For the love of goats,
bees, honey and cheese...

Please indulge me and listen to the story of my friend Jenna. I promise you won't be disappointed...

Nine years and 8 days ago.  That is the day that I posted a message on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to take a beekeeping class with me.  Eight months later I started my first two bee hives with a friend in a neighbor's backyard.  Less than a year later I quit my job working for the federal government on a prayer and a whim with dreams of starting a honey company.  I was on my way to East Texas to work for a bee breeder to try to learn about the craft of beekeeping...because I knew very little, but I did know that 8 months as a hobbyist beekeeper did not mean I was equipped to start a honey company.   I drove to East Texas each week, living in a house that was falling apart and brought me surprises each week like an infestation of wasps and 8 inch lizards in the sink, working manual labor from sun up to sun down in the Texas heat, counting my stings each night in the dozens. 

Also nine years ago.  Jenna from Bee Tree Farm & Dairy moved onto some scrappy raw land she and her husband had purchased 4 years prior.  She didn't have a barn or fences but she wanted goats so desperately she raised four baby goats on her front porch. Two years later she quit her job working in education policy  for the State of Texas.  Two years after that she opened her dairy and sold her first cheese on the first birthday of her twin babies. (the human kind!)

Jenna and I became friends the millennial way (though I think we both just barely miss the cut off to technically be considered millennial.) --through Instagram.  I was jealous of her baby goat photo ops, and she desperately wanted bees on the farm.  It started with a question from me: "Hey--wanna do a honey + cheese class?"  A few months later we started a bi-annual tradition.  A honey and cheese class on her farm, filled with delicious treats, cold drinks, and all the goat snuggles one could ask for.  

Our first class was particularly memorable....Jenna texted me early the morning of.  Her very first goat, Jolene, died giving birth. Jenna was utterly and totally distraught.  I told her: "we, we MUST cancel this class." But she was insistent that we continue.  

I showed up that morning and Jenna had pulled it together.  She was so cute in her boots and jeans and feminine, yet still somehow farm appropriate, tank top.  We had a group of 30+ folks excited to be on a goat farm for the first time. We gave the group the real story behind farming goats, cheesemaking, beekeeping, and harvesting honey. The beautiful, the ugly, the hopeful, the forever heart breaking.  As we were wrapping up we received word that one of Jenna's goats was in distress.  She was in labor and something was wrong.  We let the group know that they were free to mingle with the goats, but forewarned..if they stuck around they may get to see the more heartbreaking side of farming that you don't see on Instagram.

A few minutes later Jenna found Rose, a goat pregnant with triplets whose first baby had broken her neck on the way out.  She was blocking the birth canal. The only option to save the remaining babies and Rose was for Jenna to physically remove the baby from the birth canal.  Me and 30+ people watched as Jenna, in her purple flowing tank top, literally was up to her elbows in goat, reaching inside to clear the path.  Just before Jenna pulled out the stillborn, she turned to the group, warning them that it may be traumatic to watch.  I watched as the audience, mesmerized  never took their eyes (or cell phone cameras) off the scene as Jenna saved the remaining babies and Rose. For weeks after, Jenna received requests from folks that wanted to book the 'goat birthing' tour. Jenna had to explain again and again how ag works and why scheduling a tour to watch a goat give birth wasn't possible. 

Jenna and one of her goats. 
Jenna has been my friend in solidarity for all things ag related for years. A friend who can relate to the frustrations that come with working with live animals, with unpredictable weather. For her, its a constant battle to mend fences broken by sexually charged bucks, frustrations of dealing with the insane regulations  and constant inspections required to sell cheese in Texas, the never ending repair of broken dairy equipment.  For me its heartache when a single weather event can ruin an entire harvest for the year, the never ending challenges of finding staff experienced enough to work in the most nuanced form of animal husbandry out there, the physical demands that come with working in triple digit heat in full gear with insects that don't always take kindly to our presence.  We are both women, and emotionally charged women at that.  We can't always brush aside the heartache that comes with the loss of animals that way that men can often do more easily.  So we bitch, we cry, we threaten to 'burn it all to the ground' at least twice a quarter.  

In the last few months Jenna has made some big decisions.  Hard decisions. Though the farm is going nowhere, and there will always be animals to visit, she is officially closing the dairy.  She will focus on events, education, and allowing the public interaction with the animals she loves so much. What will no longer exist is the Bee Tree cheese that we have all fallen in love with.  There are many 'whys' behind this decision, but perhaps the most important is her five year old twins.  Fulfilling her dreams of a farm and dairy has come at many costs, and precious time with her young children is one of them.  

Jenna's decision has me thinking a lot about the sacrifices we make..about priorities.  And her moves have given me the courage to embark on a similar introspective journey, as I sit one month out from giving birth to my a child I never knew I wanted, but now so desperately can't wait to meet.  

Don't worry--Two Hives isn't going anywhere, but the sacrifices I make now have to come in different packages, in smaller sizes.  We will have to make some changes so I can make space for a new beekeeper in this family.  

More on that later, but for now...if you are in Austin, I hope you will join me and Jenna as we host our very last honey + cheese class together this Saturday. This will perhaps be your last chance to taste some of the best cheese you will every have--I guarantee it. This will also be the last class that I teach before my baby boy arrives.  I hope you will come help us put an exclamation point on what has been an amazing journey of friendship and demonstrating of all the heart that goes into all of our products each season.  Jenna and I promise you a fantastic TED talk.  😂 😂

For the bees (and the goats), 
Tara Dawn
Five homestead cheese, five honeys, all produced within 20 miles of Austin, accompaniments, cold beverages, all the goat snuggles you can handle.  This is your last chance to check out the most popular event we do each year. Tickets are very limited.  Hope to see you there!
Fall hive tours are OPEN once again! Interested in beekeeping? Wanna learn more about bees? Just looking for a unique photo op!!  😂 Come be a beekeeper for a day with us!  You can book tours at the Honey Ranch, plus we are BACK at Texas Keeper Cider!  Click below to book. 
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