Women Who Give Up Huge Salaries To Run Goat Farms
BY MICHELLE RUIZ AND VIDEO BY JASON IKELER, ANDREW CLANCY, AND GIGI PENA
Four years ago, Julie Ann “Jake” Keiser was a self-described workaholic. She owned her own public relations firm in Tampa Bay, Florida, and earned a six-figure salary. She partied every weekend, got Botox regularly, wore Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and traveled the world. But no matter where she was — Greece, St. Barts, Hawaii — she felt empty.
So Keiser, 43, bought a farm in Oxford, Mississippi, where she now lives and makes her living. She no longer owns an alarm clock. “I wake up to either the sun or the animals yelling at me,” she says. Instead of driving through stressful city traffic, her commute consists of walking outside.
“I envision a Disney farm where everyone wears pink bows and sparkles, and sings to me,” says Keiser. Daffodil Hill farm is still a work in progress, but its signature femininity is unabashed. She only keeps Sebastopol geese, which have voluminous curly feathers. Her chickens, named Prada, Dior, and Fendi, are the rare “lemon pyle” Brahma breed, so named for the subtle blonde hue of their feathers. Her Mini Alpine dairy goats are Valentino and Chloé (Notice a pattern?) — Chloé, the girl, wears a pink collar.
Keiser admits she was terrified to move to the proverbial middle of nowhere alone, but she decided she couldn’t put her life on hold anymore waiting for the right guy to come along. For her and many of Instagram’s #GirlFarmers, who leave their fabulous city hustles for slower, simpler, and much more Instagrammable lives, hatching flourishing farms without a man’s help feels like an empowering exercise in independence. #GirlFarmers have become a sisterhood: They forge friendships online, and swap tips on how to milk a goat or build a chicken coop, applying that same ambition that made them so successful in their past city lives to farming.
“I wanted that prince to come along and rescue me from everything, but I feel better that I did it my fucking self,” says Keiser. The tagline of her blog includes “seeking self-reliance” for good reason: “If the power goes out in winter, I know how to build a fire from scratch. If my well has an issue, I can go down to the pond, break up some ice, heat it up in my fireplace, and feed the animals. I’ve got milk from the goats and eggs from the chickens, ” she says. “There’s power in that.”
For Keiser, romantic relationships always seemed to end with heartbreak. She got divorced in her late 20s, suffered multiple miscarriages, and went through a big breakup in her late 30s. “I gave myself to my pregnancies, I gave myself to my man,” she says. “But I lost myself.”
Keiser’s aha moment came one quiet night at her Tampa apartment, when she realized she was simultaneously watching Entertainment Tonight, reading a magazine, and playing solitaire on her phone: “I was trying to distract myself from the fact that I was dying inside.”
Jake Keiser had an active social life in Tampa Bay before she moved to her goat farm 4 years ago.
For a long time, she’d been yearning for a more down-to-earth lifestyle, one where she felt “present.” She started with an herb garden on her window sill (overlooking a major highway below), then started dreaming of owning her own farm. Before their breakup, Keiser says her boyfriend asked her, “‘Why are you looking at chickens online? You’re freaking me out.'”
On a trip to visit her dad and stepmom in Oxford, she decided she’d retire there in 20 years to her dream farm, one with fruit and nut trees, a hill, and a pond. A week later, her stepmom called to say a nearby farm was on sale for $150,000, complete with the requisite pecan and peach trees.
Three weeks later, Keiser and her 7-pound Yorkie pulled up in a U-Haul and began a brand-new life. She continued working on her business (remotely, with a new, no-email-on-weekends rule) and slowly started making a farm out of her new plot of land. A local farmer led Keiser to her first chickens at a flea market (that was before she discovered MyPetChicken.com, a go-to online shop for the chic chicken shopper, offering rare, refined breeds like the blue-egg-laying Cream Legbar); another neighbor dropped off the geese, saying they planned to kill them otherwise. She documented it all on her blog, Gucci to Goats.
Leanne Lauricella, 43, of the popular Instagram Goats of Anarchy, quit her high-paying corporate job in New York to raise baby goats — and dress them in adorable Fair Isle sweaters — on a farm in Annandale, New Jersey. (She was inspired by her husband, who left his Wall Street career to pursue his dream of restoring and selling classic Corvettes.) “When you find and follow your passion, all of the silly things you thought were important, don’t seem so important anymore,” she said in an interview last year.
Caitlin Cimini, 32, owns the animal rescue farm Rancho Relaxo in Salem County, New Jersey, a town that has no stoplights or police force. She was a successful wedding photographer and government clerk, who left her bustling party life on the New Jersey shore by herself almost five years ago when she bought her 200-year-old farmhouse. She originally just wanted more space for a rescue horse she’d felt compelled to take in, but she ended up rescuing more animals from certain death and now keeps goats, pigs, and chickens. By sharing stories on Facebook, cute-overload pics on Instagram, and raising money via GoFundMe, Cimini turned Rancho Relaxo into a budding nonprofit. (She’s still on payroll as a clerk, after transferring to an office closer to her farm).
Pre-farm, “I was just going through the motions,” she says. But at Rancho Relaxo, there’s no such thing. “One minute, you’re hysterical on the floor because one animal wasn’t strong enough and passed away and then, the next day, you rescue an orphaned baby goat, and he’s lying in bed with you with a diaper on, and you now are his mother.”
Still, somebody told her, “You’re not going to find a guy who wants to get so involved in your life that he has to deal with all these animals nonstop,'” Cimini recalls. Her husband, Len, who moved to the farm to be with her a year and half ago, wasn’t deterred.
It sounds like a fantasy, but the simple life isn’t always simple. The farm work is physically grueling, and it can be an emotional roller coaster ride. “There’s been a lot of times where I’m just a miserable, crying mess because I’m scared,” Keiser says. She’s delivered a set of slimy baby goat twins on her own in the middle of the night. She was heartbroken when she woke up one morning to find a raccoon had killed all 11 of her quail; she’d unwittingly housed them in a coop with holes that were too large. And when she accidentally bought a rooster (a male, as opposed to the female hen she thought she was taking home), he attacked her from behind so fiercely, she thought she’d been shot. “I ate him eventually,” she says.
And money is an issue. Keiser makes about a third of her former six-figure PR salary picking up graphic design clients from home, and selling milk and cheese at the local markets, and “can’t remember the last time I shopped for something luxurious or even had a real facial.” Cimini’s income is under $30,000 a year now, compared to her pre-farm $80,000. But, both say, the money they do have is spent more meaningfully.
For example: No more pricey nights partying ’til 2 a.m. with friends. Cimini was a self-described socialite in Asbury Park; now, she says, “there are no nights out — like, never.” Vacations are even more rare: She and Len manage day trips to go hiking and have quick lunches, but farm duties are always calling. “When you have an orphaned lamb in your living room and have to bottle-feed her every four hours, it really makes socializing tough,” she says.
Especially at first, Keiser was so lonely and felt so out of place, she constantly questioned her decision. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” she remembers thinking. “I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. ‘Am I going to panic, and pull the plug on this, and go back to Tampa?'” Over time, that feeling faded.
Dating is hard in the small town of Oxford, where there are only so many single men. “That’s a huge thing I miss about my life in the city,” Keiser says. But “I needed to be solo for a while.” Because of the life she’s building on the farm, she’s confident that when it comes to her next romantic relationship, whenever it may be, “I have a lot more to offer as an individual.”
Her footwear of choice these days is rubber boots that can withstand splashes of goat milk or piles of chicken poop, but she keeps her Gucci heels in her closet anyway. “I wish I would have named the blog Gucci and Goats, because I’m still fancy,” she says. Though she’s traded the big city for the farm, she still dreams of tearing down her old farmhouse and replacing it with a French country-inspired chateau. “I have a chandelier in my chicken coop, I shit you not.” But she no longer feels lost or empty. “I witness life and death,” she says. “I hear the wind coming from miles away.” She still hopes to get married and doesn’t rule out adopting a child. But just as she’d hoped back in Tampa, she’s finally living in the present. “I came here to look for myself,” she says, “and I definitely found her.”
From: Cosmopolitan US