by Jenna Kelly-Landes
It’s 6 a.m. and the sleet that fell gently all morning has started spitting horizontally, and now daggers of ice attack the back of my neck as I crouch alongside my goat, Jolene. At this hour, in this weather, she radiates just enough warmth to nudge my fingers forward into rhythmic motion against her udder. My eyes, still swollen from sleep, remain shut as I lean wearily into her side, which smells of hay, musk and milk. Despite the icy rain and the gusts of wind that slap my forehead, despite the unholy hour, I keep milking. I milk in the morning and the evening; I milk each day, in sickness and in health, honoring this marriage between me and a small herd of dairy animals that ambled their way into my world and onto my farm—completely transforming my life.
I did not set out to become a dairy farmer. Frankly, I didn’t set out to be a farmer at all. Six years ago, my husband and I were sighing with boredom in the suburbs of Austin. My persistent search for professional happiness left me only half-full—which is to say, I was in a perpetual state of half-empty. Something was off; the neighbors were too close, the night sky too bright from ambient light, the manicured lawns too overtly emerald. At that time, we weren’t able to clearly articulate our ennui and discontent—things just felt wrong. Then one day, we tore out a corner of our tidy yard to plant a garden, and, in further rebellion, drove out to Callahan’s and returned with a box filled with baby chicks.
Suddenly, we were engrossed in the magic of food production: the simple equation of providing space and care to an animal, which resulted in an egg. And not a regular egg, but a spectacularly rich, flavorful egg from a chicken whose entire life trajectory was carefully chaperoned by me. I felt powerful, and something began to feel right. That backyard finally felt like home. Six months later, in a moment of bravery and naïveté, we signed papers on a property just east of Austin, and this spring, I’ll open a small farmstead creamery—making cheeses from the milk of our own dairy goats and cows. Not because this is a dream I’ve pursued forever, but because the farm has taught me that this pursuit makes me whole, keeps me strong and feeds me very, very well.
Our little farm sits on 65 acres, the majority of which reside in their natural state. We are lulled to sleep under coyote moons with howls piercing the stillness each night. Rattlesnakes coil alongside paths we’ve cleared, and hundreds of mesquite thorns have punctured our tires and our skin. We’ve learned from scratch how to build fences, how to create life from dirt, how to birth animals and help them die. We’ve raised our own food and bowed our heads over many meals seasoned with our tears and blood and sweat.
My transition away from a conventional lifestyle was an unintentional and peaceful revolution—a stand I never realized I was taking. But to be here now, inserted directly into the most intimate cycles of life, which churn steadily through birth, death and then birth again, is a quiet objection to industrial agriculture and a commitment to keep our food close, happy and healthy. Living here, we’ve reclaimed our food choices, but we’ve also reclaimed our most basic senses. Years ago, I sought solace on structured walks with leashed dogs through landscaped neighborhoods. Now, I clamor up feral hillsides alongside the goats. Entertainment was a $10 ticket to the movies and now it’s a sip of bourbon on the porch watching my cow lift up her head in silent awe to observe geese flying south. At one time, I purchased knowledge through a graduate degree in policy, but now it’s offered to me free in the barn where livestock societies could instruct nations about diplomacy and democracy. Here, there is profound comfort in knowing that as long as we feed the farm, the farm will feed us—in ways we know, and in ways we may never fully comprehend.
Follow Bee Tree Farm on Instagram to see more antics from the farm @txbeetree