Botanical Harmony Farm: How We Came to Be
My name is Tracey Burks, 47 years of age and I am a farmer. Growing up outdoors, stomping creeks, lifting rocks for hidden treasures, playing with the plants and creatures that lived in the woods was amazing. But I was also just a city girl. A city girl who happened to have a creek in her backyard. As time marched on, the city continued to lure me in and drag me further away from nature. I went willingly. Why? Because I had no idea of my purpose. I also didn’t have any guidance or direction at the time. I tried hard to fit in and conform to the city way of life. Despite my constant efforts, I never did quite fit in. Nor was I ever truly happy.
As an adult, I landed myself in the sacred North Carolina mountains. It was magical. I learned the plants of the area and was out daily, once again playing and learning! I felt so at home in the woods.
Fast forward to 2003, after having 5 children, living a vegetarian, sustainable lifestyle and craving to take care of my little ones as naturally as I could, I began to earnestly study. Homesteading and native remedies were near obsession. Bees came first as my then husbands father had been a beekeeper and was not up to the work anymore, he passed the equipment down to his son.
Finally, in 2009, a farm! A place I thought might be my forever home. In came Nubian dairy goats, laying hens and two Irish Dexter Cattle for milk. Through the next couple of years, I added guineas and Nigerian Dwarf goats to breed mini Nubians, learned to wild harvest and handcraft herbal skincare and remedies such as goat milk soaps. Of course, massive gardens ensued to where I couldn’t keep up with what was planted. One year there were so many strawberries from the 100 plants that the children GROANED when having to go and pick, if you can even imagine. Ah, success, I thought!
Next step was farmers’ markets! I was ready and found a small venue not far from the farm! That was fun but I truly wanted to spread my wings. Some local women and I formed a larger market that still meets on their city square, 5 years later! I sold honey and ventured out with my soaps and salves just in case someone might be interested. To my excitement, people loved them and I often outsold the honey with soap! Life seemed great.
Well, something happened in the next couple of days, months, years? I hit a personal, overwhelming brick wall. I realized that my husband and I were not on the same page for the future about farming or much of anything and it truly devastated me. Not overnight, it took a while and my attention away from everything I loved! There was no passion or soul, where had the purpose gone? Did I dream all of it up on my own? Was I truly the only one who wanted all of it? I lost my crap and my “friends” along the way.
In the meantime, spending way too much time on the internet, reading or chatting or mindlessly scrolling, I did meet an incredible family, who happened to live in England. They were so curious as to my lifestyle and sharing was a lot of fun and so refreshing and truly helped me to see straight about my earthly path. Ashleigh came to visit for several years before deciding to become a farmer and stay! She now runs the farm right alongside me. She is a natural with animals, speaks their language and while I love milking and caring for them, she is the one with a beacon if anything is wrong with any of them. Maintaining 16 goats, about 75 chickens, 4 ducks, 2 guineas, 3 dogs, 8 cats, 3 beehives, and have taken in rescues of chickens that were purchased for “Easter decorations” takes many hands and eyes on the job. We do find ourselves exhausted at times but the work is well worth every bit of sweat and tears. Family has been the core of survival; my children pitch in with all chores and work the gardens and bees when they have a break from homeschooling. Our parents pitch in, provide advice, and help in so many ways. We have an incredible circle of support which is what I had always envisioned. This isn’t a one-person operation, it’s a lot of hearts and soul!
After the divorce, I bought an “as is” 5-acre absolute fixer upper! We worked so incredibly hard for the first 18 months it nearly broke us. We did EVERYTHING ourselves. From ceilings to flooring, to plumbing to pond digging, fencing and barn building. That part of our story is chock-full of subchapters and a great read!
Three years later, many farmer’s markets and events that we maintain to fund our operation and so much manpower and time from just our family is incredible to me. We bake bread, grow sprouts, raise free-range chicken and ducks for their eggs, maintain a herd of about 15 dairy goats, mainly Nubians, sustainably forage for medicinal plants that are specific to our bio-region and try to learn more and more about encouraging growth of the native plants. The milk and herbs are used in our soap and skincare lines for market as well as our home use.
I had this short-lived dream of being like the BIG producers of diversified farm products. Thinking that is the only way we would survive the competition and pay our bills. Seeing other social media posts would often cause inner turmoil because I knew my products were amazing but here’s our stance:
We refuse to have to play a game with marketing, packaging, branding (all very eye-pleasing). We are farmers and sell at local farmer’s markets and events, using minimal and recyclable packaging. We believe it is more important to invest in the product itself rather than the box it comes in and that is why our soap stays naked. We do know there are MANY amazing small-batch skin-care companies in the whole world and most people can find a local person to support! We love the people who support us and know so many of them. We love being able to pay bills through money flowing locally! We, in turn, purchase or barter for things like hops, beer for soap, industrially grown hemp for soaps and skincare, locally roasted coffee and herbs that we didn’t grow or had a crop failure! Local supporting local! Ashleigh and I manage a local farmer’s market where producers/makers are all within 50 miles because we believe it is important for everyone to support local.
We live extremely simply on purpose. Our lifestyle is challenging yet grounding and humbling. So, while we are a minority, on many levels, we know we are on a right, peaceful, passionate, full of soul path for us, always willing to grow, eager to learn and change when needed. The journey that started with a little girl who loved to stomp in creeks, get dirty and play in nature? She’s back to stay and brought friends this time! Living, learning, and eternally grateful for this life!
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” Melody Beattie