Two years ago on Christmas, my Mom gave me a book. It was the story of this young couple and their life together: farming, family and faith. It was a true love story—it was my parents love story! The gift was something that she had worked on all year and then suddenly, in August (during the height of Covid) my Dad faced open-heart surgery alone as the hospitals were frantically trying to get a handle on the pandemic. It was a scary time for all of us, but I think especially about Dad and Mom. It must have been terrifying for my Dad and the helplessness Mom must have felt–I can only imagine. Mom filled her time finishing the book (somewhat hurriedly) while Dad was recovering—praise be to God–and then gifted it to each of us at Christmas. I will treasure it forever.
As I was thinking about it, I realized that sometimes other people’s stories help us to continue on our own path, so (maybe for my own benefit), I thought I would share an abbreviated version of Shaun and I’s story for a ‘throwback Thursday’ post. For those that have not known us long, we hope it inspires you if you are just starting out on your farming adventure.
Shaun and I met at work in 1984 at (my uncle) Larry’s business. My wise mother had warned me not to date any of the skuzzy guys that her brother had working for him. Shaun was one of those skuzzy guys! 🙂 We had absolutely nothing in common. He was raised in the suburbs and didn’t know the business end of any animal much less dairy goats, sheep or cows. I distinctly recall taking him home to meet
my parents and my Dad was down at the lower barn castrating calves. Don’t think that didn’t get Shaun’s attention! Different as we were, we worked together and he wanted to live like I had been raised (albeit not crazy about castrating calves). So, we delayed our honeymoon a day while traveled to Stayton Oregon to look at an old rundown farmhouse on 40 acres. Oh, if only we had been able to buy that place, but in hindsight, the house was way more work than we could have ever afforded to fix. So we went on our honeymoon and returned with $7.00 to our names and big dreams.
In October of 1986 we purchased a little starter home in Vancouver where we brought Ashely home. A couple of years later, we stood on the OHSU balcony with our newborn Amber and as she squinted from the bright city lights, Shaun promised his baby girl that she wouldn’t have to worry about city lights much longer. Less than a year later, our house in Vancouver sold in 24 hours and we found ourselves homeless with two small children and no plan.
A fervent search for property ensued and through a series of unquestionably providential events, we were led to this 5-acre parcel. It was much smaller than we wanted, but as usual, money often dictates choices, and we could afford it. We decided to put a manufactured home on it, thinking we would flip it in a few years and move to something larger–and again, money dictates choices and it was what we could afford. I absolutely hated the mobile home and one rainy day, I had a hair-brained idea that we could build our own house—one more time, money dictates choices and we couldn’t afford to hire it built, but we were scrappy and reasoned we could figure it out. Shaun, always game for my hair-brained ideas and amply equipped with many hours of childhood construction experience with his granddad, was totally on-board. The house plan we chose was ‘basically’ rectangular (except those two bay windows and three dormers), and ‘should be fairly easy’. Good grief—if only I knew then what I know now, but in our youthful enthusiasm, we forged ahead. We were so naïve! Built the house over the course of 14 months with two toddlers in tow. I framed walls while Shaun was at work and when he got home we lifted and set all the 12’ sections I had framed. We learned the hard way that 12’ was our limit—but that is another story. We worked late into the night and every weekend building. It felt like the project that would never end. We had our fair share of pretty explosive fights—one in which Shaun threatened to nail me into the wall between two studs! We had a pull-out bed in one of the unfinished upstairs bedrooms and we would give the girls their baths, carry them over to the framed up house, tuck them into that pullout bed and work until the wee-hours of the morning until we couldn’t see straight, then we would gather our babies up, walk back over to the mobile home, tuck them into their real beds and collapse into bed for a few hours of sleep before we got up to go to work the next morning. We hammered every nail, wired, plumbed, roofed, insulated, and finished it. Is it perfect—absolutely not! But it was built with love and determination.
Once the house was built, we figured we would stay put for a bit and before we knew it, the kids were 4-H age and needed critters. Unfortunately, now having construction experience, we were on to barn projects which were a piece of cake compared to the house. The goats were supposed to only take up a little corner of Shaun’s shop (which is now the dairy barn and processing kitchen after several major remodels), but things just kept expanding. It has become our life. We often muse about what we would do with our time if we didn’t have the farm. It begs the question (for us) what do people do with their time when they don’t have a farm? Whatever the answer, we know that we are living the perfectly imperfect life that we envisioned so many years ago.
I have a box that I keep of articles that the farm has been featured in over the years. I have to smile when I look at pictures of the two of us—we were so young and had so much energy and enthusiasm. We were the cool young farmers and we had all kinds of ideas of how we were going to make our tiny homestead productive. We have been blessed—although our property isn’t as large as we had originally wanted, we have absolutely made it productive, but very few people know ‘the rest of the story’ (as Paul Harvey would say). We started with absolutely nothing! We worked our backsides off and we had a lot of really good people help us along the way. Nobody gave us anything except opportunities and we chose to take them. We were as creative and hardworking as we could be and we worked together! One of my dearest friends says Shaun and I are ‘equally yoked’. We have a good partnership and complement one another—we consider this our greatest blessing where the farm is concerned. That same friend tells me that we simply make the farm look too easy to others—for this, I am sorry. It is not easy and if anyone thinks it is, they are sorely mistaken. This has been a long hard road to get to where we are at.
I share this story with you because if you are reading it, I hope you are inspired. If you are starting out, try to be patient. Time passes and things will get done if you are willing to work for them. We love our farm and part of the reason we love it so much is because it has been a labor of love over many years. This has been our canvas of accomplishment. The art of accomplishment is seeing things as they are and believing that you can make them as you wish.
My parents celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary here at our farm last summer. It was a fabulous day and their entire progeny and so many great friends and relatives were here to celebrate with them. I normally am a glass half empty kind of gal and am always explaining away things that aren’t exactly as I want them, but on that day, as I stood on the front porch of our house looking over into the gazebo garden filled with tents, good food and friends here to celebrate, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of pride. We’ve done good! #ourlovestory
Enjoy some exclusive Conway Farms footage of yesteryear!