“My life before the farm in some ways seems empty. Maybe I should not say that,” says Natasha McCrary, searching for the words to describe how 1818 Farms has changed her. In her former life, the self-taught farmer was a systems engineer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a stay-at-home mom and then a founder of a nonprofit. “I am blessed that the farm has brought so many wonderful people into my life that I would have never encountered before. Our farm is about relationships. Whether it is people coming to us for a farm tour, a farm-to-table dinner or a workshop; wholesale or retail clients; vendors or employees — I want to get to know them and have a meaningful connection. The farm allows me to do that.”
Nestled in the corner of historic Mooresville, Alabama (population: 54), 1818 Farms is named for the year Mooresville was incorporated, one year before Alabama became a state. The cozy three-acre farm is bustling with activity. When tour groups, parties, farm-to-table dinners, workshops and kids’ camps aren’t filling the land with babbling and busyness, the farm’s permanent residents imbue the land with its deep sense of purpose and brightness. That special cast of characters includes a flock of adorable and friendly Babydoll Southdown sheep; a Nubian goat named Farrah Fawcett; barn cats, Mocha, Espresso, Trouble and more; a bevy of chickens with personality and colorful farm-fresh eggs; pot-bellied pigs Cupcake, Clover and Mr. Wrigley; and Justice, the Great Pyrenees guardian dog.
Natasha and her husband Laurence, co-owners of the farm, are the gentle shepherds of this motley yet lovable crew. Each day, they ride their bikes the two-block commute to a job that one hesitates to call “work,” especially when you witness the McCrarys tend to the animals. The animals are eager and exuberant in their presence, and Natasha and Laurence seem filled with a bemused and abiding joy. “Lulu, one of the sheep from our foundation flock, has such a warm personality,” says Natasha. “She loves to greet guests in hopes of a nibble of grain. And Static, the sheep, loves for you to scratch his back. He will even wag his tail to show his happiness.”
Natasha doesn’t hesitate to admit that the sheep and lambs are her favorite thing about 1818 Farms. “It would be a fib if I replied any other way,” she says. “I love the peaceful feeling that I get when I watch them graze. I love that I am their shepherd and that they trust me. I love that I can close my eyes and hear each one ‘baaaaa’ and know exactly who it is. I honestly love everything about them.” Her affection for the sheep runs so deep, she has become something of a scientist and geneticist since the flock’s arrival. “One of the main missions of our farm is to preserve the rare Southdown Babydoll Sheep breed,” she says. “We currently have 13 adult sheep and nine lambs at the farm. We are breeders for two registries: Olde English and NABSSAR. And this summer and fall, we will focus on creating textiles with the wool from our sheep.”
The McCrarys’ three children are the sixth generation to live in their circa 1826 family home in the picturesque village, and Natasha loves that her own brood is able to learn from the farm. “I like the fact that they can see how much my husband and I love what we do,” she says. “I am able to show them that with a plan, dedication and hard work, you can be successful and love your job.”
Ironically, her children are what brought the farm into her life only five short years ago. It started as a family project when her middle son, Gamble, fell in love with a Southdown Babydoll Sheep that he encountered at a petting farm in October 2011. He couldn’t talk about anything else, so that got Natasha’s wheels turning. She began to think that a small flock of lambs would be a fun and educational family project. “And then, as Gamble, my little entrepreneur, began to plan what he was going to do with his sheep — sell the wool, sell the manure to garden shops, charge for photographs and even stage a Nativity scene at the church if he could find a baby — I began to dream up my own plans for a small, profitable farm where we could teach our children to appreciate the land and animals and to be good conservationists.”
In 2012, Natasha hosted their first farm tour for a local kindergarten class. She recalls that tour as an experience that confirmed the family project as something more. “Seeing the excitement through a child’s eyes and how much we were able to teach them about our animals and farm life during their one-hour visit told me that we were doing something great for our community.”
The small farm quickly grew into a booming business. In addition to teaching herself how to become a breeder, Natasha set about an impressive journey to becoming a full-fledged farmer, learning about land management, cross-fencing, rotational grazing and the exhaustive list goes on. Aside from the farm animals, 1818 Farms boasts a vast garden with heirloom produce, including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, okra, eggplant, peppers and lots of fresh herbs, many of which are served in the farm’s extremely popular farm-to-table dinners. (SB Tip: The dinners for 2017 are sold out. To receive firsthand notification of upcoming dinners, sign up for the 1818 Farms mailing list.) The garden is also filled with flowers, which are used in wreaths and bouquets, and in flower arranging workshops in the adjacent Garden House. The farm holds more classes, such as Planning and Designing a Raised Bed Garden, Chicken 101: Keeping a Backyard Flock, Seed Starting 101, Succulent Tea Cup Gardens, Succulent Planters, Growing and Cooking with Herbs, Flower Arranging, Fairy Gardens, Beginning Calligraphy and Yoga Retreats. Children’s birthday parties, supper and garden club gatherings, photo shoots, children’s summer camps and, of course, farm tours also keep the grounds buzzing throughout the seasons.
And Natasha and Laurence make sure that 1818 Farms has a dynamic online presence. From lambs happily prancing out of the barn and newborn lambs being licked by their mamas to kooky-looking chickens and snapshots of the flower arrangements and terrariums from workshops, beautiful images of the farm can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Etsy, LinkedIn and Amazon, not to mention their robust website and blog. “Social media is such an important part of our branding, that we prefer it is handled by someone who is on the farm daily to capture moments throughout the day,” says Natasha.
But all of this activity merely forms the foundation for 1818 Farms’ rapidly growing line of all-natural, handmade bath and lifestyle products, which can now be found in almost 300 stores and 37 different states. During the farm’s first winter, Natasha had a little downtime and began experimenting with making bath products using herbs that she had grown and dried. “After introducing several products locally, I learned quickly that people wanted to know not only where their food comes from, but also exactly what they are applying to their skin,” says Natasha. “And it was a way to bring a piece of the farm into homes around the area.”
The products feature the farm’s “covergirls” and “coverguys,” such as Farrah Fawcett’s Bath Tea, Clover’s Lip Smack and Sweet Pea’s Shea Creme. A lot of love goes into the products, even shipping the preservative-free products in refrigerated containers when necessary. And the McCrarys, like the salt-of-the-earth farmers that they are, are especially proud of the accessible price point and the earth-friendly ingredients. The popular Shea Creme boasts only three ingredients: Shea butter, coconut oil and an essential oil or fragrance. And Natasha’s personal “must-have” is the Argan Face Serum, a blend of argan, evening primrose and grapeseed oils combined with a bit of vitamin E and lavender essential oil.
With one farm manager to help with the land and animals, and a skeletal and sometimes seasonal support staff at their office headquarters in Huntsville, the “downtime” that Natasha once enjoyed when tinkering with her line of bath products is a thing of the past. “Balancing the time I spend at the farm for events and workshops versus the time that I am needed at our corporate office is challenging,” says Natasha. “We never have a slow season. As a working mom and entrepreneur, it can be difficult to keep family time and business separate. This is even more so for someone who is a small-business owner.”
What started as a “fun and educational” family project has become so much more. It surely enriched the lives and knowledge of her family, but it also tapped into an endless well of passion for Natasha. She’s built a farm and a business, and along the way she has become a CEO, a farmer, a shepherd, a breeder, a teacher and tour guide, an events planner, a cosmetic chemist, a branding wizard and more.
Natasha is quick to point out that the rewards far outweigh the challenges. “I love what I do. I love sharing the knowledge of everyday farm life with our guests. I work more hours than I could have ever imagined, but honestly, running our family farm doesn’t seem like work to me. Seeing the birth of a lamb and gathering fresh eggs will never get old. I get to see miracles every day at my job. Not everyone can say that.”
1818 Farms is located in at 24889 Lauderdale St. in historic Mooresville, Alabama. To learn more about 1818 Farms workshops, events, dinners and tours, visit 1818farms.com. And to shop 1818 Farms products, visit their online store or find a retailer near you. For more information, call (256) 489-0777 or visit 1818farms.com. And sign up for 1818 Farms’ mailing list to receive firsthand notification of farm-to-table dinners and more.
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