FARMER & HOMESTEADER
Albany, New York to Manton, California
Blair Prenoveau’s love of farming manifested when she learned how regenerative sustainable agriculture could be to the earth’s tired and misused soil. She left the city with her then partner and hoped to build a sustainable homestead that would help heal the land beneath her, provide healthy food to her family and community, and create a meaningful career with a steady income. She quickly learned on her journey that she had both an aptitude and deep connection with cows. She began raising them for both milk and meat. After bringing two daughters into the world, and several years of hard work, she felt like she was close to building the sustainable farmstead she sought. A surprise third pregnancy was welcomed but not planned for, as the life of a farmer wasn’t lucrative, and tending to three children would definitely impact their ability to farm full time. Blair’s previous midwife had passed away so she planned an unassisted birth at their homestead. Imagine the shock when a second little boy arrived, right after the first; they didn’t know they were pregnant with twins. A couple of years after her sons were born Blair and her partner began to have relationship problems and she knew that she had to put her four children first and relocate to a new homestead. Now, a single mother with four kids under seven, she might honestly be one of the hardest working and most resilient folks we’ve had the honor to feature. Life continues to throw one road block after another at her and she maintains her steady climb towards building a better life for her and her family. Farming single has its own challenges, as many hands make lighter work, but farming single with four children is a balancing act of patience, perseverance and determination. The remote homestead they relocated to ended up needed a lot of major work and is being slowly put back together by a friendly handyman neighbor. While the house is being made livable again Blair has been staying in a trailer out back with her kids. She cooks on a gas grill outside and managed to plant an impressive off-season vegetable garden that provides the family with a majority of their produce. The winter months have been a true test of her resilience, as cold temperatures, endless projects and little money coming in has made her question herself and her intentions for the future. A testament to Blair’s unfaltering strength can be easily seen in her children. They are fearless, kind and joyful. Gently petting the latest calf arrival at the farm, climbing high up in the pine trees out front, riding on her hay cart as she goes to feed to cows; they are living a childhood with freedoms not usually granted to young people nowadays. The school in Manton recently closed due to low enrollment and Blair has been helping fundraise with some other local parents to start charter school nearby so her kids won’t need to ride an hour each way to the closest public school. There is never a moment in the day or night that she is able to sit idly by and take a much deserved rest but she finds peace and space to think while milking her beloved heifers twice a day. What Blair has managed to build at her new homestead, on her own, in only six months is comparable to what others with much more help and capital aim to do in several years. Although each day holds unknown challenges and setbacks, she continues to shake her head, smile and push on towards building the dream she originally had for herself and her family in the Mount Lassen Valley. (Click here to jump to her interview)
Did you grow up growing your own food, keep animals, etc. or was it something you came to on your own?
My father's grandparents were the last generation in my family to farm, so while I felt it in my bones I did not grow up on a farm. I was raised in the suburbs of upstate New York and as I grew up I clearly saw the brokenness of modern disconnected society and vehemently questioned all I was offered by my middle class privileged sheltered upbringing. After one year of college and feeling undernourished in every way; physically, mentally, and spiritually, I thankfully discovered organic farming and began my farming quest to gain knowledge and experience. I started by doing work trades on farms first in Hawaii, then California. I instantly knew i wanted to buy land to start a farm of my own.
What has been the hardest part of your journey thus far?
Having the farm financially support itself, though that is an obvious struggle. Now my biggest struggle is doing it all alone. This is not what I ever dreamed of and it doesn't feel right, but it is the path before me now and so I am trying my best to be patient with my kids and myself. I need to create a financially viable farm operation on this new property.
What do you appreciate most about the life you have built here with your family?
I appreciate the connection to the land and animals and plants the most. I appreciate how strong and healthy and capable I feel. Also that I am giving my kids a sturdy and nourishing foundation. An alternative to the mainstream modern culture our society now offers children. While they may not see it or understand it now, I think they will be better for it. I hope they will become wise, strong, and smart individuals with deep reverence and respect for the land and all it provides and needs. Hopefully they will be revolutionary in whatever path they choose.
How do you juggle motherhood and the constant needs of your farm?
The kids come first. I try to get them fed, situated and content before going to milk or fork poop. But I still have to stop what I am doing frequently to tend my kids. I know it won't always be this way as they grow, so I am trying my best to be patient and be easier on myself as I accomplish less than I'd like to right now.
What advice do you have for someone interested in learning to farm?
Go work on several different farms. Spend as much of each season on a farm as you can. Get all the different wisdom and flavors you can. *Listen and learn from the mistakes others have made.* Figure out how you will earn an income from the land before you start. Figure out who your market base is. Stay within your means and don't over extend yourself.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
In the healing of the land. The righting of wrongs we have committed to our planet and its inhabitants. From other individuals on the same mission. From those who came before us and worked to feed and preserve and spread traditional wisdom. From my herd of bovine and children.
What hopes do you have for the future of food and farming in America?
I want to see the government shift and step up to support organic and pasture based farming enterprises. Give land to small farmers. I have had this vision for years now, of an entire tract of land crossing the continent to be reallocated to native migratory ruminants to allow them safe space to graze and sequester carbon and bring fertility that has been missing for centuries.
Are there any books, mentors, podcasts, farming heros that you would recommend to people wanting to start growing food?
It is not a farming book really, but the first book I read that grabbed me and held me to my farm dream was Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Her book gave me both sensible reasoning and a firm foundation to why I was headed for farming. She inspired me to be more knowledgable and involved in what actually nourished me and know my food was clean. One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka gave me more impetus to become a farmer, working with the land instead of against it, and being a part of the cycle instead of a wasteful observer.
Now much of my inspiration I draw from my heroes, other likeminded farmers. Folks I know who are doing the same thing as I am motivate me constantly. Friends of mine who have been my teachers and mentors, and also getting to see other farmers doing their thing via the magic of the internet is a big thing since it is obviously hard to actually leave my farm, but their dedication keeps me going in hard times, to know I am not alone and there are many other folks out there doing the good work gives me hope and girds my strength.
What are some common misperceptions about farming that you would like to dispel?
It's not all baby calves and pretty vegetables, but in my opinion the hard work and more bittersweet times carve us into our best selves and the connection is worth it all.
If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing plaguing young farmers today what would it be?
Financial blockades. Land should be made available for folks looking to farm organically. The government should encourage and welcome new farmers to make it easier to begin new operations to be providing locally grown clean goods to their communities.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Establishing a small raw milk share operation to my local community and focusing majorly on a market gardening operation to provide clean food to my local community.