Abingdon: Meet the Locals is a new monthly blog created by Sarah Laughland of Sarah Laughland Photography! Visit her website for past entries and a description of this project.
This month I had the pleasure of meeting a new farm on the block. Having sold at Wytheville Farmer’s Market previously, the Abingdon market is lucky to welcome Thirty-Three Acre Farms to it’s fold.
Owned and operated by Donna Huete-Brunson and Tim Brunson, this gorgeous piece of land high in the hills of Rural Retreat is exploring every resource nature has to offer. With an impeccably designed garden layout full of wooden boxes, they utilize the sloping hills and build into the ground, not just above it. Repurposed wood and metal make up the greater portion of their home and workspaces, with antique doors and windows adding character and vibrancy in every corner of the farm. With solar panels powering the majority of their energy needs, I fell in love with their set-up.
The Brunson’s and I also have traveling in common. Love of it, stories from it, and dreams of it. Donna and Tim are life enthusiasts above all, having lived all over the world until they ended up in our gorgeous Appalachian corner of the country. Married in 2009, they live to make projects become reality. If I learned one thing about them, it’s that they dream it and then they do it…and we are the lucky ones who reap the benefits. English peas, carrots, potatoes, blueberries, onions, honey, syrup, jams, salsas, lamb, chicken, eggs…
Another topic that came up was the importance of small to mid-scale farming as a more manageable and cleaner way to raise food. I, personally, am an advocate of antibiotic-free and hormone-free farming. Grocery stores offer lots of food that’s had a needle in it’s butt, a time-release antibiotic on it’s ear, with it’s dinner consisting of other animal feces. Sounds fun, right? “You’re almost hit hard for not doing it the ‘right’ way”, Tim said in regards to feeding animals from more nutritious sources. And he’s right. It’s not possible for everyone to afford and I’m tired of it breaking the bank and forcing families to choose. So, when someone asks me why I buy local? It’s to support the folks who raise food ethically until we can make sure everyone has access to it.
Now that I’ve stepped off my soapbox, I’d like you to enjoy the following from my visit with the Brunson’s! And make sure to stop by and say hello to Donna and her sister, Danielle, at the next Abingdon Farmer’s Market!
Sarah: How long have you all lived here?
Donna: Four years.
Tim: Four years when you moved up, yeah. I say that because…I’ve still got a job. In fact, I’m leaving tomorrow.
D: He works in Texas. He works all over the world, but right now he’s in Texas.
T: Yeah, right now Texas is the center of the world.
D: Oh, my onions are crazy.
T: Those are the overgrown onions and what’s left. But she’s leaving these because the bees feed off them.
S: Those are beautiful, oh my gosh.
D: So, that’s why I leave a lot of the flowers.
T: I call them weeds, she calls them flowers.
D: …Because the bees all come.
T: The definition of a weed is a plant out of place. And that potato right there is a weed because it’s in the sweet potato bin.
D: That’s what happens when you’re married to an engineer.
S: Understandable. Why did you guys want to move up here? Or how did you find it?
D: We actually looked all over.
T: We had dots all over the map. Here’s where we did holidays, let’s go here looking…
D: We went to the south of Mexico, we went to Arkansas, Northern California. It was really cool, we loved it. It’s not really easy to be a small, homestead type person there. It just isn’t. We collect our rain water for our chickens and you can’t do that there.
T: You can’t stop the water from flowing.
D: No. So, we decided no and then we went to Arkansas and didn’t like it. I have family…my Mom’s family is from a little tip area of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia. I have tons of cousins up there.
T: Huntington, West Virginia.
D: Yeah, which is where she grew up. I have cousins there, I have cousins in Knoxville. Cousins down in Raleigh. So, its like, I actually have family within about three hours all over. You know what I mean? I’ve been to this area before and so has Tim and we both loved it.
T: It’s what the people tell you when you come here. You get all the seasons. It’s thirty-seven degrees latitude, which is….she lived in New York City, I lived in Northern Montana…forty below sucks. We’ve lived in New Orleans and Houston. One ten, humidity and bugs. The weather is good here, the rolling hills, the hard woods. It fit all of our criteria.
D: It’s beautiful. It was just bare lands when we got it, so everything up here we built and cleaned. We bought the property before we actually moved up here, so we used it as a holiday home for awhile. Tim at the time was working in an international group where his company was and he would be gone sometimes for six weeks at a time. He got stuck in the Middle East one time for a very long time. And then our son went to college and he wasn’t around anymore, so it was like, well I could be alone for weeks at a time in Houston or I could be alone for weeks at a time in paradise. So, I quit my job, we sold the house, and moved up here full time. This is what I do now!
S: So, you guys have vegetables and you have chickens and bees.
D: And those are our sheep, and there’s a cow over there somewhere.
T: We’ve got one cow. We don’t keep many cows right now because her here by herself, it’s hard to manage cows, but sheep she can manage. And we sell the meat at the market.
D: And I’ve got two goats. And those are our donkeys.
T: They keep the coyotes away. They’ll kick a coyote into next year.
D: They’re really sweet.
S: What are these right here?
T: The cloches? So you can get an early start on these cabbages, you can start them in early spring with them. They’re like miniature greenhouses. Bought those for Christmas. Those came out of the UK. I think the French actually invented it.
S: That’s so clever.
D: They used to put raw manure on the bottom, dirt on top, and it would start to decompose so they could plant their vegetables in the winter. And it would create heat.
S: It would be great for wine country.
T: It’s gonna be five rows of a hundred feet long of grapes.
D: Here we already harvested the potatoes, and we planted green beans there. We’re gonna dig this up probably in the next week or two and then…I don’t know what we’re going to plant there. Maybe more beans. And we’ve already harvested all our broccoli.
T: I started with those beds there. That timber came from when the wind blew down the trees over there by the A-frame house. When I started this design, we just started repeating it. It’s going to be terraced down on the side because of the slope.
D: But it’s really helped my projection because it’s so much easier to keep weeded and it’s a lot easier to harvest.
S: When it’s raised in the boxes? That’s great because I hear so many people talk about their backs.
D: Yeah, I might have five more years of crawling around on my knees. But after that I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. But this actually works really well.
T: I’ve already put away four cords of firewood. There’s not a sixteen year old that can keep up with me! But yeah, it’s an advantage of it. When we got to this design…I mean, it just works. This is all going to be blueberries. We’ve had good luck with blueberries in this spot, but we don’t have enough of them.
D: And we got all these from Tamara. I actually bought a lot of starter plants from her.
T: Here, eat some…
S: Ah, so good! What’s your favorite part about working here?
D: That I can stumble out in my pajamas to go to work. I put on my muck boots, t-shirt and pajamas…I do!
S: Do you have a special connection with the chickens or sheep?
D: I actually…my business card calls me the “crazy chicken lady”. I love the chickens. I have like sixty five chickens.
T: We were in a controlled community in Katy, Texas and she wanted chickens so I went by the code of the place and built her a little fence in the back…and she had a half dozen chickens in a subdivision in Katy, Texas. Hidden in the corner.
D: Hidden in the corner. I love the baby lambs, I love my goats. The goats are so much fun. My husband does his own composting, a four pile system. The raw compost. ‘Cause we collect all the poop from the donkeys and the chickens and start composting it with stuff leftover from the garden. We’re so lucky because our farm has so many resources here, it’s just amazing. Like, I tap the trees for maple syrup.
T: And we now have electricity to the barn because she now has freezers for the lambs. Until then, we were all on the solar. Heat with the boiler outside, wood stove inside. There’s plenty of firewood. Some of it falls down on it’s own.
D: Black raspberries! We have them all through there, everywhere. They just grow wild. So, I make a lot of jam. Some of them are ripe, which means I need to put my boots on and…
T: I see a couple dark ones back there.
D: Yeah, me too. All wild. We’ve got about thirty five chickens over there. Come on Carlos! (to the donkey) And that’s Sophia. We named them after the King and Queen of Spain.
S: I love that! Hi, how are you? (to the donkeys)
D: I have horse treats I give them.
T: They’re miniature Jerusalem donkeys.
D: They’re good. They’re supposed to be over there but we had some new babies and for like the first two weeks they don’t like the babies very much. So, I have to keep them separated for a little bit. We had unexpected babies.
T: Juan Carlos and Sophia. Her chickens are coming to see her!
S: Look at them!
T: The white one is always first. Look at him!
D: My sister rescued him from the Tractor Supply reject…you know when their chicks come in and not all of them are healthy? He’s a meat chicken. He doesn’t know it. They’re fat and happy.
S: Look at you all. Living your best life.
D: We collect the rain water here for the chickens.
T: We’re gonna set up an attachment on that barn because that next pasture down, we haven’t got it closed in yet. But it will be a cistern system where we catch the water and it’ll go down a pipe down to there, and I gotta do one from the house to the garden. The garden is about three feet higher, elevation wise, which is just about the right height for a whiskey barrel. So, it’ll be my cistern that will come off the house into that and that’ll give me enough head to push it up to the garden. We’ll just have a tub out in the garden that we can put it in.
S: You’re curious aren’t you? (to the fat & happy rescue chicken)
D: He is!
T: He’s the one who’s always up first because he wants all the feed.
S: Look at him! Still following me.
T: He thinks you have feed in your pocket.
(headed down towards the sheep and goats)
D: Those are the two babies. They were born a week ago, Friday.
T: They’re getting milk when their tail’s wiggling. If their tail quits wiggling, they’re not getting milk. That’s how you know. Here comes the daddy. We call him Shaggy.
D: We give them minerals, so they think you’re bringing them minerals. Hi, boys and girls. Hi, Spotty Spot! And the goats are very friendly.
T: Especially if you have a banana.
S: So, since you’ve been here and been going to the Abingdon Farmer’s Market, is there anything you’ve noticed about the community here that’s different or that you enjoy?
D: We actually know our neighbors here. We lived in a subdivision and there would be a hundred houses and we knew four.
T: And we know everybody to the Smyth County line.
D: It’s a very friendly place.
T: People watch out for you and everything.
D: I like the community down in Abingdon. I think it has a really nice energetic feel. And it’s kind of nice because it’s a mix of generations.
S: That’s why I love going on Saturday mornings, because it’s like I’m going to see members of my family or something.
D: I could easily be a hermit, like easily, so it’s really good for me to get out and do that because I could stay up here all the time and never leave. It’s actually my therapy. Digging potatoes and digging carrots are actually my most favorite things.
S: There’s something about having dirt on your hands.
D: I know! My sister’s like, are you in a bad mood? Just go dig some potatoes.
S: I’m learning that if I start to get anxious about something, I just need to go out in the garden.
D: You really do. It really helps.