As my mom likes to say, the Big farm in the little city. (My mom and I as a child in the picture above) I grew up on a small farm in Southern California in the town of Beaumont. Our farm was right in the middle of town. Beaumont had been settled in the early 1900’s, it is in a valley between Mount San Gorgonio the second and Mount San Jacinto the third tallest mountains in California. Farming brought the early settlers to the area. My grandparents came to Beaumont right after world war 2 their wasn’t much in Beaumont then. Mostly the orchards I grew up around apple, cherry, and peach. My grandma with the mountains in the background.
Our town was small around 5400 people when I was a child. My mom was a teacher at wellwood school, and my dad worked as a maintenance electrician. My parents, followed in their parents footsteps, and were farmers. My parents embraced the self-sufficient back to the land movement of the early 1970’s. The land they bought was next door to my father’s family. I grew up with my grandparents and aunts next door, and my cousins across the street. My dad with rabbits and a family cow.
I grew up in a place where your mom would say, “go play outside”. She never worried, even when I was only five. We had big fences, and bigger dogs. Playing outside meant hiding in the tall hay field, and talking to my imaginary field mice tommy and mouse, playing with the rabbits, chickens, ducks, sheep and goats. Climbing trees, and building forts out of hay bales. I was also use to having to chase sheep, goats, horses etc down the street to bring them home again. My mom pictured here was smarter about it. She would just use a baby lamb to get the mama to come home.
When my mom took me to the library and let me check out my first Little House on the Prairie book I was hooked. I had a mom just like Laura’s. We grew food, we canned it, and we butchered pigs and smoked them. We ate rabbits. My mom made my clothes, for me and my dolls, my dad made many of my toys. I thought cupcakes were zucchini bread made with honey. Milk came from the goat. My dad hunted and taught us how to fish and catch crawdads with chicken livers, a fish hook, and a piece of line. My brother and I loved playing in the hay pile.
Honey extraction time was a big deal you got to spin the extractor, and watch all that honey come off, we were then allowed to help “put it up” in canning jars. My grandfather taught my dad how to beekeep, my dad taught my brother, sister, and I. (My father & grandfather pictured below)
A weekend of fun was going next door to grandmas to watch the sheep shearer, sheer grandma’s sheep, my aunt’s sheep, and our sheep, (It was an all-day affair) Learning how to butcher rabbits at age seven was a necessary skill in our family, as well as gathering the chicken eggs every day. We would talk about what we wanted to eat for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, what we meant was which turkey, pheasant or ducks we were going to butcher and eat. My brother and sister with the future bacon. Some of our flock of ducks.
I finally started to catch on that not everyone lived like we did when the local elementary school classes came to my house for a field trip. Everyone got to try fresh made bread, goat’s milk, and honey comb.
As a child, milestones were a different sort. You measured your growth based on your responsibilities on the farm. For Instance, when I was old enough to take a rabbit out of the pen without supervision I was seven, when feeding the animals became my nightly chore I was ten as well as when I finally got to drive the tractor by myself. I was allowed to milk a goat without supervision when I was eleven, as well as getting my first bee suit and going out to help my dad with the bee hives. For my sister independence came when she could saddle and ride her horses without supervision. My brother’s independence was in terms of what projects he could help with. I remember the summer when he was twelve his job was to help build the family barn. In other words my dad stood over him while he drove every single nail in.
We were always excited to have our own plot in the garden to grow what we wanted. I always wanted to grow Tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries. Our strawberry patch had a sign my dad carved that said “Tasha’s Strawberry Land” (I was obsessed with Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobby).
Our deep freezer in the barn was filled with white packets of beef and lamb that the butcher wrapped after he had come out and helped butcher our big animals; sheep, pigs and cows. Bags of frozen corn would last all winter. The pantry always had big jars of apple sauce, apple pie filling, peaches, pears, canned tomatoes, and of course strawberry jam. I knew ten ways to deal with a zucchini before I was twelve. I also knew how to sneak the biggest ones to the ducks in the summer time, so I wouldn’t have to eat it, even one more time that week for dinner. My brother and I loved to harvest the corn.
A trip to visit the birdman was always exciting, I remember on more than one anniversary my dad gifting my mom with an unusual pair of birds. We had everything from geese, to runner and mallard ducks, chickens that laid blue eggs, lots and lots of peacocks, pheasants, quail, doves, pigeons, and finally emus they were named after my sisters two best friends who liked to talk a lot.
Childhood ended and I moved to San Diego, I was busy with college and a job. I would go home on weekends but farm life seemed very far away. My sister was deep in 4-H and my brother was in FFA they we’re raising pigs, showing horses, sheep, chickens, and rabbits. My mom and sister were starting to spin wool and a new type of animal appeared on the scene. Wool animals not meat animals. Adorable angora goats, angora rabbits, English angora rabbits, and many new breeds of sheep. I was too busy to embrace our homestead, but even in my first apartment I felt the need to grow some herbs in pots. When I moved to my first house I became obsessed with vegetable gardening, and making marmalade from the orange trees that were already in the backyard. I was on my way to a homesteading adventure. Below is one of my favorite photo’s of our family farm, my mom’s herb garden with one of her angora goats in the background.