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It’s harvesting season in Ontario, so we decided to focus this month’s Career Spotlight on a hardworking family that’s committed to growing their own food, raising livestock, and teaching the public a little about farming along the way.

If you’re looking for fun activities to try this fall, consider visiting the Jireh Hills Family Homestead just outside London, Ontario! You’ll get to meet the cutest group of goats, alpacas, ponies, and bunnies while you tour the farm to see how cheese, yogurt, and soap are made. Established in 2011 by Cheryl Charlton and her husband, the Jireh Hills Family Homestead is all about helping people of all ages experience the joy and hands-on education of rural life. Originally a high school science and physical education teacher, Cheryl is now the proud mother of eight wonderful kids (the human kind) and a self-taught farm midwife to all of her other kids (the goat kind). We can’t wait for you to read all about how to lead a self-sustaining, peaceful life in the countryside.

What are your current responsibilities within your role?

  1. Daily milk management duties include milking goats and our single Jersey cow, as well as making cheese, yogurt, and all-natural goat’s milk soap. My daughters are wonderful helpers in this area and manage most of the hands-on tasks in the barns and outdoors.
  2. Managing our herd of dairy goats, flock of chickens, alpacas, ponies, and rabbits includes feeding, watering, training, cleaning out pens, and pasture rotation.
  3. I create, schedule, advertise, and host regular farm tours and a variety of farm events, including hosting overnight farm stays. This role has taken me out of my comfort zone as I have had to rely heavily on my limited computer skills, create a social media following, and master various platforms for bookings. I now have a professional website in addition to our Facebook and Instagram pages where I try to stay connected to folks on a regular basis.
  4. Homeschooling duties are accomplished following morning chores. Most bookwork is completed by noon and then we plan our afternoon activities for outdoors.

Why did you choose this line of work?

I would definitely say there has been a natural evolution towards this line of work for me. As a family, our vision to grow our own food, milk our own goats, and become more self-sustaining and responsible for our health naturally led me down a road of learning something I knew nothing about! Learning how to learn is one thing; getting your hands dirty and actually DOING IT is completely different. I am truly thankful for a family that doesn’t mind working hard and starting a new adventure every day!
I have always enjoyed teaching what I am passionate about. It is equally as much a blessing when both adults and children see an immediate benefit from schooling. Orchestrating the learning of where healthy food comes from, connecting with a gentle creature for an hour, and taking part in the “circle of life” so it becomes relatable to humans is an amazing opportunity.

Who has been your greatest role model?

One of my greatest role models has been my grandmother who passed away several years ago. My father often calls me “Little Grandma”, and he is referring to how he remembers growing up after the Great Depression, when homesteading was a tough part of life and you had to work your land just to survive. At times, I think of her toiling and the pressures she faced while trying to provide food for her growing family. Of course, I only saw her as a loving, older woman, a survivor of those hardships. She taught me the importance of being frugal, prioritizing the important things in life, and eating everything on my plate. She taught me how to live for the future, not just for today.
She’s often in my mind as I struggle to pull weeds, fork out manure, or prepare a meal to feed my hungry crew. Working hard with those you love, facing tough times together, and looking forward is what makes a woman strong!

What obstacles or challenges have you faced in your role?

Our greatest challenge is when we lose one of our animals that we have worked so hard to save. We get to enjoy the excitement and miracle of a new baby goat emerging and taking its first breath of life! We rush to dry off the wet, little critter, check to see if it’s a boy or a girl, and anticipate watching it instinctively discover its mama’s teat to suckle colostrum. Such relief! When situations unexpectedly arise, we intervene and do our best to preserve life. Some of the hardest life lessons are learned in the barn each spring. We learn to value life, and we are in constant awe of the miraculous gift of health and strength.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Meeting new people and sharing my passion with others is by far the most rewarding aspect of what I do. I see city folks who have never stepped foot on a farm before wearing white sneakers, but they leave the homestead laughing about hoof prints on their shirt. I make connections with fellow homesteaders who are inspired to begin their own journey towards self-sustainable farming. They arrive with open arms to take home their first baby goat who will soon become their family’s milk supply the following year.
Second to meeting new faces is bringing joy and peace to those who are desperate for a change in pace. Most people race through life at a neck-breaking speed and rarely, if ever, stop to take a deep breath of fresh country air. The simplicity of life on the farm and the slow pace of waiting for a seed to germinate, a crop to yield fruit, or a pony to finally foal has become unfamiliar to most. These small pleasures bring immeasurable reward to those who invest even a small portion of their busy schedule into it.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into this field?

Running a small business takes hard work, and many times you think your vision is crazy! Learning to be flexible and not easily discouraged helps you get through the rough times. Sometimes, you don’t know exactly where your interests lie or what you love, especially when you are still young. My advice is to learn how to work with your hands, don’t be afraid to get dirty, and take on a hobby that requires daily responsibility.

  • Create a unique logo to represent your vision. Post it where you can see it regularly to remind you to stay focused.
  • Make something that you can see at the end of the day or week. Build a birdhouse, sew an egg apron, or prepare a meal. Advance to greater skill sets, and watch your hands accomplish marvelous tasks.
  • Plant a flower and mix the dirt with your hands. Take care of that flower and give it water and regular sunshine so you can watch it grow and bring forth beautiful buds. Try giving it fertilizer and watch what happens! Little by little, inch by inch; remember, there’s much to learn and learning takes time and experience, so just get started!
  • Volunteer at a farm (like ours) and discover if you’ve got what it takes. Taking care of another living creature is an amazing way to learn who you really are.
    Of course, never stop learning! Learning can take place only when you actually DO SOMETHING, so ensure that you incorporate practical learning into your bookwork.

What are you looking forward to in your career this year?

In the coming year, I plan to establish more seasonal activities that will provide a variety of learning opportunities. For example, I am interested in learning more about forest school and making use of our 20 acres of woodlands to encourage exploration and adventure learning for different age groups. I am preparing to host larger groups, such as homeschool groups or business “stress-relief” days, for farm and forest adventures. Also, I am waiting on a few infrastructure details to be in place so I can organize soap making and cheese making classes for small groups. We plan to construct our first nature lodge this winter, which will be ready to accommodate overnight farm stays starting in the spring of 2022. This is an exciting venture and the blueprints look amazing!

Winter is when we slow down (a bit!), and it can be a useful time to re-evaluate, reprioritize, and plan. I find that wintertime brings creativity, so I often need to tame my plans so that I don’t get overwhelmed (well, I try!).