Daniel Daley is the owner of Pocahontas County Sheep Farm, a 100-acre farm in the magnificent Appalachian Mountains. I had the pleasure of learning a bit about his life story, the philosophy that underlies his decision to live in the country, and his advice for those drawn to a similar way of life.
Daniel was exposed to farming at the young age of eight, when his family moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Shelton, Connecticut to rent a house near small dairy farms. He was intrinsically drawn to the neighboring farmers, and he spent all his free time that summer helping on the farms and getting up early to walk to the farms and help with milking. It was only a year spent in the county, but “it struck something basic in me,” Daniel reminisced.
Coming of age in the 1960’s, his developing world view led to a desire to be part of the farming community. Some of the books he read were about farming in England in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, including writings by botanist, farmer, and philosopher Liberty Hyde Bailey who inspired a new generation of environmentalists. These holistic concepts resonated strongly with Daniel. One influential author was Ezra Pound, whose quote “Ethics are born from agriculture…” (from his text on Confucius called “The Unwobbling Pivot”) has stuck with Daniel throughout his life.
“Farming,” Daniel said, “is based on the true Christian value of caring for your neighbor. You see your neighbor and you think, what does this person need? That is how agricultural communities have always worked.” In his early 20’s, he decided that what he wanted to do with his life was find a piece of land somewhere and farm.
Back before the internet, Daniel learned to farm and homestead exclusively from fellow farmers, books, and his own observations. Some of his best experiences with farming were when he farm-shared during his 20’s with farmers in their 60’s who had farmed all their lives. He learned a lot working side-by-side with these experienced men, plowing land, planting, and harvesting oats and hay. “That was just wonderful” he reflected. “We shared everything, shared the work, shared the produce.”
When I asked him what some characteristics of a successful farmer are, he responded “Patience. Hard work. And a belief in the importance of what you are doing – economically and also for the land and animals you are a steward for.” He added that flexibility and being open to learning are key to enjoying life in the country.
Apart from around 50 Dorset and Katahdin sheep which he raises commercially, Daniel keeps a large garden, and in the past, he has kept honeybees, goats which he milked, and even had draft horses he used to plow fields in his early days of farming. A few years ago, Daniel started renting a 2,000 square foot house on his property, which can sleep up to 18, first through AirBnB and now through Vrbo and Farm Stay USA. Most of his guest’s initial response to his property is “ohhh, sheep!” “There is something so attractive to humans about sheep, they have a rich cultural meaning,” said Daniel. His guests tend to come from the Atlantic coast, Cincinnati, and Chicago. The size of his rental makes it ideal as a meet up place for multigenerational families, and he has also had many guests who work for the federal government.
I ended my conversation with Daniel by asking his advice for someone who wants to get into farming and live in the country. “Ask yourself if what you want is passion,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are successful. Success is not an end goal, experience is the end goal.”
“You see your neighbor and you think, what does this person need? That is how agricultural communities have always worked.”