by Kimi Hardesty
I grew up on a 500-acre ranch outside Dallas, Texas. I remember, in the beginning, my family lived in Dallas, and we only went out to the ranch on weekends. We had a ledger with the names of our cattle on separate pages. We didn’t have many cattle then.
My sister and I named the Hereford bull “Fruit Cocktail” because it was something we loved eating at the time. I was always searching for the cherries. This was before we moved onto our land permanently, before my father became a full-time rancher, leasing another 1000 acres so there would be room for all the Herefords and Angus and Charolais.
I had finished second grade in Dallas when we made the move. I loved my life on the ranch, watching tadpoles grow, helping tend our vegetable garden, and learning how to bale hay. I loved my horse and was fond of the cows and felt I was living the real “Rawhide” life as we moved cattle across our pastures, my sister and I fighting over who would be Rowdy Yates.
I watched my father stick his arm up a cow to help pull out struggling calves and then was mesmerized as I watched them grow. I did everything on the ranch, learning how to castrate young bulls and how to move cattle pasture to pasture on new hills of green grass. I also learned how to garden.
My parents divorced when I was in my 20’s, and my mother got the land in the settlement. Many years later, she sold it, and I remember the devastation I felt when the place where I spent my childhood turned into a fancy gated community, with an obnoxious waterfall sculpture at the entrance. It was the place I returned to, even though it was already sold, when my father died decades later.
I left the ranch for college at the age of 18 and moved to Dallas after graduation. For the next 40 years, I longed to own cattle, but told myself a sheep or goat would do. When I would drive past pastures full of cows over those many years, a little ache always stuck in my gut.
It never left my blood. I also wanted woods and a large creek and knew wishing for a pond was stretching things. I spent my adult life in the cities of Dallas and Seattle, so those elements I desired never came to fruition, and besides, as a single mother of two, I didn’t have the money for such an enormous purchase.
After a weird set of events, I landed in Lexington, Kentucky in 2017. I bought a home in the city, built in 1938, on a quarter acre, more land than I had ever owned, my yard a nice deep rectangle with very old trees.
Still inked in my cells, in the second year, I made the decision to try to create some semblance of what I’d had decades ago, obviously on a much smaller scale and without large livestock. I began to read a little about urban farming and discovered there were so many variations on what defined an urban farm.
Continuing my research, I began to cry when I realized I could have a tiny urban farm of my own. It wouldn’t be a ranch, but the thought of a farm had my heart pumping. All I really needed to do was just do it. Although it’s still new and there’s much more to accomplish, having an urban farm has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I feel like I’m finally home.
Last year, at the end of April, they arrived, the short, black, welly boots, yellow-soled, dotted with bees. I had chosen them because I loved bees and eventually wanted to have a hive of my own. I pulled the boots on and stepped out into the yard, and as I walked toward the back of my property, memories flooded my brain.
Suddenly, I was at the ranch, but wearing ropers instead of cutesy waterproof boots. As I walked in my yard, although a little different, I heard the clomping. I felt substantial, sturdy, strong, as if my weight was borne from below–the way I had felt when I walked to our barn or helped slice tomatoes for the table. I noticed my back had straightened, and my chin was up. And the smile. I walked up and down my yard, stomping, clomping, allowing old feelings to fold into my skin.
I decided, that moment in my yard, to name my urban farm “Bee Boots” after the boots that made me feel home. There’s only been forward motion since then.
This morning, I walked out to the chicken coop I had built last year for the five pullets I purchased in early summer. As I opened the door to the roosting area, Hazel, one of my Black Stars, was squatting in the nest box. Was she laying an egg at that very moment? I had never seen the actual event. Backing up to give her a little privacy, but still pretty close, I stood and waited. In less than 30 seconds, I saw the egg stretching her vent. I might as well have witnessed the birth of a child! I was so excited. The egg plopped into the bedding; Hazel gathered herself and marched right past me and hopped into the yard. She’s the most badass of my chickens.
I hold my eggs tender, especially the blue ones from my Crested Cream Legbar, the only timid hen in the house. The chickens follow behind me as I cruise the yard, look for wild strawberries, a nest of young bunnies, the tiny wild violets that look gorgeous in my salads.
I check the dandelions from which I can make tea or eat the greens, and I’m keeping an eye out for the sunflowers. Last week, I planted seeds in the raised-bed vegetable garden my son built for me in 2018. Later, after the plants have grown tall, I’ll share the seeds with the chickens and squirrels.
The lettuce is growing nicely, the tomatoes and bell peppers have a way to go; it’s still early. My lemon balm, thyme, and dill came back from last year, and I have some Eastern Daisy Fleabane in my vegetable garden as well as various spots in the yard. This wildflower is loved by hummingbirds and bees and is a host for butterflies to lay their eggs.
In a raised bed, rosemary and mint grow alongside basil and parsley, all herbs I use in cooking; no need to buy them in the store. And I love that I’m using my herbs, grown and watered and tended by me. It’s the same with the tomatoes, squash, and peas, among others. It feels good to know I can grow my own food, right in the city. I love the idea of sustainable living.
Next year, I’ll get the bees. I have already attended an all-day beekeeping school and researched top bar hives. Bees are in a more natural environment this way and are also less aggressive. I’d love a little honey, but I’m mostly raising them for our environment.
The bees will have plenty of flowers from which to collect pollen, and my yard is mostly covered in clover. I love the way everything works together. It’s a system that makes urban farming feasible in a small space. You can bet I’ll be wearing my bee boots in the yard.
*Photo credit: Kai Wenzel, Unsplash