Julie and Gene Conrad grew up in rural Oregon and always knew they wanted to raise their own family in the country. Twenty years ago they purchased a nine-acre piece of land and beneath the majestic Rocky Mountains in Montana they built their home and farm.
When speaking of why she is attracted to a rural lifestyle, Julie mentioned the “grit” of farming being very appealing. The no-nonsense, black-and-white aspect of country living is tempered by an easy harmony with nature which is very attractive.
“Initially,” said Julie, “I wanted to create a farm for my children – so they truly have an understanding of where food comes from, how to produce food, and how to care for and nurture animals in a very humane way.”
Walking the fine line between flexibility and intention is an important facet of being a successful farmer. “You are dealing with nature a lot, which can be very unpredictable,” said Julie, and flexibility is key to being able to adapt and take advantage of opportunities that appear. However, having goals and a plan is also essential. Intention guides one along the right path and keeps one aligned with purpose, and flexibility causes one to make good use of the doors that open along the way. One process that has been powerful for building momentum for a sustainable farm has been annual goal setting that Gene and Julie do together.
Their focus over the past several years has been on building a strong, hardy flock of Icelandic sheep. Icelandic sheep have a “lot to offer in a small package,” smiled Julie. She is lavish with her praise of this heritage breed from Iceland: the sheep are very good foragers who are equally fond of pasture, brambles, and bushes; the mothers always know what to do; and the meat has a mild flavor and gourmet quality that amazes guests. From their flock, they harvest wool twice a year and produce beautiful hides which they sell on their website. They even hand milk the ewes and Julie makes cheese and other delicious products.
Adding a farm stay has been a long-term goal for Julie. She knew many years ago that she wanted her farm to be a place people could visit and stay. “It has been such an amazing experience,” said Julie, who loves guests curiosity and great questions. They host visitors from as far away as Australia and from all over the United States. Their guests come from all walks of life, but one thing they have in common is that they almost all come from urban areas and backgrounds. Some want to learn how to farm and come with questions and a huge desire to learn, while many just want a quiet place to retreat. At Blooming Joy Farm, traffic and city noise feels very far away and all guests will hear are the roosters crowing and the sheep baaing.
A key to a successful farming lifestyle that has served the Conrad’s well is remembering that one can’t do everything and be a rockstar at all of it. Sustainable farming can take place when you put blinders on and focus just on what you want to learn, do, and implement for the upcoming year. Then, if you really want to be involved in something else, find other farmers who do it and support them rather than putting it all on your shoulders. “Do one thing well, then bring in something new and do that well, then reevaluate, ‘Can I do a third thing and do it well and still have some semblance of balance and harmony with where I’m at and what I’m doing?’” Julie advises.
I asked Julie how she handles the stress and burnout that many small-scale farmers experience. “As a farmer, you feel like you are always behind,” she said. “We know how to work hard, but we don’t know how to play very well.” Julie and Gene are reminding themselves that is it okay to sit on the couch for an hour in the evening without feeling guilty for resting.
When I asked if they ever thought of throwing in the towel Julie laughed, “Just hide the towels!” She said that of course there are hard days when she has wondered what on earth they were doing but has coped with them by remembering that amazing experiences that she wouldn’t trade for anything are right around the corner. It just takes a bit of country grit to carry though.
Now that she has a few years of farming under her belt, Julie feels a responsibility to share her knowledge and help those who are new to farming. They sell starter flocks of Icelandic sheep to new homesteaders, and Julie started offering cheese making classes out of her home. “People are really hungry to learn the basic arts of long ago. I think people in general are yearning for simplicity.” They have children’s groups come through their farm to expose the younger generation to a holistic lifestyle and are eager to share their experience with anyone interested in farm life.
The Blooming Joy Farm motto is “Come grow with us.” I asked Julie what that means to her. “We are always learning new things in this journey of farming. There is so much to learn… we will never arrive. We want to give others the invitation to share our journey. I love experiencing a group of like-minded people creating a community of support and encouragement. It is so empowering and can speed up your learning curve to walk along with others and collaborate. I want to create that for other people.”
Visit Blooming Joy Farm and become a part of a sustainable and beautiful country lifestyle.
“People in general are yearning for simplicity.”