The 153rd Real Farmer Care recipient is Charis Walker of Tarheelbilly Farm @tarheelbillyfarmer in Willow Wood, OH. Charis writes, “My name is Charis Walker and I am a small farmer living in Appalachian Ohio. My maternal grandparents were the last generation of farmers in my family and it never seriously occurred to me growing up that farming was an occupation that I could or should pursue. I came to growing food after living in cities around the country and having a terrible time sourcing the traditional Southern/Soul Food that I grew up eating. I fell down the rabbit hole of knitting-spinning-weaving, which led me to the world of sheep.
My husband and I met in 2007 and shared a mutual desire to live and work rurally. We moved to the farm in 2017 and hit the ground running. Our community has embraced our low-input, chemical free farm. Sheep were pretty uncommon in this area until recently. When I started the Tunis flock in 2008, people would slow down to watch the sheep graze.
Farming is a difficult endeavor and those who say that it's a lifestyle more than anything else are 100% correct. I am one of the many farmers who work off farm part time to supplement the farm, so finding balance and staying mentally resilient are a constant battle. Wearing many hats can lead to burnout if you're not careful and the numerous variables that farmers have to account for and address add to already high levels of stress.
Pre-Covid, I spent time out in the community selling at farmers markets and participating in events that exposed the community to organic practices and to rare breeds of livestock. I showed fleeces (and won!) at the KY Sheep and Fiber Festival (we're a little over 2 hrs from Lexington) and I sold fiber all over the place. Covid seriously impacted our in-person commitments and shifted sales to the online sphere. I have to admit that I struggle with that. I am a deeply private person and it's hard to balance my desire for transparency with my customers while guarding my privacy and time.
I have learned to say no unapologetically if I'm not in a position to follow through or if the task will take away from previous commitments. Taking social media breaks when I get too busy to post, focusing solely on the needs of my family, occasionally working off farm doing a job I enjoy, shepherding my sheep, and spending time with my hands in the dirt are ways that I find balance and self care. The occasional massage helps, too!”