HOMETOWN: Leesburg, FL
FARM TYPE / CROPS: Livestock, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, guinea fowl, rabbits
FARM LOCATION: Cleveland, GA
FARM NAME: Bedgood Heritage Farm
- Music: Drawn to old country – and most animals are named after country singers (goats)! But also love folk music, bluegrass, blues, jazz
- Food: Anything that’s soul food - southern cooking. my Mom always cooked; and even though in suburbia, we always had a garden. We always had home cooked meals; and now not knowing how to cook all of this, it sure does make me appreciate collards, cornbread, fried chicken, all that she did.
- Drinks: I love sweet tea!
- Thing to do AFTER HOURS: If I’m not at work, not doing something on the farm, I just enjoy being out in nature. There’s lots of self-discovery in nature...I don’t have anxieties from city living when I’m outside. Might enjoy a beautiful day hiking on the Appalachian trail, being with my dogs. I do love people though – the human connection is so important.
- Movie Stars: Kevin Costner, loving Yellowstone … have met many celebrities in restaurants, where I still work today in Atlanta. I loved Gwynneth Paltrow - so sweet and natural.
- Tractor:NO...I’ve really connected with folks in the community - have someone in the neighborhood who comes out with his tractor when needed.
- Mantra: Lived my life with thinking to be kind, be humble, be respectful of all people - different or similar. You can’t ever be too kind….And whatever life throws at you, it’s important to look at yourself with an objective view…because your way isn’t always right even when you think it is.
What do you think a big MISCONCEPTION is about (your type of) farming?
People think it’s all fun … you have these fun beautiful animals, and they see the good part of that. but what they don’t see is that there’s a lot of death in farming. You’re faced with tough decisions you have to make because you’re no longer responsible just for your life, your family’s lives, but also these little beings running around the farm. It’s important to treat them so well, and we say that they have the best life except for one bad day. They really do have the best life, and we try to make sure that they’re treated well.
I feed them all non-GMO feed. They’re given lots of spaces, and chickens are free range and no fences. (Laughs) They are all over the front yard, side yard, neighbor’s yard, and they live as naturally as possible. The pigs are up in the barn, in pastures sometime, and they have 27 acres to roam on.
But at the end of the day, they’re food so we do have to realize that they’re going to end up on a plate in a year.
What is your attitude about money?
Money has never been something that’s driven me. It was always a means to make me happy … so I’ve always had mentality that you can’t take it with you.
My MOM is opposite, but she retired from the grocery store, she saved and doesn’t spend. But my thought is to be happy, and money is not the object.
Do I like vacations and nice places? Yes. And working in the restaurant industry, it is so nice to have a beautiful dinner, perfectly curated by a chef is something that’s wonderful. So having these luxuries are great, but I have never been one to save for those. This doesn’t scream long-term plan … but I won’t ever have regrets – since you can’t take it with you, spend it on yourself and others around you.
What is your goal with your farming?
Well, making money isn’t really it, but sustaining what we have and being able to share that with people is my goal. I want to share food, grown in a humane and healthy way, and I am looking at what we want five years down the road. We want to have Airbnbs on property – places where people can milk goats, buy things that were grown here – homegrown eggs, bacon, and see a cook-side experience. Show people that there’s so much more than city living, and you can live lavishly if you invest in your property! In fact, there’s no greater asset!
TELL US ABOUT A DAY ON THE FARM! When does your day start and end?
Usually starts a bit later because I am also in the restaurant industry at night, so my day starts around 9am. I organize a bit, feed animals, and I like to spend time with the animals. If processing needs to be done, I process them, too. I spend the day strategizing on what to do next while I am doing things outside...brainstorming ideas for more things to be done on the farm. Then it ends when sun goes down – and the sunset is beautiful.
What makes you HAPPY in a day on the farm?
The babies...full of life and excitement watching a baby animal learn and develop. The baby goats, sheep, rabbits – learning cues by their mom through trial and error, and watching them build bonds. Right now our baby goats have been bonding with moms for last two weeks, and now just watching the twins stay together and yet separating. Going to another’s mom and exploring their world a bit more. Nothing like a baby goat!
What makes you FRUSTRATED?
Animals have a mind of their own! If they don’t want to do something they’ll make it extremely hard for you to do it! You have to learn to work with them, especially with different types of animals. You have preys, pigs are their own beings - only caring about food and where that’s coming from. And earlier I was chasing a goat around with a bucket stuck on its horns!
What's the BEST part of a day?
The best part is being able to sit at the endow the day with Chris (my significant other), watching the sunset and being appreciative. I don’t think I ever thought this was possible. When Covid happened, we just decided we’re going to do it.
How did you get started?
I was working at The Optimist (restaurant in Atlanta), and I had just volunteered on a sheep farm. I fell in love and just then started looking at properties. All my life I’d thought I’d retire on a farm, with a few animals. Never did think about raising my own food, or agritourism … until Covid happened. I was living downtown and went to Publix, Kroger, Wal-Mart, went everywhere and couldn’t find meat. Luckily the company I worked for was good to help us with our food during the pandemic, but this was a wake-up call that we’re so dependent on food and realized I wanted security if this ever happened again.
This is manifesting my destiny – it is something I had always wanted. My farm is named after my Mom and my Grandfather, who had owned a farm. He had a farmstead in FL – mostly veggies, and he died at 48 from heart attack. He lost the farm, but growing up I admired and loved the farming in our family. My mom started working grocery after that, but even so we always had a garden, cooking food that she grew. I was lucky to have that influence and decided farming is in our blood …. so I wanted to take advantage of it!
What's the WORST part of a day?
When something unexpected happens and causes danger to the animals…. yesterday was a scary day. I had to swap shifts at work (at the restaurant), but communication wasn’t really there between the new fencing company. They tore down the fencing and didn’t have the 35 cattle and livestock together. They were in a position where they could have run off …. and everything was very hectic. So anything that happens to endanger the animals, well, that’s a very bad day for me.
What was the HARDEST part getting started?
Finances … you have big visions but everything costs money. Just kind of prioritizing what’s next. Do you put new fencing in, when you have some that’s already working to make it prettier? OR do you do glamping tents before you have Airbnb? Do we have enough animals? You want to provide an experience of animals for agritourism, so you have to have enough to offer a terrific experience… so prioritizing what comes net is the tough part for me. It’s never done. Always something to be fixed …. And then you notice that a goat is now 3 pastures over from where they just were. How did that happen??!
What SURPRISED you about farming?
I was a bit hesitant moving out of the city as a gay man to such a small community, but no one cared. The community support has been amazing … every single person that I met through the farming / homesteading community have been some of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met, from all walks of life. An unpretentious, unjudged life here, and the outpouring support of the local community has made me feel that they really want to see us succeed. The support has been so surprising … you’d think that they would be judgmental or wouldn’t care, but it was completely the opposite. People here are willing to give us time and energy. When I buy a goat, the breeder checks in later and makes sure I’m on the right path. He shares experiences so we don’t make the same mistakes. It's really been so amazing.
What lessons have you learned on the farm?
BEING PREPARED and not flying by the seat of your pants! We live in Georgia, and for example, you hear ’snow’s coming’ and then it comes and you’re like oh gosh there’s 4 inches! While it was nothing to the city, we got 4 inches and my pipes froze, and we are hauling water in 3 pound buckets to give water to all of the animals. So, it’s making sure you’re prepared for whatever COULD come.
Do you have any advice for fellow starting-out farmers?
Get mentors. Find farms that inspire you, whether through social media or YouTube. Find some that inspire you and don’t hesitate to reach out and make friends with those people. I have found the community is so willing to give. So ask questions – even if 5 states away because almost everyone has been there to help guide me.
Anything to say to those who aren’t farmers?
It is important that you understand what work goes into your food. I think we’d be less wasteful if we understood where our food came from. All of our food comes from farms in one way shape or another. So know that – and appreciate it. Once a chef told me that they tried to never mess up that piece of steak, or over season the vegetables, because someone put a lot of blood, sweat and tears – even money – into it … into creating it. People have disassociated with that. The event of what they know is they pick up at grocery store, but realize there’s another farmer at the end of that chain. If you don’t understand that, you can’t fully appreciate it.
Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years?
I think we’ll be living on this farm with a very efficient running farm, offering an experience for people to come and enjoy. We’ll have our Airbnb’s built, have the level of livestock we want. We’ll be more organized, have more food readily available to purchase while people are here. So, I think we’ll be here, happy … and educating people on sustainable agriculture and regenerative farming.
It’s truly a beautiful story watching this man’s life unfold, from a 15-year old boy first working at our car wash to the hard-working, selfless, and simply astounding human being he is today.
I love and admire your vision for this farm Ray. I can only wish you and Chris every happiness living your dream.