If ever a career required reinvention, it's that of a farmer, especially if you're a woman farmer.

"People still think it's a man's world," says R.J. Caulder, owner of Breezy Willow Farm in West Friendship.

"When I started out, I was kind of disregarded," she says. "It's hard work, physically hard. Maybe that's why they think it's a man's world."

Unlike most farmers in the county, struggling to hold on to their agricultural legacy, Caulder is a first-generation farmer, which makes her kind of a pioneer. It's a career she settled into about 12 years ago, when her daughter's severe eczema motivated Caulder to make soap that wouldn't inflame her skin.


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Caulder's journey from soap to a Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) supplying 500 members with produce, eggs, honey, bread and more, and a thriving Internet business as well, is a lesson in love and tenacity.

"Every time I accomplish something, it's a big deal for me," says the 50-something Caulder. "I educated myself. If it wasn't trial and error, or a book, it was on the Internet. And I talked to a lot of people."

At first, when she'd meet other farmers, if her husband was with her they'd talk to him. They assumed he was the farmer and she the farmer's wife, she says with a shake of her head.

"I've always loved farm stuff. We were organic before it was popular," she says of her family, husband, Ken, and two grown children, Jason and Casey.

"I really like having them work with me," she says.

Besides growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in season and harvesting honey from her farm's apiary, Caulder has a dozen sheep and a dozen angora rabbits, and uses the sheep's milk to make soap and the wool of both animals to wrap around the soaps.

"I just like the old crafts. I guess I should've been born a long time ago," says Caulder. She also raises about 200 chickens in order to sell their eggs. They are heritage breed chickens, which lay colorful eggs -- blue, green, peach and dark brown -- mostly in the warmer months. Kind of like an Easter basket, says Caulder.

She started her CSA in 2004 with 12 members who stopped by her kitchen every Wednesday to pick up crates of produce. Now her membership is so large that her daughter runs the pickup outside on the driveway and her son delivers to designated drop-off sites around the county two days a week. To serve so many members, the CSA has 25 work/share people, who plant and pick vegetables and wrap soap in exchange for a share of the product.

She runs a 12-week mini-season from March to May, when she sells fruit and root crops from local storage, citrus fruit shipped from Florida, and her own eggs and honey. The summer season runs 24 weeks, from May to November, when members get an expanded selection of vegetables, from her farm and others, that also includes herbs, honey, eggs, even fresh flowers. She adds fresh bread by Great Harvest Bread Co. that is made with Breezy Willow eggs, herbs and honey.

She likes to experiment with ingredients and persuaded Great Harvest to make a lemon lavender bread and a lavender-rosemary variety as well. She rotates cheese made from Bowling Green Dairy up the road with her homemade jam to total eight items in the crate.

"We call ours (CSA) value-added. That's what makes us different." Now she's noticed that other CSAs are adding eggs into the package.

She admits to second-guessing herself sometimes. Every year is a challenge.

"You have the worry of the weather, economy -- there are so many variables," says Caulder. "It's no job that has security. You're depending on your community to support you."

But that doesn't stop her from asking: "What else can I do next?"

 

Rita Llanso, cake decorator at Touché Touchet Bakery