Some of us are farming full-time while others have day jobs. Some of us put our kids in traditional schools while others plan to homeschool. What we all have in common is putting a high premium on self-reliance, good homegrown food, and teaching our kids the value of hard work and the beauty of nature. This series explores how we manage a homestead and parenting simultaneously.
I met Amy through an online business school we both enrolled in this year and we quickly bonded over all of our mutual interests and being in a similar stage of life with small kids. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview with Amy that is full of her enthusiasm and practical tips for gardening with small kids!
Homesteading with Kids – Amy Henderson Landers with GardensThatMatter.com
Hi Amy, can you start off by telling us about who is in your family and who lives with you on your homestead?
At our home, it’s my husband Colby and I and our three boys. They are 4 ½, 2 ½, and our youngest guy just turned 1! We also live next door to my parents or Nana and Grandpa as the boys refer to them.
That’s awesome having family so nearby! So did your parents live there first?
They did. We live on family land. We rent my grandmother’s old house. It’s a 100 year old house that she raised 4 boys in and we are raising three boys here so that’s a lot of fun. My dad built his house next door and that’s where my brother, sister, and I grew up. So yeah my family has been on this land for more than a hundred years.
That’s so cool!
It’s neat to think about. You know things [for gardening and animal husbandry] they must have been doing years and years ago on this land that we are trying to relearn how to do now.
So can you tell me roughly your location and what kind of land you have and what kind of soil you have – have you had to do a lot to it to get started? Tell me more about the homestead.
Yeah we live in Western North Carolina so just outside of Ashville and it’s beautiful country. We live in the mountains there are a little more than 20 acres of family land and so we kind of live in a big river valley so we are out of the flood plain but the land is a rolling hills where we are. We have a big garden area that’s about an acre and then we have got about 10 acres in pasture/hayfields and the rest is wooded or has houses on it.
And do you have any animals?
We do. Right now we have chickens. And there are a few horses that live on the property – one is the retiree horse that was my parents and some friends of theirs before that and then there are two horses that board here. For the chickens, we have five new babies with a hen and 10 pullets and then about 20 older birds. So all egg birds right now. Sometimes we will raise meat birds in the summer but we are taking a year off so we don’t have any meat chickens on the field right now but hopefully we will get that started up again next year. And then we have a big garden.
Are you selling any produce or eggs right now or doing it for your family?
We are really focused on doing this for our family but we do sell extra eggs. We will probably have extra produce this year that we will sell probably mostly to friends and family but that’s fun to be able to do too…to share the good food and be able to put some money back into the farm.
Yeah that’s about where we are at too. We just sell the extra eggs and I’m hoping we will have extra produce this year but I’m not sure yet. We’ll see. Can you walk me through a typical day on your homestead? What time you get up…what time you do meals…what kind of chores you do?
Sure. We get up usually about 6:15/6:30 – the kids are all up. And I actually try to keep them with me and fairly quiet – my husband has a morning routine that he does – he gets up a little earlier around 5:30 or 6 and does a morning routine where he meditates and sometimes goes for a bikeride – a little quiet time before the chaos begins. Then we all get going and get dressed and have breakfast. So we are usually having breakfast around 7 or 7:30 depending upon when we have eggs or leftover pancakes. At some point one of us will get out to let the chickens out and feed them. Right now the chickens are pretty close to the house. We have them working a piece of lawn that we want to turn into the garden. We keep dumping compost and food scraps there and they keep scratching it up getting it ready.
Do you use a chicken tractor and electric fencing? How do you move them around?
Yeah we do – we use electric fencing and right now we have a small coop so we either use dolleys or sometimes the tractor if we are going a far distance.
Tractor!? Um I’m jealous you own a tractor.
Well grandpa owns the tractor. I should be very clear that we are lucky that we get to farm my parents' land and we have an uncle that owns one of the pastures. So they let us farm it. Eventually we would like to build our own house and eventually we will buy a piece of this land to do that. But yes, the land comes with some great tools Grandpa lets us use. He actually has two tractors and he’s a carpenter who taught carpentry for years in middle schools and high schools and so he loves his tools. So we get access to some really good tools which is handy when you’re farming.
Well back to your morning, you have breakfast around 7/7:30 and then what?
My husband and I actually both work off farm jobs so we do side work as we are getting the farm going and our business “Gardens that Matter dot com” going and I can tell you more about that later but as we are getting things going we both do side work. So our two older boys both go to preschool. One of us runs them to town.
How far is “town”?
Town is 15-20 minutes away. We definitely live in a rural area but we are not far away from town. We can actually get to grocery store in 10 minutes. It works out well so we can get to town but we also get to have – like we saw a barn owl basically in our driveway – we live far enough out that there are interesting animals and forests and things like that. So we get the two older boys off to preschool and then the younger boy goes down for his morning nap and that’s when I usually hop on the computer. I work with clients and do marketing work and writing. And then when the baby wakes up, I’ll feed him. If he takes a good nap, it will be around lunchtime. So we feed him lunch and then we go outside for an hour or two. My husband depending upon what he needs to get done he will either do something out in the garden or something with the chickens. When the baby and I go outside, we will do something fairly simple where he can play nearby. He’s at an age when he doesn’t want to be in the backpack. If we are going for a walk, he’s happy in the backpack – if I’m going somewhere he will ride – so actually I can pick berries with him on my back as long as I keep feeding him berries as I’m picking so my wrap has blackberry stains on it right now. Then Parker and I will come back in and I’ll get him down for his afternoon rest and then I usually run into town to pick up the boys from preschool around 2pm. They have lunch and their nap at preschool. Then we are all home for the afternoon. Then depending on what needs to be done we will all go outside to get something done – we harvested garlic the other day – we will get something planted if we need to. They love the chickens so they love to help with them – we make sure the [electric] fence is off – and they feed them scraps through the fence. We have a rooster – a nice rooster – we have had an aggressive rooster before so the boys know to keep away – but it’s good to not have to worry about this one. And then some afternoons we don’t do a farm project. Colby will go back to work on whatever he’s working on and I’ll take the boys. Like today we played in their baby pool and they have a mudhole they play in too. Actually this is something I think is really useful for moms who are gardeners or farmers…is to really think about a kids play area that is close to the garden. So this mudhole and their babypool are right by our raised beds and next to our big garden that’s in rows. So I was able to weed a couple of rows while they were playing.
That’s brilliant! I’m going to implement this soon!
It’s something we did naturally because we wanted the kids to be outside with us while we worked. We have a playhouse - It’s not covered yet but it’s actually a dog walk we moved it next to the garden – and we put sides on it so it’s like a hideout. They have a tent they can sit under. If I was building it again, I’d put the sandbox out there – our sandbox is closer to the house. But they love being out there with us and they love to pull things out of the ground. I needed like three carrots the other day and they got all excited and I was like “wait, stop, we only need three! We don’t need 20 carrots.” And tonight they were picking beets and all we needed was one beet. We will have to pickle beets later this week. They love that kind of project that’s instant gratification and they get dirty. And it doesn’t matter to me if the carrot tops get broken off or if something wasn’t quite ready to be pulled or they pull lettuce instead of a carrot. The risk isn’t too much, but weeding today one of them wanted to help me and they started pulling up spinach. And I was like “um I’m going to do this project.”
So far I’ve only let Quincy weed in the flower garden because I can tell him “there’s only supposed to be mulch or rocks here so if you see green, then pull it.”
Yeah sometimes it’s not developmentally appropriate. They don’t understand the difference between grass and spinach yet. They are learning. But they love to go through and say “can I eat this? can I eat this? can I taste this?” And this will be in the herb garden and I’ll say, “you can, but it might be bitter!” Their favorite is actually fennel.
They know in other parts of the yard we will have stuff growing wild and they will find the fennel and know that they can eat that. They are still learning the plants. But yeah getting them involved in the garden is great but also having places for them to play nearby when I’m gardening and doing a project that they can’t necessarily be involved with is good.
And what time do you dinner?
We usually eat dinner sometime in between 5 and 6pm. It usually depends on when one of us quits what we are doing to go and make dinner. That’s one area where I think we could do better with meal planning or using a crockpot. I mean I use a crockpot but I feel like I could do more. Have you ever done Once A Month Meals?
Yes! I actually got into it when I was pregnant with my second. And I had a very large deep freezer full of meals when he was born.
We have done it once or twice. I’ve always loved having a deep freezer full of meals – it feels so good but I don’t have a good way to keep it up.
Yeah it’s hard because for me it takes 2 or 3 days of cooking instead of 1 day - like they say it should take - because the kids interrupt me all the time.
The last time I did it, it was right after the baby was born and I feel like it took me a week but I still felt like it was a good investment of time because I just did a couple hours a day.
What kills me is that you go and do the bulk buying for the month and then you are like “crud, now I have to do this! or it will go bad!”
Yeah and you’ve spent your whole [monthly] food budget! So we have dinner around 5 or 6pm and our pattern lately is that Colby is the one to cook. He’s a fantastic cook and totally willing if I take the three boys off to do something. We go to the raspberry or blackberry patch and they have a berry appetizer while he’s cooking dinner, which works out well for everybody.
And then what time is bedtime? And what time do YOU go to bed?
The baby goes to bed in between 7 and 7:30 and then the two older boys go to bed around 8. We feel good if it’s by 8pm, but it usually creeps to 8:30 especially during these summer months. We have a hard time going inside, you know! The baby is rubbing his face and I’m like “just a few more minutes!” And then after we get the boys in bed – and we tag team that – and then I’ll jump back on the computer to do work. If there’s still light out, Colby goes back outside. He just has to be careful not to do weeding at dusk because that doesn’t usually turn out well! So he will usually do something like mow or something that he can do during dusk. He will come in and do a little bit on the computer but usually he’s done more of the physical labor during the day and so he goes to bed by 9:30 or 10 and I’m usually closer to 11pm. I kind of get a second wind around 9pm so I try to get as much done for work as I can. We have a lot going on with our business.
So let’s talk about that! Gardens that Matter!
GardensthatMatter.com is our website where we teach families how to garden together. What do you do with kids in the garden. And we have activities to do as families - everything from decorative plant labels to planting tomatoes in a container. We are thinking about families that are just starting out with gardens and how does that feel? When you’re feeling overwhelmed and you don’t know where to begin? Trying to encourage those families because there are so many amazing things that come out of having a garden both for the kids and for the adults. So we really think every family has a garden. Even if you live in an apartment and you have a few plants on your balcony or you live in the suburbs or city and help with a community garden. We hear these great stories about families that have great relationships with the other families at the community garden. A friend of mine has a little old man at their community garden that is the pied piper of the garden that all the kids love – in a good way – he shows them plants and lets them taste things while the parents work in their plots. So yeah check out GardensThatMatter.com I’m working on a book for mama gardeners. The working title is “How to Garden with Kids When You Don’t Have the Time”
I would buy that!
Right now I’m just working on the different pieces that will work in the book. I’m thinking about putting different pieces on the blog to see how they work and what people think about it. Also on our website there’s a free composting class – it’s a three part video series – about an hour long total. It’s kinda long it’s probably an after-bedtime thing for mom. And there are handouts on how to create a super basic composting bin.
I love composting especially with toddlers. You have food scraps. And it makes me feel less guilty about the food scraps and less likely to just eat their leftovers out of guilt.
The mama garbage disposal! Yeah I love composting too. We alternate that the chickens get some food scraps and then the compost gets some.
Do you have any role models? Can you speak to why you chose to live this homesteading type of life?
Yeah we moved to North Carolina from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In Albuquerque we had a couple different experiences that shaped us and the lifestyle that we are living and want to do more of in the future. We lived next door to a woman who is now one of my best friends and she had cows and goats and chickens and ten years ago she asked me if I wanted a mama hen and some babies? And I said sure! And then a couple years later I got a few more – I wanted some Americanas and Hard Rocks and Red Rock hens. And then we raised meat birds together – the first year was terrible. But then we did it a second year and it got better, and a third year and a fourth year. And we were like “we know how to do this!” So yeah our neighbor was a huge part of that and definitely got me into it. I did grow up with a garden. My dad always had a garden and I loved it. Even when I lived in an apartment, I’d have a few plants and a compost pile. In college, I had an RA who told me that I couldn’t have a compost bin. I don’t know what I ended up doing but I’m sure I had a secret one somehow! It’s definitely a part of who I am. I studied Biology in school but really living close to that friend in Albuquerque really got me hooked. Colby started reluctantly at first but now he is our main chicken caretaker so he’s totally on board. Another piece for me is permaculture – your readers are probably aware – but it’s the idea of creating systems that are based on nature. So thinking about how things fit together and using plants that attract pollinators and predatory insects and plants that are good for making mulch and others that draw nutrients and deciding where to put things in your landscape based on what they need and what they get out. Chickens need food so you can put them near your garden where you can throw your weeds over their fence and they give you manure and eggs. Then you can put their manure back on the garden or you might put a compost pile near the chickens so it’s all about those interconnected relationships between living things. As a biologist, it resonated with me. As a conservationist, it resonated with me. The idea that humans are a part of nature. There’s really no such thing as wilderness anymore. We affect the planet and will continue to do so…how can we do that in a way that’s positive? That leaves our land better off that allows us to continue to live off the land. So I did a permaculture design course in Albuquerque that was just fantastic and is really a part of the way I look at things and will continue to.
That’s how John got me really pumped honestly. I don’t know if it was the Permaculture Orchard documentary or Inhabit with Ben Falk. It was seeing the aeriel shots of monoculture farms and then seeing a permaculture farm and to me this is what God intended! This feels natural and beautiful and abundant! Versus monoculture which seems like so many inputs to get one crop.
And it’s that idea too that in this place of abundance there’s a place for people in that environment. In monoculture it’s all the power and money is very vertically aligned.
This is a debate for another time but my one concern is that permaculture does seem to be much more labor intensive and there are pros and cons to that. Are there any books that got you pumped up for this lifestyle? Favorite authors?
Anything by Michael Pollan. The one that I really loved is Botony of Desire in which he tells the story of these four plants: apples, potatoes, tulips, and marijuana. He talks about how these four plants have interacted with humans over history. Really interesting stories in there! And then I love Omnivore’s Dilemma. And then I love Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she eats locally for a year.
As a final parting thought, what do you hope your kids get out of growing up this way?
I hope my kids grow up with a really solid understanding of their own strengths and abilities. That they can create and make and grow things. An ability to trust themselves because they have been able to explore and take risks and learn from experience. And I would love for them to be self-sufficient and eat healthy and play a part in making our world a better place, but it all comes back to having strong roots in who they are and having confidence.
Thank you Amy!
All images care of Amy Henderson Landers.
Are you -- or someone you know -- farming or homesteading with kids? I'd love to interview you! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org