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Forest Farming Amateur

Kayla is a brand new homesteader in the mountains outside of Boise, Idaho. She and her husband, Benjamin, have four children. She is jumping into homesteading head first, and she believes that all of her steps are ordered by God. She’s learning everything from scratch and on the fly. She left her urban life last summer to start a small farm in the forest with big dreams she’d never thought possible. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @kbridgeh2o

I kept our sheep a secret. After mentioning to a friend that I was thinking about getting a small flock, she looked at me with crazy eyes as if I had said I was going to burn my house down. I had just that day committed to buying my first two goats. A few months prior to that, I had bought some chickens to add to the ones I hatched a few months prior. And a few months prior to that, I brought home a team of ducks. Aaaaaand a few (say it with me) months prior… we had just abandoned our standard American urban life for a new home on the top of a mountain. 


My husband, Benjamin, and our four children (ages 2, 3, 5, and 7) moved to the mountains outside of Boise, Idaho, after two years of searching for the right piece of ground for us. Our must-have list included: at least 5 acres, private access to enough public land to hunt on, some kind of flowing water, a home or potential for a home, and it needed to be close enough to Boise to keep our landscaping business where we’d started it. When Ben showed me this home on Zillow one Sunday afternoon last April, I got a pit in my stomach. It checked every box and then some. I panicked a little inside, but felt some relief when I saw the list price – I knew my husband would never spend that much on a house. The two years we’d spent searching for our property combined with pandemic chaos, had only cemented my desire to move out of the city. But when it seemed like it might become a reality? Instant cold feet. I went back and forth for days, my brain, my heart, and my spirit raucously arguing day and night. And then, as suddenly as the panic had appeared, it dissolved into peace. I knew this big green house atop a mountain on 14 acres would be our forever home. Oh, and that scary list price? We could rent out the sweet, little bonus cabin on the property to offset our mortgage.

Fast and furious, we moved, fixed up a nasty well situation, and added a hefty amount of livestock and other animals to the land. It wasn’t exactly the plan, but I just kept finding “good deals” on animals, one thing led to another and now we have dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, goats, and sheep! We moved fast. We started out last year with one dog in our backyard and ended the year with nearly 50 animals in steep, heavily-timbered country. Someone asked me recently, “You weren’t raised a farm girl. So do you, just like, google stuff and figure out how to do it?” And yes, that’s pretty much how it works. We’ve researched fencing and lean-to’s and make-shift chick brooders. What kind of minerals goats need, the best heritage breeds of meat chickens, and greenhouse ventilation systems. And all the while, we keep running our business, homeschooling our children, and gleefully making memories every single day. 


There are obvious challenges that come with trying to farm at the top of a mountain. Our road in and out is treacherous at times. Predators abound. The snow comes and stays and I’m constantly second-guessing whether my chickens are happy enough here without bugs and green things to graze. I can’t wait to garden but I’ll need to flatten out a new plot for it, make sure it’s fenced well so deer and elk can’t snack on it, and our growing season is so short that a greenhouse is a must. We have very limited flat land so any animal we add needs to be hardy enough to handle these hills. But these challenges are special because they’re all ours. We’re not reading about someone else doing this. This is our very own life!


After less than a year of living here, I don’t even recognize myself. When my husband first found hunting as a primary passion, I was happy he loved doing it, but being the animal-lover I am, I swore I could never be part of it. Well, about a month ago we butchered our first lamb here on our property. I told Ben I’d be happy to process the meat with him, but there was no way I could be part of the initial kill. But to my surprise, when it came right down to it, I decided I couldn’t not be involved in every single step. I’ve grown to understand the sacred part of raising and butchering your own meat. There’s so much to say about the sacrifice and what it means to our family, even on a spiritual level. 

Just before we moved, I was coming out of a terrifying two years of anxiety and postpartum anxiety. I was afraid of everything. I had nightmares of bears trying to get into my childrens’ bedrooms at night. Driving anywhere was just one long panic attack. Being alone meant hearing intrusive thoughts even louder. But now, I don’t fear the bears, the dark, hard work, or being alone. The Lord has shown himself to me as the Good Shepherd, even as I’m learning to be a shepherdess myself. “I will not fear, for You are with me.” And that is truly God’s miraculous grace, my friends.


Our perspective on homesteading is not one weather-worn with wisdom and age. I don’t have decades of knowledge passed down from generations before me. I don’t have an animal science degree, and I didn’t grow up with property beyond a standard neighborhood lawn. I’m looking at everything with fresh, excited eyes and see more potential than anything. I say sometimes that we have more ambition than sense, which I’m okay with. My voice on the homesteading scene, I hope, will remind seasoned homesteaders of the joy of new beginnings and be the biggest cheerleader for anyone thinking about starting out. 


We’ve done pretty much everything backwards! I hatched chicks without a coop. I got goats before a stable. I’m temporarily housing my sheep in the old garden area (accidental regenerative farming!) with a tarp stretched over the end as shelter from the snow, as we haven’t worked the kinks out of our electric fence. The ewes are going to lamb in the next 4-6 weeks and I have never, ever witnessed an animal birth in my life. But I am absolutely not going to let the intimidation of the unknown keep me from living my best life up here in the fresh mountain air. Baby lambs bouncing around my garden?! My little girl spilling fresh milk from the pail?! The pantry stocked with things I grew and preserved by myself!? A medicine cabinet stocked with tinctures I made with herbs I foraged from my own land?! Pinch me, I’m dreaming!


All of this has made me pretty passionate about telling people to “just go for it.” I don’t say this in a rash, irresponsible way. Obviously, you need a plan, fortitude, and resources to make things happen when it comes to building enclosures, studying gardening for your zone, and practicing responsible animal husbandry, to name a few. But I believe that so many people think all of those things are just so difficult, that surely there must be some trick or magic touch that helps other people accomplish them, but not me. Let me tell you the secret: those people? They just do the things. And sometimes that means learning on the fly. Sometimes it’s ugly, punctuated with failures big and small. I know people think we’re crazy jumping into this so quickly. But I whole-heartedly believe experience is the best teacher, and that if you don’t feel ready, it’s only because you haven’t started.


Now, I’m looking forward to this next year of learning and experiencing and – gosh – what a blessing to do it all alongside my children! We’ll have lambs and goat kids added in the next few months which means I get to learn about birthing and milking. I know some heartbreak will come. But I’m not afraid of that anymore either, because the alternative means you haven’t taken any risks. We plan to start raising chickens for meat, and will likely finish up our pasture fencing so we can also add a cow or two, and maybe a pig. I plan to not buy any meat whatsoever in 2024 so this year is all in preparation for that. I’m also in the middle of picking out a greenhouse and planning out my first growing season here in the mountains. And I’m organizing a small farmstand to sell my fruits and veggies, tallow products, sourdough, cut flowers, and whatever else our piece of land can produce. 

The relationship I’ve discovered between solitude and work has been mind-blowing. And isn’t that a crazy juxtaposition? I’ve never been so busy and overwhelmed and have at the same time never felt such strength and solitude in my life. Honestly, I used to believe that I was lazy. I’d spend naptime hiding in my room, scrolling social media. And never felt rested. These days I spend naptime shoveling the cabin deck, digging post-holes, or training the farm dog, and I’ve never felt more energized in my life. I wasn’t lazy, I was just bored and hadn’t yet found the place that makes my heart sing. 


It’s silent on my mountain. I see my morning and evening chores as a luxury, being able to focus on one thing at a time. My brain relaxes as I take it in. I feel my heart beating as I haul water buckets and the wheelbarrow up and down the hills of our land. I smell alfalfa and pull strands of it out of my hair. My body is not at rest. But my heart is. My spirit is. And trusting that God has led us to where we are is the ultimate solitude. This amateur has fallen in love with our little forest farm and I can’t see that ever changing.


Kayla Bridgewater


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