Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm

Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Tucking the baby chicks in to their coops for the night. Actually, the coop on the left is currently empty, but in just a few days a new generation of baby chicks will arrive and set up shop.

I first arrived at Twin Oaks Farm three years ago, on an evening long after the sun had set. I checked my directions for the dozenth time and confirmed that they did indeed say to turn off the well lit highway when I saw the pitch black playground, down the unpaved gravel road lined on each side by trees, and onto the first driveway on the right. “It’s a long driveway, so you won’t be able to see the house from the road,” the directions warned. As I flicked on my brights and turned down the unpaved street, my travel buddy and friend, Alison, showed the same raised-eye-brows skepticism I felt. This was beginning to feel like the plot of a horror movie: naive college girls want to play farmer and are never heard from again.

Luckily that plot never played out. As soon as we got to the house, we were warmly greeted by the farm owner, Renee Savary. We sat down to dinner and stayed at the table for hours talking. The next morning, bright and early at 6 AM, we got to work. And there was much to be done. The farm was just getting on its feet. Only months earlier, Renee had left her condo and South Beach real estate business in Miami to move onto a 94 acre property in Bonifay, Florida, about an hour north of Panama City. She was learning as she went along, and started with a grove of fruit trees, a garden, some hens, and two painfully noisy guinea hens. We helped her build new coops and collect the first eggs.

Much has changed in the last three years. Now, Renee raises chickens, ducks, sheep, geese, and donkeys, oh my. Her eggs are certified organic and her preserves are a hit. They have even been featured in Southern Living. The days of collecting farm fresh eggs one at a time and carrying each within the palm of a hand are a distant memory. Now, Twin Oaks Farm yields buckets of eggs each day.

I’ll be spending a few weeks here, trying my hand at small scale farming once again, a job that Renee is quick to point out demands, “15 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” I’ll be posting updates and plenty of photos in the coming weeks, while working to develop some much more polished pieces on the side.

I thought I’d start by introducing you to the farm at my favorite time of day: sunset. Many of my most vivid memories from my last stay here are snapshots of sunsets, and the sky at the end of each day so far has not disappointed.


Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Meet Renee Savary (or at least the back of her head). Renee is the farm owner. She's originally from Switzerland, but moved to Miami a few decades ago. Four years ago she chose to leave behind a career in real estate to pursue a new vocation and total lifestyle change: she bought a farm with intentions to raise her own food and provide quality food to others. So far, it's been a tough road. But Renee says she wouldn't do anything else.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Meet Renee's farm: Twin Oaks Farm. This property is in Bonifay, Florida, about an hour north of Panama City Beach and any view of the ocean. It's 94 acres, and includes, by my count, 7 chicken coops, 4 barns and sheds, 2 ponds, 3 donkeys, about two dozen ducks, 12 geese, 5 sheep, roughly a zillion chickens, and consistently good sunsets.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Meet the infirmary. Renee's chickens and ducks are certified organic, and they are not medicated. Sometimes they get injured. Or sometimes they get harassed by the farm's boisterous and occasionally bratty young donkey, Roberto. Whatever the cause, when the birds on the farm are ailing, they come here for a little R and R.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
A member of the farm's poultry population. This little guy is a broiler, so he (at least I think it is a male, and am learning to tell the difference in appearances between the hens and roosters) is raised for meat production.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
The broiler coops.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Here's something I've learned about chickens in the past week, or at least been reminded of: As chicks, they are absolutely adorable. Their little peeps and fluffy yellow feathers make me want to swoon and overlook how they huddle in terror when I walk through the door, when I've invaded their coop to, you know, provide them with all their basic needs. Within a few months, however, chickens morph into a creature that I wouldn't describe as cute. Not quite ugly, definitely not cute. Still, there's something kind of regal about chickens. A nice backdrop and a reprieve from the midday heat doesn't hurt.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Meet Caramelle, Bianca, and Roberto. And here's another thing I've learned about chickens: lots of things want to eat them. Renee has given many a security measure a try over the years. When I was here last we spent quite a while installing electric fences to protect the girls at night. With time, Renee realized predators weren't making their move in the middle of the night. They came out of the woodwork, or in this case the woods, at dawn and dusk. So after years of experimentation, she's settled on pretty effective security guards: Three donkeys. They do the job and contribute heaps to the compost pile each day too.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Around 7:40 PM, the sun starts to really sag in the sky. The last time I was here we'd engage in a ridiculous game of chicken wrangling each evening, trying to negotiate the chickens back into their coops for the night. Since then Renee has found a much easier method. As soon as it gets dark, the chickens put themselves to bed. After that, it's just a matter of closing the door.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Egrets overhead. A frequent visitor.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
This is Roberto. He's about 9 months old, and sometimes acts like a hard-to-please teenager. He wants to be where the action is, with the other donkeys, the humans, and the chickens. But he also wants to play with ducks like they're frisbees and nip at human flesh now and again. He's been well behaved since I arrived. Like any hopeful parent to a teenager, Renee's got her fingers crossed his rebellious days have passed. .
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
The night's bounty: two (heavy) buckets of chicken and duck eggs to be hauled up to the house and sold at market. When I was last at the farm, we gave Renee a little basket for carrying eggs as a gift. Now any attempt to carry in eggs in that thing would be preposterous. There are too many. Because of the heat and weight, we haul in eggs three times each day.
Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Fourteen hours after the day's work began, the chickens are settled and safe, the temperature has finally cooled, and the sun has set.

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