Food blogger Shaye Elliott, quit her 9-to-5 to start a homestead in Washington State with her husband and 4 kids—this woman a foodie farming machine. In her latest book, Welcome to the Farm, she outlines everything about her homestead and shares some amazing farm to table recipes. Elliott truly does it all—grows and harvests her own vegetables and even raises and butchers her own dairy, poultry and meat animals.
Paste recently chatted with Shaye about her new book, her passion for cooking from scratch, and her love of the homestead.*
Paste: Why did you start your homestead?
Shaye Elliott: We started by cooking. It didn’t take long to realize that ingredients were most delicious when they were plucked from our own soil. The more we grew, the more acclimated our tastes grew to these incredible fresh flavors. And we just kept going!
Paste: What was most challenging about your new life when you first started?
SE: There was honestly a steep learning curve. We lost many animals and crops in our first years—enough that would cause most people to quit. But the teeniest successes, like our first homegrown onion, made those hurdles somehow worth it.
Paste: Do you have a food philosophy?
SE: I don’t know if it’s a “philosophy” per se, but we do hold to a few “rules” in our food production and cooking style. We only use natural sweeteners—no white sugar allowed. We primarily use honey, especially because we can harvest it right from our own land. We prepare our food almost exclusively with whole grains that have been soaked, sprouted or fermented for optimal digestion. Vegetables and fruits should be purchased (or grown) as close to our kitchen as possible and we should eat a lot of them. Meat and eggs should be pastured and purchased from a local producer (hopefully we are those producers!). Milk should be raw and come from a local dairy where the cows have access to grass, as nature intended (again we make every effort to be that local producer). Overall, it’s best to focus on whole ingredients and avoid prepackaged products. Know the sources of your food and you’ll cover a lot of these bases quickly!
Photo by Jacqueline Neves
Paste: Is it hard raising and then butchering your meat animals?
SE: I cry every time. But, as my husband lovingly reminds me (every time), it’s supposed to be sad. We weren’t meant to say goodbye to those we love or to witness the pain and discomfort of death. That being said, this is the world we live in and sustenance and dominion are a part of that. I’d rather see it, feel it, and be a part of it then skirt that responsibility to someone I don’t know. I want to be a part of it all.
Paste: What do your kids think about living on a working farm?
SE: Our kids have no idea how good they have it. We’re a full time family, making our living right here at home, so they’re a part of it all. They feed in the mornings, help with chores, help prepare meals, and even help with the harvests. They don’t always enjoy it, but that doesn’t bother me. The farm has a magic way about teaching them about the world and their role in it. There’s an overarching lesson here: you’re not the center of the world. That’s a lesson I’m happy to drive home to my children. They’re still young, but are always eager to learn more. Some things they love, and some they hate, but that’s okay—they learn lifelong lessons every day.
Paste: What do you think of the recent “farm to table” trend?
SE: I absolutely love it! It always amazes me how little people can think about food these days. Eating is something we do three … four … five times a day and some people will literally will give it zero thought. I’m happy to see that the farm to table movement is a stepping stone to getting people, at the very least, thinking about what they’re eating and where that comes from. Once people realize that every carrot…every chicken…every egg comes from somewhere, they’re much more likely to make wise food choices that benefit their health and the future of food production.
Paste: Why did you write Welcome to the Farm?
SE: I’ve been blogging for long enough about our homesteading journey to know how daunting it is for people to get started. My hope is that the book will give people a comprehensive starting point for their farm, no matter how big or small. I share my experiences of success AND failure with them. It’s important for people to know that you will make mistakes. You simply don’t learn how to farm without massive shortcomings. And that’s okay! I hope Welcome to the Farm encourages people to keep going despite the struggles.
Photo by Jacqueline Neves
Paste: What inspires you?
SE: Nature. Does that sound cliche? When I get stuck in a creative or emotional rut, I know it’s time to go outside. In fact, the other day my husband told me to “go out with the pigs to get right,” he knows me too well! Whether I’m in the kitchen or writing my blog, heading outside to spend some time in the dirt always gets me back on track. The dirt inspires me. The trees, leaves, bugs, fruit, flavors, smells, textures—I need them like I need air.
*This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Jacqueline Neves is a food and travel writer based in Boston. For more of her work visit her blog JQLouise.com.