A Mooresville farm preserves history and honors tradition with sustainable practices, products and public events.
Sugar, a Southdown Babydoll sheep, is part of the flock at 1818 Farms. Early each spring, Gary Lawson, a sheep shearer from Kentucky, demonstrates his craft at the farm. Also on the farm are four varieties of hens, a Nubian goat and two Great Pyrenees to guard them all.
It all began with a little boy’s wish.
"We were at a … petting zoo. It became his dream to have a sheep," said Natasha McCrary, the mother of then 8-year-old Gamble.
To be exact, he wanted a Babydoll sheep.
Natasha started researching where to buy lambs. Meanwhile, Gamble’s plans grew larger. He wanted to sell the wool, design a Nativity scene featuring the sheep, sell the manure to garden shops and charge for photographs.
Natasha had her own dreams of developing a profitable farm where she and her husband Laurence could teach their children to appreciate the animals and the land, and understand the concept of being self-sustaining.
Natasha and Laurence have three children. Besides Gamble, now 13, there are Waggoner, 16, and Eliza, 10. They live in Mooresville, the first town incorporated by the Alabama Territorial Legislature on Nov. 16, 1818.
Today, the couple manages a three-acre operation near the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The farm features a small flock of Southdown Babydoll sheep, four kinds of hens, a Nubian goat, a miniature pig and two Great Pyrenees to guard the animals. Tony McGehee, employee, is in charge of school field trips and three-day summer camps held for two weeks in June.
The McCrarys named their Limestone County operation 1818 Farms in honor of the year the town of Mooresville, population 53, was established. She sees the farm as a way to teach her kids.
"We broke ground in 2011," Natasha said. "In 2012, we had our first birthday party [for the public].
"[Now] we do (up to) one field trip a day by appointment from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 or 12."
The students learn about daily life on the farm. They meet the hens and gather eggs; get to see the sheep, learn the animals’ histories and what the wool is used for; and greet the miniature pigs and the Great Pyrenees. The tour includes a visit to the garden when it is in bloom.
At summer camp, youngsters 8-10 years are also taught about life on the farm. They arrive at 8:30 a.m. and gather produce, work on a craft incorporating wool, write letters and mail them at the Mooresville Post Office, take hikes on the wildlife refuge, learn about seed starting and using compost, and build mini-greenhouses to take home.
"On the last day," Natasha said, "we pop popcorn from corn we’ve grown. The children always look forward to that.
"We usually sell out with the camps."
Left and below, a boy holds one of the hens during a 2015 summer camp. The three-day camps for children 8-10 are held annually in June. Activities for the youngsters include visiting with the sheep and learning what wool is used for, gathering produce, taking hikes nearby on the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge and popping popcorn from corn grown on the farm.
Children are curious and often ask some intriguing questions. "Are you the farmer?" is a question often asked of Natasha. She now has a book to read to the youngsters featuring a female farmer, and relating that story helps break the stereotype.
Farm-to-table dinners attract adults to the farm. The dinners feature food from top chefs in North Alabama and are held outdoors under a covered pavilion overlooking the creek on the wildlife refuge.
Classes draw others to the farm. Those include making terrariums, designing herb and succulent gardens, flower arranging and, in December, wreath-making.
Opening day for the public was scheduled for March 25, weather permitting. Gary Lawson, a sheep shearer from Kentucky, was to travel to the farm.
"He has 90 sheep," Natasha said. "He’ll bring different fleeces. They’re not all the same."
1818 Farms is open to the public from March 25 to the first of October, but in December people do come to make Christmas wreaths.
Visitors travel to Mooresville from all over the United States after sampling some of the products made with lavender and other herbs grown on the farm. 1818’s shea cream, for example, was named a top face cream by Southern Living beauty editors in October 2016.
"The product line is a way of reaching beyond our tiny farm," Natasha explained.
Some of the other items are Farrah Fawcett’s Bath Tea (named for one of the goats), Clover’s Lip Smack, Lavender Goat’s Milk Bath Tea and, for men, shave and beard oils.
These and other products are sold in North Alabama and across the country in 250 stores. In Decatur, The Cupboard carries them. U.G. White in Athens has them. Shoppers in Madison County can visit four stores to buy the products. They are Daisy Lane Gifts in Madison and in Huntsville Harrison Brothers Hardware, Terrame Salon and the gift shop at the Huntsville-Madison County Botanical Garden. You can also visit their website, 1818farms.com, to see all the products and services they offer.
The growth of the farm amazes Gamble. His mother quotes him as saying, "I can’t believe it’s because of that one sheep."