “How do I make peace with God?” he asked. I explained the gift of Jesus’ salvation and Dave made his eternal peace; five days later, at 10:00 Saturday morning, he literally fell over dead of a heart attack.

Early November it will be seven years since he went Home and those years have been fraught with angst, grief, tears but always overwhelmed and overseen by God’s gifts of grace, mercy, safety, love. I have slogged through the mire, finding out only a few weeks ago Cognitive Grief is what I’ve been going through and not quietly insane.

There is life after death, for those left behind, and that life includes both new visions and new dreams. I am beginning to understand God has a good plan for my life and for His glory; it’s mine because I choose to enter the new season He has prepared. Someone once told me, “You’re the Granny I never knew” and I thought, “What a great compliment!” My new mission (because I choose to accept it /smile/) is to empty my brain of whatever wisdom and knowledge God has allowed me and to earn my keep by helping others earn their keep on this wonderful planet.
How may I help you?

Affectionately,   Granny B. Visit at thistlecove.farm

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