Rain Parker of Eight Owls Farmstead winds through the herbs planted next to her kitchen, past the rabbits she raises and down the path from her steep, terraced hill to her vegetable patches. “Every time I bring someone down here, I just want to shove my hand in the dirt and show them,” Parker says, digging her hand into 4 inches of fertile soil. “None of this was here before we moved in. Isn’t that amazing?”
Six years ago, this abundant land and Parker herself would have been completely unrecognizable as they are today. She was working as a teacher at a college preparatory high school in Concord when a fateful doctor’s appointment in 2010 prompted her to change her life. “My doctor told me I was 300 pounds, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and that I was not menstruating because I was too overweight to be able to get pregnant … and I was only 31. For whatever reason, I was dreaming of chickens and goats and gardens,” she says.
Soon after, Parker and her partner, Temica Ferguson, moved to a rental farm in Brevard for two years and then bought their current Eight Owls property — 9.75 acres in Rosman — in 2012. “An internship would have been a better place to start, but as overweight women with no experience, nowhere we applied would take us,” Parker says. The two immersed themselves in books and videos about homesteading and routinely brought in experts to lead workshops on the land.
Since then, Parker and Ferguson have collectively lost 225 pounds, and many of Parker’s other health problems have faded. According to her naturopath, Marty Ingram, “Rain now has a lower-than-average risk for heart disease with a normal blood pressure of 120/86, an excellent triglyceride level of 100 and a healthy level of HDL (“good” cholesterol.) I am so proud of her for making these changes and being committed to a real-food, active lifestyle.”
Parker credits her weight loss to transitioning to whole foods, giving her livestock organic feed and the physical labor of farming. “It’s not just about losing the weight but designing a life that keeps it off,” Parker says, adding that she encourages overweight women to communicate with their doctors throughout the weight-loss process. She’s also gained unexpected mental health benefits. “It is hugely helpful for my anxiety and depression to do the gardening, the cooking, the food preservation. All of that is so nurturing.”
Eight Owls also hosts workshops on topics like herbal medicine and permaculture design, and Parker provides space for women of all body types to learn how to farm and build without self-consciousness. In May 2015, she hosted a women’s carpentry workshop series led by Karen George of Build Like a Bird Natural Building. “Women work together and learn they can do anything while supported by a community,” George says. “Eight Owls allows women to do things they’ve historically been told they couldn’t do.” That series resulted in structures like a cob oven and a tiny house, where Parker hosts immersions for potential homesteaders so they can understand the realities of the lifestyle.
Parker adds, “We try to listen to our bodies and take a lot of breaks too. Homesteading is supposed to be fun, and you can enjoy it if you don’t overwork yourself in the process. You’ll want to look back one day and see happy memories of building th[e] land.”
To learn more about Eight Owls or to read Rain Parker’s blog, visit eightowlsfarmstead.com.