Jereme Zimmerman On His Kentucky Roots

The writer returns to his childhood farm to rediscover his love for the land, people and animals that make it unique.

I was brought up on a goat farm in the hills of northern Kentucky, with nearly 40 acres of forest as my classroom (I was homeschooled through the eighth grade). My classmates were a menagerie of animals, a tight-knit homesteading and homeschooling community, and siblings and cousins who were also homeschooled.

As a child, my favorite place to do schoolwork was in a large maple tree in the front yard with branches that jutted out in strategic formations ideal for propping myself up to do schoolwork. I often got an early start since I would get up with my dad as he prepared for his 30-mile trek into the town of Erlanger to his job as a high school English teacher. Most days I finished my schoolwork by noon, and spent the next couple of hours playing or working on chores before being joined by neighbor- hood kids when they returned from school.

Play time could consist of anything from mud fights and “king of the raft” in our snapping-turtle-infested pond, dirt-clod fights in the newly plowed garden to trekking along the creek that meandered through our wooded backyard. More often than not, my dad had additional chores ready for me upon returning from school, as he was constantly improving our farm buildings and house. I spent much of my childhood tearing out walls and floors as we slowly converted a run-down shack into a spacious, rustic farmhouse.

Growing Up “Poor”
Mom worked hard as a farmhand, gardener, mother and teacher, while Dad picked up odd jobs during summers and of-hours from teaching. I grew up “poor” but didn’t know it. The dinner table was always stocked with fresh-picked or home-canned vegetables, meat we had raised (or hunted) and butchered ourselves, and fresh goat or cow milk. I elected to attend high school with my dad in ninth grade, a decision I often regret.

My lunches were usually spent over a book in the library, which won me friends with the outcasts of the outcasts—and with the librarian—and gave me a brief respite from attempting to navigate the confusing social hierarchy. My four siblings, Aaron, Nathan, Zachary and Anna, were also homeschooled, as were my cousins and partners-in-crime, Leah and David.
This background instilled in me a sense of adventure. Upon escaping the confines of high school, I attended Berea College in eastern Kentucky, majoring in English and communication.

Heading West
Upon graduating in May 1998, I packed up and headed to the Pacific Northwest shortly after marrying my first wife Jennifer, whom I had met in college. She was from Seattle. After spending eight years traveling and liv- ing in the Northwest, home started calling.
Since Jennifer was also interested in returning to Kentucky, we packed up our VW Bus and Chevy S-10 and headed across the country. A week later, we pulled in the driveway of my childhood home, which had flourished while I was gone. Although we had always had goats, Twin Meadows Farm was now a full-fledged goat farm.

The herd had grown substantially, and my mom was producing purebred, ADGA-certified Nubians for sale. The rickety barn that was part of the homestead when we purchased it was gone, replaced by a more functional one my dad had built, and the house had undergone more renovation.

We quickly began looking for a place to live in the small town of Berea. Jennifer and I rented a small cabin in a quiet wooded area outside of town, and realized that our goals (or rather, our personalities) didn’t meld quite as well as we’d initially thought and were divorced shortly thereafter.

New Beginnings
I remained in the cabin and enjoyed a period of being a bachelor and launching my freelance writing career while reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and pursuing my interests in gardening and homebrewing. Eventually, I married my second wife Jenna, and moved into her house in town, which had a large yard. Not long after, our now three-year-old little darling Sadie came along. Over the past couple of years, we have progressively turned our yard into a “yarden” by using permaculture and sustainable methods to produce food for ourselves and to share with our community.

While spending as much time as we can in our yarden, we dream about eventually moving to a farm of our own. In the mean- time, we educate ourselves by connecting with sustainable farms, organizations and individuals in the area, and by visiting my parents’ farm often. I contribute to the farm work when help is needed, trading my services for fresh milk, eggs and meat.

From Yarden To Farm
Recently, I spent two weeks farm-sitting while my mom, dad and sister took a much-deserved vacation. I milked the goats twice daily, made kefir and cheese, canned salsa, butchered a goat, and tended to the needs of the other farm animals, including chickens, Angora rabbits, quarter horses and a mini-horse named Mr. Moo.

Since my goal is to support myself through writing and farming, my trial run as a goat farmer provided me the opportunity to learn how to juggle the two. I realize that purchasing land and animals (and maintaining both) is a time-intensive and potentially costly process if not thought out carefully. By no means have I deluded myself into thinking homesteading is a life- style for those who want to get rich quick, but rather a life that is self-supporting. Take care of the land you live on, and the land will take care of you. — Jereme Zimmerman

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  • tallebe

    Great article, Jereme! Your dad was one of my favorite teachers in school. I remember having to stop by his house and being awestruck with what greeted us – a school bus chicken coop, a kid squealing with delight in a waist-high cast while rolling by on a skateboard and (what looked like) a “puddle” in the yard from which emerged a very large dog. It seemed a home full of life and fun. Best of luck with the yarden and your homesteading adventures!