Willa Beth has been a member of the South Hall, GA Chapter of LHG for two years where she serves as Secretary. Here is her homesteading story:
My first memory is the day my Great Uncle Joe gave us his old pony, Sherlock Surefoot. I was three years old and stood barely knee high to my tall, skinny uncle. The pony was fluffy and white, gluttonous and none too happy to be ridden. My older brother and sister, Robert and Alice, were running in and out of the house, the screen door slamming behind them as they grabbed apples and carrots to feed the pudgy pony.
"I touched his soft, fuzzy face and it was love, all at once."
It was early spring and the wind was violently blowing my Great Aunt Ethel’s red hair and her blue dress all around making for a funny sight. Mother and Aunt Ethel were deep in conversation but my dad, not wanting me to miss out on the new arrival, picked me up, smiling, and carried me over to where Sherlock was fenced in our corral. I touched his soft fuzzy face and it was love, all at once. Yes, I was one of those little girls who had a pony. Albeit a mean, ornery pony, but a pony none-the-less.
Growing up on a small homestead surrounded by other farms was ideal. My Grandparents lived just around the corner on a large tract which made our 40 acres seem small. My Grandmother, affectionately known as Mimi, quilted, crocheted and knitted. She also made sourdough bread and the best darn tea cakes you ever tasted. There were ever-changing ponds and creeks, forests and fields for my siblings, cousins and I to explore. Like my parents, my grandparents had cows and grew hay which fed both our herds. In addition to cows, we also raised ducks, sheep, bird dogs and lots and lots of cats.
During my teenage years, my oldest sister, Jo Wynn, moved into a small house next to my Grandparents and started raising all kinds of chickens and rabbits and a turkey named Troy. She also grew a great assortment of herbs and was learning medicinal uses for each kind. She was a hippy of sorts and believed in living off the earth and eating fresh and healing yourself through good nutrition. Her influence combined with my pastoral childhood set me up to long for my own homestead.
But life throws you curve balls and dreams are put on hold. Unfortunately, my sister did not live past age 39. The loss of my best friend/sister left a big hole in my life. She taught me everything from how to grow mint to breastfeeding my baby girl. Then, a year after losing Jo Wynn, my first marriage failed and it was my role to provide for myself and my daughter. We grew pumpkins in our back yard and had a compost bin, but, the dream of a larger homestead faded away and slowly, I stopped thinking about it.
"... we started with six baby chicks ... raising them in our bathtub..."
Now, 15 years later, my daughter is grown and I am remarried and have three beautiful step-daughters. With the help and complete support of my husband, Chris, we started with six baby chicks about four years ago. We raised them in our bathtub while we worked on building a chicken coop. One of the chicks began to stick its leg out and eventually fell over, unable to walk. First I separated it from the others and called my sister Alice who is a veterinarian. Alice came over and we created a paste of feed and probiotics and minerals to hopefully help this baby chick survive. But, chicks are fragile and it did not live. Alice explained that typically, out of 10 chickens, you might have six which survive. Life in general is more fragile and more precious than I ever imagined.
About a year after moving to Flowery Branch, I received an email about Ladies Homestead Gathering and a new Chapter starting in Flowery Branch, GA. Even though I was skeptical about it, my husband encouraged me to go and see what it was about. After my first meeting where I met Esther Arkfeld, Jill Puckett and Jill Wolfe, I was hooked. They were talking about fermenting and canning and making things like Mimi used to do. Just like meeting my pony, Sherlock, for the first time, I knew instantly I was going to love this group.
"...I started making sourdough bread, kombucha and homemade medicinal elixirs.."
Through my association with these lovely ladies, I started making sourdough bread, kombucha and homemade medicinal elixirs like fire cider and elderberry syrup. Then, I attended my first retreat hosted by National Ladies Homestead Gathering and the door opened wider. I was astonished by all these women who had amazing skills which I longed to learn. And they were more than happy to share my journey and help me along the way.
With these new friendships, I feel like my life has really taken off and the hole left by the loss of my sister, Jo, is starting to feel more whole. My passion for the homesteading lifestyle is blossoming again and I am on a grand adventure learning everything I can. My family is looking for more acreage to build on and keep this dream alive. With the support of my LHG tribe, I will finally achieve my goals. There is so much still to learn! And, my sister Jo Wynn and Mimi are cheering me on!
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