“We moved on this mountain when I was three-years-old,” Scott said. “I served in the military for seven years, and when I was in the army I said I was never coming back. But I saw the world, and I knew there was no place like home.”
Scott returned to that mountain to establish his own home, along with wife Lindsey, whom he met at a soccer game at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
As it turned out, the couple had more in common than a love of soccer.
Married for nearly six years, Lindsey, a watershed tech for the US Forest Service Bartow Ranger District, has worked hand-in-hand with Scott to establish a nearly self-sustaining way of life.
The couple built their own home, and moved in shortly after their wedding. With a penchant for the natural, the home’s water comes from a spring – gravity fed to meet family’s needs.
Carrying on the traditions of Scott’s childhood, their next project was to make maple syrup.
Scott wanted to make maple syrup the old-fashioned way because his dad taught him how to do it not long before he passed away.
Scott and Lindsey became a part of the ever-growing county farmers market in 2012.
“We sell some syrup at the farmers market, and we have a lot of loyal customers,” Lindsey said.
But mostly they make syrup for their own use or give it to friends and family.
Always looking for ways to provide for their needs, Scott began to make his own charcoal a few years ago.
He went online to read up on the process, found two different techniques, and incorporated the best of both to produce Maple Mountain Farm All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal.
The couple sells charcoal at the farmers market, offering single wood charcoal such as apple, cherry, hickory, oak and maple and a mixed blend of all.
Scott says his favorite is apple wood and cherry, which is good for cooking fish and poultry. He recommends oak and hickory for pork and beef.
Making charcoal looks easy as 55-gallon drums smoke in the rain of a Saturday afternoon, but in reality it is very labor intensive.
Scott harvests downed trees from their own property or cleans up trees for neighbors.
With his father’s Frick sawmill nearby and his father’s cant hook in his hand, Scott maneuvers the logs into place to begin the charcoal making process.
He cuts the small logs into three-inch rounds with the help of a chainsaw. Then, using a hatchet, he breaks the wood down into small pieces before filling the barrels.
Each barrel sits up off the ground and a fire is built underneath. The transforming process can take from seven hours to three days, Scott said, depending on conditions and the species of wood. At the end of the process, the quantity will be reduced by half.
Scott allows the wood to smolder until there is nothing left but carbon. Once the wood is ready, he closes the lid and packs sawdust around the bottom to cut off the air flow to the barrels. When the charcoal has cooled, it is bagged and ready to sell.
One of the many benefits of this charcoal is that it is ready to “cook” in about ten minutes.
“It doesn’t have to be white before it’s ready,” Scott said. “Unlike coal, you can cook with this charcoal when it is three-quarters white and a quarter of the top is still black. That gives you more smoke flavor.”
From time-to-time Scott finds pieces of wood that are too good to burn, and he turns those into rolling pins.
In addition to the custom-made charcoal, the couple offers another unique product to customers at the farmers market – vanilla extract.
They order vanilla beans, cut them up and steep them in alcohol.
Vodka is the most commonly used spirit, but Scott and Lindsey also use bourbon for a little different flavor.
“We let the beans steep longer than recommended so the flavor is stronger,” Lindsey said.
The glass bottles of extract are finished off with the couple’s custom designed label.
They produce enough vegetables to see them through the winter, and they sell excess produce at the farmers market. Fruit trees have also been planted near their garden – peach, plum, pear and apple.
Their fertilizer comes from a compost of food scraps and chicken litter.
“My grandparents were self-sustaining,” Scott said. “They had a big garden. They canned. My mother said they never got to eat fresh green beans. They had to eat four-year-old beans because they canned so many. We are coming back around to eating local food and I’m very thankful for that.”
The couple’s garden includes a rhubarb patch.
“Dad transplanted [rhubarb] from my grandparents’ and we transplanted some here,” Scott said.
Scott remembers that his grandparents always had a fresh-killed chicken for Sunday dinner.
That is another tradition and commodity that will be available to customers at this summer’s farmers market as Scott and Lindsey will soon have 50 fresh, meaty chickens – Freedom Rangers – ready to sell in a few weeks at the farmers market.
And there will be eggs – nice eggs.
“Last year we bought eggs at the farmers market because our chickens were young,” Lindsey said. “We will sell eggs this year.”
The couple recently added bees to their home-market plan.
“My dad had honey bees,” Scott said. “He had thirty-some hives.”
But it won’t take 30 hives to meet their needs – two will suffice.
Scott and Lindsey also grow their own shitake mushrooms. They have done so for four years. This year they have inoculated more logs, but there are more to do.
The couple is concerned about food sources for the people of this county and country.
“Sixty percent of our produce is imported,” Lindsey said. “That’s scary. We are dependent on foreign foods and oil.”
Scott questions how produce can be raised in China, transported to the United States and then be sold cheaper than it can be raised here.
“Buying organic doesn’t mean anything,” Scott said. “Organic doesn’t mean it was raised here. We are growing things to secure our future – to feed our family.”
“We try to be as self-sufficient as we can,” Lindsey added. “We shop the farmers market and we like to barter.”
And they are passing on important lessons to their nearly four-year-old daughter, Addie.
“I want her to know that chickens are raised to be food,” Lindsey said. “I don’t want her to get attached to them.”
Addie has her own garden space, as well.
“She’s a great weeder,” Lindsey said. “We will get her things that will grow quick.”
Addie has a nine-month-old sister, Aliza.
As proof of the deep contentment found at this family’s homestead, Aliza, who was awakened from a nap and taken on the tour of the farm in the rain – smiled the whole time.
So what’s next for this family?
“We’re pretty time poor,” Scott laughed.
A tour of the property and products supports that comment.
With an eye toward the future, and a heart for the past, Scott and Lindsey Hayes are making it work – providing healthy food for their family and carrying on the traditions that were born – and now cherished – on Back Mountain Road, just above Durbin.
For more information about their products or inspiration on a self-sustaining lifestyle, you may call the Hayes family at 304-456-5409.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org