Westbrooks ‘Happily Homesteading’ On 30-Acre Farm
The 2009 ice storm will always be remembered by Shawn and Janice Westbooks as the event that forever changed the way they live.
“Our electricity went off for only a couple of hours, but our home in Poplar Bluff was all electric, and I had three babies at home. We didn’t like being that vulnerable,” remembers Janice.
For them, the storm was a wake-up call.
She and Shawn, a former Cape Girardeau policeman, who instructs law enforcement courses at Three Rivers Community College, began to look for a place where they could be more self-sufficient.
Fast-forward 14 years, and the Westbrooks are a family of nine, happily homesteading a 30-acre farm near Fairdealing, having achieved what they set out to do.
“It was truly a God thing. We sold our home for our full asking price, without even putting a sign in the yard,” says Janice.
They moved in December of that year, and started educating themselves about creating a self-sustaining farm.
It could be said that when it came to farming, the two Westbrooks were “green.”
“I grew up in Chaffee, where my dad was a commercial row crop farmer. But neither Shawn nor I had planted a garden and we knew nothing about growing livestock. In fact, Shawn was raised in a corner lot in town,” says Janice.
The couple started out with a dozen chickens.
“The farm came with grape vines, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and asparagus patches, so the next thing was to figure out how not to kill what we already had,” laughs Janice.
That Spring they added gardening to their list of new experiences, then tried their hand at beekeeping and raising rabbits.
“Everything was trial and error,” says Janice. They got rid of their bees and decided to keep only a couple of rabbits as pets and for fertilizer.
“We instead began raising meat birds,” Janice explains.
The couple has gradually added ducks, turkeys, sheep, and goats to the farm. They also have a Jersey milk cow from which they produce their own milk, buttermilk, butter, sour cream, ice cream and yogurt. Their milk cow has birthed a calf, which is to be butchered for meat.
Janice, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her seven children, says, “My husband Shawn always tells me that I run our home and farm like a business.”
It’s only natural that she should. Janice holds a degree in business administration. She knows that the key to the farm’s success is that every member of the family has a specific role, based on his and her individual strengths, abilities and interests. It’s important that each can be depended on to perform those duties.
“We are a one-income family with seven children. The farm depends on us, and we depend on the farm. We’re a team. We could never do this without each of us doing his or her part,” she says.
Samuel, 18, is about to embark on his own career path. “He is extremely smart, and meant for other things,” says his proud mom. “But, Samuel helps out in his own ways. He is currently studying business so that he can one day be our accountant.”
Sarah, 16, loves everything about gardening and has assumed most of the responsibility for food preservation. The family is in the process of completing a summer kitchen equipped with a wood cook stove, and Sarah is always adding to their “store.”
Sarah attends the monthly meetings of the Happily Homesteading ladies’ group, where Janice says “like-minded” women share everything from gardening and homemaking tips, barter their goods, and seek advice about any issues related to their self-sufficient lifestyle.
Information about meetings, which are attended by ladies from Colorado, Alaska, Washington, California, New Jersey, Arkansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, is shared on the Happily Homesteading Facebook page.
A skilled photographer, Sarah also takes pictures for the page.
All local women who share an interest in gardening, homesteading, food preservation and self-sufficiency are welcome and encouraged to attend the meetings.
Andrew, 14, is a skilled designer/engineer.
“Whatever we need built on the farm, Andrew can usually construct from wood pallets,” says Janice.
David, 12, tends the livestock, helps with the milking and takes care of the family’s Pyrenees dogs.
Daughters Anna, 10, and Abigail, 8, tend the cats and rabbits, and help with baking and household chores.
They also help with harvesting. “Abigail is our green bean picker,” says Janice.
The youngest, Rebekah, 2, also helps out on the farm.
“What we are doing may seem strange to other people, but in years past this was normal. We love it here on the farm. We never want to move,” she says.