Life with the Family of Yonder Way Farm
Originally published in The Pioneer Issue.
It’s a six a.m. wake up call on the farm - nothing surprising. In fact, it may surprise anyone to know it’s not sooner. But, there are mouths to feed – two parents, four kids, 1,800 laying hens, 300 pigs, 250 calves and 80 lambs. Eight hours of just feeding is on the docket first thing in the morning, and in the rainy season, that’s eight hours of feeding in questionable conditions.
But it’s a noble life. Feeding 300 families straight from your land, through your hands, to their homes. It’s nothing small, but it’s nothing great at that. It’s tiresome, full of ardent prayer, and success is measured by personal accomplishment.
In the Houston, Texas area, sits this little farm that embodies such a life – this buzzing abundance managed by the hands of a family and their select employees. In a call back to a life we’ve all but forgotten, families can collect all of their goods from the Yonder Way Farm family – eggs, meats, raw milk, artisan breads, organic vegetables, olive oil, facial products, and even coffee. Some families collect their bundle, and more often than not, the Yonder Way tag team, Jason and Lynsey Kramer, take to the roads to bring their product to the masses. What they grow is strictly meat, a commodity of whose value they learned through the very intangible lesson of health.
As a firefighter, Jason lived a sedentary way of life. At a job he loved, he began to grow tired, waiting for a moment of action. When his doctor told him he had to make a lifestyle change, he and his wife took that change very seriously. Cutting out red meat, pork and dairy, the couple looked at the commercial standard of how food was raised, and they realized how phony food had really become – animals raised in concrete jails, being fed processed food. It wasn’t what man wanted, why would beast want this? As Jason says, “There is freedom in food when the ‘food’ is raised right. So we started raising our own (food).”
And it slowly transitioned to being a livelihood, not just a diet or a personal health goal. It slowly grew to 80-hour workweeks, rain or shine. That grew to the little 8-year-old-hands of the couples’ second eldest daughter lending work and earnest energy. And of course, that is the most rewarding part – the family dynamic that grows from the truth of the matter.
Jason ponders, chuckles, and thoughtfully says, “Of course, you can choose to be as transparent with your kids or as unrevealing to them as you want. However, we’ve gone through this whole process of the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows, the yings and yangs. We really wanted our kids to walk through this with us and see an intentional lifestyle.” In a 15-hour day on the farm, the family’s four sweet little girls come to help their mother and father in many different ways, but no way more valuable than the next. From ages 4 to 11, the children occupy a set of roles they cast themselves into that occupy a cog in the wheel of the way this family and farm run. It’s not prehistoric, though we may be inclined to think it’s a lost art.
This art of maintaining a family that lives off the land, and home-schools their children, and teaches the value of a well-timed prayer and a home-cooked meal. It’s part of what has cast this cozy amber glow over pastoral life. And it’s part of what the Kramer’s seek to dispel, in word not in action.
What started as a noble mission, according to this family’s patriarch, may not be attainable in his generation, and the lessons they are working to teach may be something that fosters the growth of the next generation. The systems, equipment, and practice have to be drafted by the first generation; the second generation has the privilege of carrying out the success and opulence of the rural life. “I hope in 50-years, my kids and grandkids see this as an amazing adventure that instilled insane values. I respectfully say, it’s less about what the customer remembers and more about that. While what we do is for the consumer, that’s the legacy.”
What is garnered doesn’t come from a book or a degree, though the importance of such knowledge is not overlooked. But nevertheless, the pure Texas dirt buried deep into cuticles and the smell of a calf after a day in its pen is the root of all of this. Getting back to a way of life that was forgotten, because we as a people sought to turn away from it.
The difficulty most of our great-great-grandparents knew in similar settings is still very much a real memory. Commercialized facilities have come to flourish, and they’ve put the traditional knowledge of farming to bed. They’ve capitalized on the ability to cultivate food making it cheaper, more attainable, and worse for our bodies and minds. Farms like Yonder Way have harkened back to what we as a rural nation were founded on, and their mission seems noble and honest. And raising the animals, feeding the herds, and moving the masses isn’t the noble and honest thing – it’s getting the food into the hands of the families and customers.
That’s where most arms fail; they fail miserably. The part of the venture that is designed to bring in an income, that’s the difficult part. “People get the idea that if you grow it, they will come,” Jason ruminates, “and that’s such a pie-in-the-sky-view.”
For five months, the Kramers experienced the rainiest season they’ve experienced in their 8-years of farming. Those wettest, rainiest days translated into the hardest times Jason and Lynsey have experienced since they started this venture. There wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. The skies never ceased to close, day in, day out. The result was a couple at their wits’ end, ready to ask the feared question: why are we doing this?
It’s something Jason could often be tempted to think, and in those grey days, his mind wandered there on more than one occasion. But to be the 1-percent, as her refers the part of the population he strives to train his kids to identify with, he had to power forward, remembering his mission – to teach nobility and humility to his brood.
The romantic version of the farm has come from the “field of dreams” mentality stemming from a guilt in the way we have come to live in this modern era. Jason eloquently says that we are finite people with finite time. And we live in an infinite world. Working 30 hours a day, if it were possible, would still leave even the most sensational man behind in his tasks. We may feel this incredible guilt and obsession with leaving more to our children than we had, but it will never replace or serve to deliver the product we’re searching for. Hard work will never replace the true answers that are evading all of us. The root at the heart of it: the loved ones that are waiting for you back in the picture perfect, red roof, chimney pluming with smoke, little house at the edge of the horizon.
We can reach a stopping point, go inside, and enjoy the peace that comes from another day. A 3x3 image of a sweet little afternoon and one doing honest work under a toiling sun won’t reflect the turmoil that is behind the smiling eyes. We, as a prideful people, won’t reveal a difficult plight in our moments of public-reflection via social media or framed portraits. Perception is not the full back-story of the images or histories or once-in-a-blue-moon greetings. The truth of the matter is, an honest way of life is often a harder way of life than most. It is crippled by such honesty, such a load of which it’s chosen to bear the burden.
The six human family members that live on Yonder Way Farm will attest to the strife that comes from nobility. It’s not without its rewards, but it is a life that is something to be evaluated. It is not for the faint of heart or even the independently wealthy. Those with a few shekels to throw into the investment, those who are just planning to sit and watch it grow aren’t cut out for this battle. It takes a God-fearing heart. It takes a family ready for the challenges that come from weather, animal, mineral, and the natural causes that the 99% have the joy of overlooking.
Because at the end of the day, the animals don’t care about the nobility of the venture. Your children have learned something, but your bedtime story brings as much value as the lessons that came with the tender work of their little hands. It’s a rosy life, yes, sometimes. But a day in the pastoral beauty of rural Texas carries it’s own burdens battled with an ample dose of good faith and perseverance. Like Jason and Lynsey said, it is not for the faint of heart. What ultimately comes from the end of a long day is a work song – an anthem – sung to the tune of a love song – a sweet melody.