Not So Barren Cedars

At first glance, our Cedar Barrens is like many other nature trails around middle Tennessee. What you may not realize is that you’re actually enjoying a small piece of one of the rarest ecosystems in the world: the glade/barrens ecosystem.

Cedar glades are natural openings where you may see exposed bedrock, most often limestone, or areas covered by small plants and only a thin layer of soil. They can be a frustration when you’re trying to put in a fence or a garden, but we have learned to love them.

We have our own gravelly glade tucked into a wooded area on a different part of the property that we manage for wildlife. While you won’t be running RCs there, our Cedar Barrens trail takes you through one zone in the ecosystem: the barrens forest.

The barrens forest, usually a mix of red-cedar, blue ash, hackberry, elm, hickory, and Shumard and chinquapin oak, is dominated by red-cedars at the glade perimeter. Sounds familiar, huh? Take a look around the next time you’re out and find some of the tree markers we’ve added along the trail.

Right now Cedar Barrens dead ends at an area that will open later this year: the Property Line Trail. It’s more than just an access trail though. Especially for those newer to the sport, it is a great place to build some confidence on a natural surface trail and test yourself on rocks that are a bit less intimidating than the Rock Wall Challenge.

There are some surprising climbs and technical areas if you look for them. Plus, there are natural jumps hidden in plain sight!

Interested in learning more about the Glade-Barrens Ecosystem? Check out some fun facts below:

Taming the Rocks: How the Rock Wall Challenge Began

Every hobby has an origin story. Ours starts during a year most of us aren’t likely to forget…. 2020. Let’s set the stage because this isn’t your typical quarantine story.

Mid August. The days were long, but life around us was still curtailed. Enter one electric blue Losi Nightcrawler.

The pandemic shifted some of our daily routines, but life on the farmstead didn’t change much. Chores still needed to be done, the garden tended, and animals cared for. And when the weather was nice, we more than likely had the grill or smoker going. It was one of those nights when we really started looking at our rock retaining wall in a different light.

It had been built out of necessity – the rocks came from this hillside when we carved out a spot for the house. Our goats enjoyed climbing it when they grazed the area, but otherwise, we rarely thought much about it. This wasn’t the first property with a cedar glade we’ve lived on (more about that in an upcoming post), so we were used to the look of exposed rock. On this particular night though, with a new RC in hand, we realized the challenge was right here in front of us. We didn’t need to head to another park, we had a course in our backyard.

Finding the first line was the hardest part. Rocks can be deceptive and coming from full sized (1:1) rigs, we had a learning curve driving from a distance. We weren’t deterred. A few small tweaks to ease the initial approach angle and we had a short crawl that looped up from the ground, through a handful of seriously off-camber pitches, over the top of a few boulders, and back down a twisting descent.

Elation. You know the feeling – the one you got the first time you stuck a line you weren’t sure you could make. And that was it. That’s when we knew.

The Rock Wall Challenge was born.

Over the next few weeks, we move rocks and tripled the length. We kept adjusting until we had lines where we knew we could make the climb, even if it was only one out of every few tries. This was an area to hone our skills and learn our rig.

While we created a trail across the entire rock wall, we also incorporated multiple entry/exit points to add some variety. These shorter spurs include some gnarly hill climbs that really tested our ability to control our rigs.

Fast forward a few months and the idea of RC Field Days was born. We shifted more rocks to bring the total length to nearly 100 feet and got the rock hammer out to widen a few areas for rigs with full bodies. Spoiler alert: we have another expansion in the works that will add 15-20 more feet of obstacles!

Ready to challenge yourself? Come by and find your favorite line. Oh, and while you’re here, check out some of our other courses too.

The Junkyard: Sharing Our Dirty Little Secret

Welcome to The Junkyard.

Being married to a mechanic, hearing “junkyard” conjured up very different images than our rock garden. I’m sure it does for you too. But I can assure you it has earned it’s name.

Once overlooked as just an area our kids liked to build forts and explore, things changed shortly after we conquered the first line on our Rock Wall Challenge.

You know that feeling you get when you finally make that crazy, twisty, turny, off-camber climb that you’ve been so close to sticking? Yeah, we get it too. And when the excitement died down, we realized no place on the Farmstead was safe.

We wanted to conquer more rocks. We wanted to find new lines. We wanted a place you could try 15 times and still be able to discover something new.

The kid’s secret lair was no longer a secret. The Junkyard quickly became the first place we would test a new rig.

With multiple levels of rock outcroppings, we’ve spent countless hours crisscrossing these rocks exploring different lines. And over time, we’ve added wooden bridges and ramps to open up new options. This isn’t your average walk in the woods.  

Here’s our dirty little secret… This wasn’t always an area we enjoyed. Most of those junk additions were scavenged nearby. You see, not that long ago The Junkyard was little more than a neglected spot in the woods where previous generations had dumped their junk.

We’ve been pulling away years of debris, rusted metal, and glass jars to reclaim this unique landscape.

C’mon out and hit some obstacles in The Junkyard, but be sure to help us out and drop your trash in the designated bins. Oh, and please stay in the designated – we’re still cleaning up our woods. Thanks y’all!

Course Origins: Prowling Bobcat Ridge

We have plenty of critters at the farm, but there are a few we only catch on the trail camera… like our bobcat. So imagine my surprise when, on a non-descript April morning, one walked by our fire pit and locked eyes with me.

Seriously y’all. I stood transfixed as it stared into my soul.

Yeah, you could say it made an impression before strolling off… (you guessed it) to the ridge.

We’ve removed a few trees and cleared out a lot of underbrush since then, but Bobcat Ridge has retained its name and character. This area has the most elevation change of any of our courses and with natural trails and a variety of boulders to climb, it’s my kid’s favorite.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

See Pride Rock at the top there? Good. Go with me on this one….

When we cleared back the brush, something about this rock screamed Lion King. You know the scene where Rafiki is holding Simba up for all to see?

Cue the Elton John…

I know, I know, nerd moment. Let’s just say I watched too many Disney movies as a kid and move on.

Regardless of what you associate the rock with, it’s a great place to snap a picture of your rig against a blue sky! Join us on the ridge the next time you’re out. Oh, and hakuna matata my friends. Hakuna matata.  

Starting Something New: RC Field Days

We don’t have to tell you that 2020 was a strange year. We launched our Farmstead’s online presence and then watched as our local community, state, and nation dealt with the upheaval that came with Covid-19. While we were not immune to the shifts in routines and schedules, we found that something positive came out of the uncertainty… more time as a family.

Whether it was nature walks looking for birds, building forts in the woods, jumping on the trampoline… or calling “break time” to sip lemonade on the porch or simply lay back and watch the clouds float by, we spent a lot of time outside. There were still the animals to care for, the garden to tend to, and the day-to-day chores of the farmstead, but without the commute for my off-farm job and the school bus rides for our kiddos, there was a new block of found time.

Admittedly, we are incredibly fortunate on the Farmstead to have the space to explore nature while at home. When family or friends stop by, most of our time with them is spent outside. We walk in the woods, snack on fresh berries or crisp sugar snap peas fresh from the garden, pull up a chair on the front porch, or warm up by the fire pit.

Valuing that time outdoors, when our son was gifted his first RC truck, we looked for places to go as a family. We wanted to find a place with a variety of natural obstacles. While he’d run small RC trucks around the house, this one was not a toy marked 4+. It had rubber tires and articulated. We wanted to find a place where he could learn how to drive a more complex RC vehicle and progress through challenges as his confidence grew.

Was that so much to ask?

We tried heading to the lake and a local state park, but felt out of place. Hikers on the trail were less than excited to see the truck zipping along ahead of us. At the lake, there was plenty of open ground and large boulders, but few areas where there were natural steps, or progressions, in the terrain where he could see a clear line and follow a “trail.” We tried to pick areas away from where folks were fishing, which often left few options. Our local community parks weren’t much better. Most were set up intentionally to have little variation in terrain. We found large grassy expanses sparsely dotted with the occasional large rock, while needing to watch out for the hazards of bicycles, joggers, and groups of kids playing tag.

Not finding what we were looking for locally, we decided to create it.

RC Field Days at the Farmstead opens our private trails to you. The idea was born out of our desire to have a fun, family-friendly outdoor activity that was both approachable enough for newbies (our kids) and provided opportunities to challenge the more experienced drivers (my better half). Plus, it’s a heck of a lot safer, cheaper, and requires less storage space than getting everyone full-size ATVs!

We hope that you’ll join us to explore the trails. Whether you’re searching for things to do, are looking to try something new this weekend, or simply hope (like we did) to find a place to run your RC where you can feel like part of a community, check our schedule and plan your trip to the Farmstead.

Breaking Bread

Warm, freshly baked bread is one of my weaknesses. Can you picture it, tempting you as it cools? Rolls, loaves, baguettes, quick, yeasted, sourdough, enriched, I love it all and the warmth it brings to my kitchen.

A recent sourdough loaf waiting to be sliced.

A kitchen can be a magical place, but if it’s anything like mine, there are gadgets, books, appliances, spices, and artwork scattered throughout. A few summers ago, laughing about the clutter on my countertop and woeful housekeeping, my friend Dani chided me for apologizing and put things in perspective-

“I’m always more comfortable in homes where you can tell people really live in them and build their life there.”

The truth of the matter is, I’m most comfortable in homes that are “lived in” as well.

Forget Instagram perfect pictures, our kitchen is often cluttered with honey filtering, preserved foods to be stored on shelves, and herbs drying.

Walking into a home with personality shares little pieces of your story. It often reminds me that while life can be messy, it is also beautiful… and let’s face it, we built our counter top to be used, not to sit empty as a statement piece.

Last month that summer conversation came flooding back. We traveled to the home of a relatively new family to the area and after realizing a shared love of bread, I found myself in a new kitchen. The tables had turned and I was the one being offered apologies for a family simply utilizing their space. From the seasonings on the counter to the dishes drying, books, and beautiful tea pots, I felt at home. I appreciated the conversation starters that came from just taking in the space around me.

It’s a gift to your guests to share a small part of your story, don’t feel guilty for that.

Remember that early profession about bread? Criss had a beautifully braided loaf for us and indulged my questions about her sourdough, baked a fresh loaf to sample, and even shared her starter and recipe. I knew I was in a good place.

There is a simple beauty in connecting through authentic conversation and spontaneous laughter. In the end, we left with not only an edible work of art and thoughtful gift, but a sense of community… all because new friends opened their kitchen to us. Don’t underestimate the power of simply breaking bread with someone.  

Share the Love… and a Loaf

I’ve seen far too many posts lately of friends and loved ones just trying to hold things together. You’ve seen them too… The ones struggling with health issues, strained marriages, the uncertainty of employment changes, and the pressures of life.

Let’s face it, the New Year motivation has worn off, the days just aren’t long enough, and we could all use a boost.

What better time to #sharethelove?

I’ve been baking more than my family can eat lately, so I’m #sharingthelove and gifting glorious #carbs (sorry all my keto-loving friends). There’s something comforting about a handcrafted loaf of bread.

So slice it, grill it, dip it, slather it in butter, drizzle with honey, there’s no wrong way to enjoy!

What are you doing to #sharethelove this month?

Preparing for Rain

The sun is shining, the sky is a striking blue, and out of nowhere a strong gust of wind foretells the front moving our way. We’ve been preparing this week, trying to get ahead of the weather as our place is still soaked from the last round. But being able to prepare hasn’t always been easy.

Let me bring you back to our starter home- a cozy, one bedroom log cabin in a rural valley. The lack of cell phone service, internet options, and TV reinforced the peace and quiet. Did I mention quiet? We’re talking standing on the tractor to try checking voicemail, let alone attempt a call, quiet.

We managed to pick up one major TV network with our antennae… on most days. When a dedicated weather channel popped up, it was a game changer. We no longer had to remember to check the forecast while we were in town or worry about missing the news, could watch live radar when storms were rolling through, and actually plan which days would be the better weather for working outside! This may not seem like much, but it was definitely a small win. I distinctly remember being glued to that channel as we watched water inch closer to our home during the 2010 flood.

Fast forward a few (okay, quite a few) years… we now live high on a hill above a much smaller creek, have our own home weather station with an interior display panel, access to all the major TV networks, and weather apps on our phones. Instead of worrying about finding the forecast, we weigh the different predictions and try to determine which meteorologist is sensationalizing incoming weather the least.

Why care?

Planning ahead helps us minimize muddy ruts in our field that need to be repaired like this.

It’s winter in Tennessee and one thing is certain- we’re going to have rain. For us, knowing the forecast helps us plan ahead. Our animals still need to be fed and chores done, but part of stewarding our land is minimizing our impact- and that means treading lightly when the ground is saturated.

So much of managing a homestead is planning around weather- using the tractor to move round bales now to avoid tracking up fields, taking inventory of your grain stores so you don’t risk hauling wet feed, assessing the forage left in portable electric netting areas to determine if you need to move them now or can wait until the ground dries up, waiting to plant anything that may stay too wet or get too cold, adding heat lamps for sensitive animals during the coldest snaps, and adjusting your plans to complete indoor projects on rainy days.

Bringing home hay for our goats on a dry day.

My list keeps growing. What’s on your rainy day to-do list?

Proud Parent Moments

You know the moments I’m talking about…

The ones where you stop and stare at your child, wondering how someone so small could have so much wisdom.

The ones when the smile starts deep inside and breaks across your face watching them.

The ones where you can feel yourself beaming with pride and you want to shout to the world that’s my kid!

But my favorites are the small, quiet moments when you get a glimpse of your child’s soul and a preview of the type of person they will become.

You know the moments.

This weekend we were at our local farmer’s co-op picking up feed and our kiddos asked if they could spend some of their Christmas money on a toy. Like many of you, we’re trying to instill a sense of responsibilities in our children, so we let them make some of the decisions with their money.

Both of them carefully combed the toy farm equipment, miniature animals, and leftover Christmas items, asking prices and weighing the options.

Have you ever seen a miniature alligator with a farm set? I hadn’t either. But that’s what my son found. An alligator. We looked it over and I simply asked if he was sure that was what he wanted to spend his money on.

He thought about it and then gravely put it back. I let him know it was okay if that’s what he wanted, but he had to be sure because once the money was spent it would be gone. This is where he got me.

He looked at me and said he didn’t really need another toy, but could he spend his money on dog treats for Brusher? My heart caught for a moment and I stumbled over the words. Of course you can, I think Brusher would really enjoy that. But you can spend your money on yourself if you’d like.

“No Mom, it’s okay, I think I just want to get Brusher treats. Can I feed them to him too?”

You know the moments. Let’s celebrate more #proudparent moments this year.

#proudparent moment: my son showing off the treats he bought for our livestock guardian dog instead of toys for himself.

Under Pressure… Life Lessons from the Kitchen

Do you remember the first time you successfully used a pressure canner?

Did you careful comb the instructions, checking the weights for the third time and the steps for the fifth? Did you feel anxious as you impatiently watched for steam, fascinated, but hesitant to get too close?

Did you feel trepidation when the pressure began to build and hiss out around the air lock, wondering if you should turn the heat down? Did you momentarily panic… asking yourself, “Is that supposed to happen? How long should it take?”

Did you cringe a little inside thinking perhaps you didn’t put the seal in correctly, forgot a step, or worse yet… had a faulty canner and were sure to have it explode in front of you at any moment?  

Did you peer from around the safety of the refrigerator door, silently praying that the air vent popped and that the lid was locked before the entire contents took out your microwave and spewed across your kitchen?

Did you stare at the pressure regulator, hearing the pressure of the boil and willing it to rock so you could start your timer? Did you jump back, startled, the first time it lurched?  

Do you remember how quickly the rhythmic rock became background noise as you went about your day? Or the moment when you reached over the pot for the first time without worrying about it… and how the familiarity of it all took you by surprise?

I do.

Tonight I opened a jar of our homemade stock and thought about how many years I missed out on these small comforts (and precious freezer space) out of fear and doubt.

Let’s face it, pressure canning can be intimidating.

For years I convinced myself that I was satisfied making pickles, salsa, jams, and jellies. I told myself it was just as easy to freeze stock and vegetables out of the garden. It got to the point that my husband joked about taking his life into his own hands opening any of the freezers (yes I’m spoiled), knowing that at least one carefully placed item would likely fall and that he would never be able to fit the puzzle pieces back together in the same way for the door to close again.

All of that changed after catching up with an old friend with a passion for #puttingfoodby. It’s amazing what a handful of conversations and a friend willing to act as a mentor can do for your self-confidence. Armed with her recommendations, we purchased our first pressure canner and found a new sense of pride in both mastering a daunting piece of equipment and stocking our shelves with a greater variety of winter stores. Sure, it’s not the flashiest new toy, but learning a new skill is worth celebrating!

As I see people sharing resolutions and goals for themselves in the New Year, I keep thinking about what a difference we can make on the lives of others, in ways big and small. Janet probably has no idea the difference our conversations made in pushing me to finally attempt canning low acid foods or the sense of accomplishment that came with it. What an incredible gift to share with someone. Her willingness to acknowledge my fears and ease my hesitations, despite how silly they may have seemed from her vantage point, empowered me to see past my own self-doubt. That is a small win that I celebrate every time I open something I’ve pressure canned at home.

Those little kindnesses, frequently overlooked and taken for granted, are often the very things that keep us moving forward.

They say one of the greatest gifts you can give others is your time, but don’t underestimate the difference small investments can make. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of your day to completely change someone else’s.

Is there anything better than receiving a surprise care package of homemade goodies? This small gesture and ample supply of homemade candy made our Christmas a few years ago.

Gift a jar of jam or some of your favorite (or least favorite for that matter) homemade candy. Share your friend’s small business post or leave a positive review. Take the time to be a sounding board for your partner’s latest project ideas…. even if you know they may not last more than 48 hours. Send a note to someone when you’re thinking of them. Shop local and learn the stories of those working to grow your community. Get excited about a friend’s new hobby, even if you only ever see pictures on social media. Privately cheer others on as they struggle with an unexpected burden or life change. Act as a resource for someone. Be a mentor. Open up a new realm of possibilities for someone, just like Janet did for me.

Forget making another resolution, make connections this year.