31 Dec Roots and refuge
By Susan Peterson
Jessica Sowards had two childhood dreams – to live on a farm and to write a book. She didn’t know that accomplishing the first dream would provide her entry to achieving the second.
Jessica’s first dream came true about seven years ago when she and her husband, Jeremiah, bought a foreclosed property on 5 acres near Vilonia. She admits she had an “idyllic” version of what raising animals and homesteading would be like and says she had no idea how much she had to learn.
Jeremiah was more experienced, having grown up on a farm. Jessica, who grew up in Sherwood, only had fond memories of her mother’s backyard garden and her grandfather’s home–grown tomatoes. But she knew she was destined to live the farm life. While other girls were reading fashion magazines, she preferred browsing farm catalogs or reading books about goats.
After moving to the farm, which they named Roots and Refuge, Jessica continued her work as a portrait/birth photographer while Jeremiah worked full–time in the ministry. In addition, they found time to homeschool their blended family of six children. But when their son was diagnosed with food allergies, she became even more motivated to provide a direct farm–to–table experience.
Growing produce and raising goats, chickens, alpacas, pigs, and bees isn’t easy. Despite all the work and her steep learning curve on how to run a modern–day homestead, Jessica remained optimistic. It was that optimism and passion that led her to start a YouTube channel, Roots and Refuge Farm. She wanted to share her successes and the lessons she learned by regularly posting videos, or vlogs.
Almost overnight, their online garden tours became a success, garnering thousands of hits a day. Jessica credits this to the fact that gardeners are patient people and are willing to spend 30–plus minutes with her. But her fans will credit Jessica – her broad, dimpled smile, her unaffected presence, and the genuine way she shares her innermost thoughts, feelings, and doubts. She makes the mundane extraordinary. Her family interactions are real. And she wants you to love gardening as much as she does.
About four years ago, YouTube took notice of the site’s numbers and they promoted it, which then allowed the couple to work full–time on the homestead. Today, Roots and Refuge Farm has nearly half a million subscribers from around the world, making Jess and Jeremiah homestead celebrities. The catalogs she once poured over now have her picture in them.
And that dream of writing a book? It’s about to come true. Over a year ago, Cool Springs Press approached Jessica to see if she might be interested in writing for their First–Time Gardener series. Jessica told them her intent would be to provide encouragement to new gardeners and help them find their own path. It was exactly what the company was looking for, and they negotiated a contract over the phone.
Working with Makenzie Evans, a photographer and friend from Conway, Jessica finished the 176–page manuscript and sent it off on Aug. 1. Since then, three editorial revisions have been made, with her final approval given in October.
“The First–Time Gardener: Growing Vegetables” is set to release on Feb. 2. The tag line for the book reads, “All the know–how and encouragement you need to grow – and fall in love with! – your brand–new food garden.” Pre–orders on Amazon numbered in the thousands by mid–October.
“I never dreamed when we started all this that we would be where we are today,” Jessica said. They get feedback from around the world and have a huge following in Australia. She most enjoys hearing the success stories of others due to a tip or trick they learned from her.
You can find out more about this incredible success story on their Instagram account @roots_and_refuge, website Rootsandrefuge.com, Facebook page, or the Roots and Refuge Farm channel on YouTube.com.