Tell me more about ... Mark Bradley, dairy farmer, Sayre, Pa.

We were in the midst of an arctic cold snap back in January when a friend of mine on Facebook shared a post about farming that a farmer friend of hers had written and it ended up going a bit viral. I contacted  the author, second generation dairy farmer Mark Bradley, of Sayre, Pa., as soon as I saw the post and asked him if I could come photograph him in the farm one day. He kindly agreed.  This is the post that caught the attention of me and others:

 “I stepped outside this morning to be greeted by negative whatever it is, plus a vicious wind. I knew before even stepping in the barn that it was going to be a rough one. It was a nice 34 degrees in the middle of the barn, but colder along the northwest corner. We got the cows all fed, I thawed out a couple water bowls, then started milking.   As I was putting a milker on Hershey, this cow Candy turned around and put her soft warm muzzle alongside my cheek and in my neck. She loves to give kisses and get hugs, and she knew I needed a hug now more than ever.

photo by Mark Bradley

photo by Mark Bradley

Photo by Mark Bradley

Photo by Mark Bradley

I wrapped my arms around her soft head and with tears in my eyes, gave her a big hug. Sometimes it just hits you...the reality of the responsibility of being a farmer. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, how crappy it is, how sick you are, or how tired you are.  Good day or bad, our cows count on us to take care of them, and we do whatever it takes to keep them happy. Dad and I milk around 50 cows, and have another 50 or so of youngstock. So over 100 animals ranging in age from a few hours old ( yes I had one born last night) to over 9 years old count on us everyday. Just dad and I. No hired hands, no substitutes...

I’m not complaining, I’m not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back... I’m just trying to help people understand the commitment that farmers have to the animals they love.  Buy milk, buy cheese, buy yogurt, buy anything dairy... if your kids don’t like white milk, buy chocolate. It’s still better for them than soda or sports drinks...stay warm. I’ll be outside thawing out the frost free waterer that is not supposed to freeze.”

 

Thank you to Mark for letting my kids and I visit his farm and for answering some questions about his lifestyle and dairy farming in Bradford County, Pa.  He has also been gracious enough to agree to be part of my personal photo project focusing on dairy farms in Bradford County. If you are a farmer, or know someone who is, who would like to be part of this series, aimed at bringing awareness and appreciative attention to farmers in our communities, please contact me via my contact form on this site or at lisahoweler@gmail.com


 

Tell us a little about yourself... where your from originally, your family, hobbies, etc.


“I was born in Sayre and raised on the farm that my father and I operate. My parents bought the farm in 1979 (a year before I was born), so I am the second generation to run the farm. My father’s grandfather had a small dairy farm just up the road from where he grew up a few miles from our farm, so his interest in farming was gained at a young age. My wife Nichole and I have been married 12 years, and together we have a 6 year old son (Parker) and 3 year old daughter (Lexi) who both love the farm. In my spare time I enjoy taking Parker hunting, fishing, woodworking, and fixing old tractors. “

Lisa R. Howeler, Pennsylvania farming
Lisa R. Howeler Pennsylvania farming2
Lisa R. Howeler Bradford County, Pa. farming



How long have you been farming? How did you become involved in it?

“I’ve been involved with the farm my whole life. From a young age I would help out with whatever chores I could. I’ve always loved being around the cows, and as I got a little older I was able to drive tractors and run the machinery helping out with the field work. I didn’t always see myself coming back to the farm... after high school I went to college with the intention of becoming a teacher. It was the first time I had ever really been away from the farm.

I came home every weekend to work on the farm, and I dreaded going back to college every Sunday night. Just over a year into college I began to realize that my heart was in farming, and that’s what I wanted to do. I changed my major from secondary education and finished in 4 years with degrees in physics and geology. After graduating, Dad and I formed a formal partnership, and this spring will be 15 years operating together.

What is the main focus of your farm?  

Dairy is the main focus of our farm. We milk around 50 cows which produce about 200 gallons of milk a day. We raise all our heifer (female) calves, so we have around 100 total. We grow and harvest almost all our feed on 225 owned and rented acres.

Considering the hardships farmers face in the United States especially, what keeps you from giving up on farming?

Honestly, it is a labor of love. I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.

Lisa R. Howeler Pennsylvania Farming
milking cows by Lisa R. Howeler
Lisa R. Howeler



What do you think the future holds for farming in the United States? 

The future of dairy farming in this country is worrisome.  Small family farms like ours are disappearing at an alarming rate. Farms are becoming bigger with more cows, and are run like a factory with many employees and shifts. They are still producing good quality milk, but the cozy small farm where the cows have names and the farmers care for them and know them like pets is going by the wayside.


What is the best part of your farming life? 

The absolute best part is sharing the farm life with my kids. They see what I do and are eager to help. They understand where their milk and meat come from and they know how hard we work to put it on the table. My heart melts when they go on and on at the dinner table about how good their milk is, and talk about which cow it might have come from.
Aside from raising our kids on the farm, my other favorite thing is working so closely with nature. There is something so amazing about helping a calf to be born, then raising that calf into mature milking cow. The same can be said for planting seeds and harvesting the crops.

What is the hardest part of your farming life? 

This is a tough one to answer... I would have to say the disappointments.  I had an old farmer tell me one time that it’s human nature to want to be in control, but it’s God that is in control, and we have to trust in him. I tell myself that whenever something happens that is out of my control.

You can put your heart and soul into getting a crop planted, only to have a drought or have a torrential rain that ruins it. Your favorite cow can get sick and despite your best efforts you may lose her. Machinery breaks at times when you need it the most. Cows go into labor at the most inconvenient times.  Dinners are missed because something requires immediate attention. When I get sick, no matter how bad I feel, I still have to get up and get the work done because all the cows are counting on me. 

Anything you would like to add?

When I tell people I’m a farmer, most will respond with “that’s a hard life”.  They are right. But it’s a good life. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to do what I love day in and day out.  At the end of the road, it’s not about how much money you made, but about the quality of life you lived. I am so blessed.
 

Pennsylvania farmer by Lisa R. Howeler

Tell Me More About ... Debby Frisk, Mom and homeschooling parent

Debby Frisk is a homeschooling mom from Athens, Pa. She is also simply a mom who cares about her children. She encourages other parents who want to homeschool their children, for various reasons, but don't believe they can.  I asked her if she would tell my readers a little about her journey in homeschooling and offer some advice for parents who might be considering  this style of schooling for their children.


Photos by Lisa R. Howeler

Photos by Lisa R. Howeler

Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from, your family, your interests.
My name is Deb Frisk, married to Tim Frisk for 25 years, with 2 daughters, Elizabeth age 19, and Leah age 16.  I'm originally from Ellwood City, PA.  We moved to Bradford County upon finishing college.  I enjoy reading, puzzles and games of all varieties, watching musicals, going on walks, cats, and spending time with my family.


What careers have you held or do you hold now?
I was hired by Towanda Area School district in 1992 to teach math and work with the deaf and hard of hearing students in the district.  I worked there for 6 years before starting our family.  Since then I've mainly been raising our children and homeschooling, but have worked for short times as a sign language instructor and for Early Intervention. 


You are a homeschooling mom. How did you get involved in homeschooling?
Homeschooling was always on our radar as an educational option even before we had kids.  Because I have a teaching degree, I was asked to perform homeschool evaluations for a few homeschooling friends of ours.  I was impressed with the quality curricula that is available to homeschoolers and with the character and academic excellence I saw in the homeschooled children that I met. 

When our first child was diagnosed with autism, we were strongly encouraged to enroll her in school to help with socialization.  We listened to the experts and put her in a year of private preschool and a year of public school for K-4.  Although she had fabulous teachers and aides in both places, it was obvious to us and her teachers that school was not a suitable environment for her to learn, so the decision was made to bring her home for kindergarten. 

We first enrolled her in a cyber charter school, which is public school done in the comfort of your own home.  This worked well for us for several years, but whens he reached middle school, it became cumbersome to jump through all of the hoops that the school set before us and the decision was made to begin pure homeschooling. 



What is your advice to parents who are considering homeschooling?
I have a lot to say to people who are considering homeschooling.  The first thing is that you CAN do it.  You do not need a teaching degree to be a good teacher to your own children.  Research has shown that parents without a teaching degree are just as successful as those with one. 
The next important thing to know is that there is no one right way to homeschool.  It looks different for every family.  Sometimes it takes a year or two (or three) to figure out what works and doesn't work for your family.  It's good to talk to other families and see what they like and what works for them, but trying to copy others will likely make you unhappy.  Do what's best for your family. 
Next I'd suggest that you try to connect with other homeschoolers.  Some people desire a lot of support others do it all on their own.  There's no right or wrong amount of connection either, but initially it's good to talk to others to get ideas and to look at curriculum.  Pennsylvania has an amazing homeschool convention in early June in Lancaster that I strongly recommend. 

It's a good place to attend seminars on homeschooling, pickup curriculum and examine it, possibly purchase some materials, and begin to network with others who've been-there-done-that. 
My personal preference on curriculum is to buy used, sell used.  This keeps cost to a minimum for us.  There are several different places where you can do this -- used curriculum sales in your area and online sales being the main ways. 


Do you have suggestions for resources or web sites where parents can learn more about homeschooling?
For PA residents, my favorite resource is askpauline.com
For anyone in the United States, I'd recommend hslda.org
These 2 resources are great for telling you your state's requirements for getting started and other required record-keeping. 

Many use ebay for curriculum shopping, but my favorite is homeschoolclassifieds.com.  I also use the Facebook group Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace. 

There are probably hundreds or thousands of other quality websites to learn about homeschooling.  I just don't have specific recommendations.

What does homeschooling look like at your house?
Homeschooling looks different for every family.  Some people do school at home, copying what they've experienced in the classroom.  Some people use a variety of materials including textbooks, workbooks, instructional DVDs, computer programs, field trips, hands-on projects and experiments, etc.  While still others  throw out conventional methods of learning and just follow their child(ren)'s interests and explore the world with them.
One thing that we always say about our schooling is that the only subject that's ever done at a desk or table is handwriting.  Often you'll find us curled up on the couch or in a bed reading together or alone.  We use clipboards a lot when writing needs to be done. 

We're pretty eclectic meaning that we use a wide variety of resources for our learning.  I prefer literature based curriculum.  Usually whatever books the girls are reading for literature is related to the same topics they're reading about in history.  For some subjects my girls rely pretty heavily on traditional textbooks.  In recent years we've moved towards instructional DVDs for some high school topics like chemistry and writing.  They've both used computer programs for learning foreign languages. 

I have one child who enjoys art, drama, and dance and we use a lot of outside lessons to provide instruction in those areas since that is not my area of strength.  I also should add that what works for one child often is not appropriate for another.  My girls have very different learning styles and strengths.  I've often used totally different curriculum to cover the same subject material for them. 

homeschooling in Pennsylvania


Some people have found that having a schedule is necessary for school work to be completed in their home. We've found that our girls work best when they can choose the order of their subjects and when they work on them.  My only rule is that the assigned work needs to get done each day (though exceptions to the rule do happen).  The girls have learned very good time management and planning skills.  For example they've learned that it's not wise to save their hardest subject for late in the day.  One of my children likes to get up and get all of her work done as quickly as possible in order to be free for the rest of the day.  This works really well for her.  My other child does a subject and takes a break, does another, then takes a break.  School takes her all day, but the result is the same at the end of the day and Mom is happy. 


What do you like most and what's the hardest part about homeschooling?

The answer to these questions is the same --  Time spent with my children.  I love the amount of time that I get to spend with my kids.  I know them inside and out because we spend so much time together.  I love being part of what they're learning.  We tried public school for a year or two with each of my girls and I really hated not being involved in what they were learning.  I love being able to tie what they're learning into everyday life, but if you don't know what they're learning in school, you're not able to do that.  I think my absolute favorite part of homeschooling ever was teaching them to read. 
I will be honest though.  As much as I love spending time with my kids, there is never a break.  When they were younger, sometimes they would be the only people I'd see for days at a time.  It's easier when they're older and do activities on their own and aren't always in the house, but the younger years were sometimes tough, but just sometimes.  Mostly the time is a gift and I try to enjoy every moment of it. 
Oh, another perk for us is taking family vacations during the off-season.  The crowds at most places are lowest in September right after all the kids go back to school.  It's the perfect time for us to hit the road.  The same is true for any kind of activity or field trip.  My kids have never been to Chuck E Cheese on a weekend. 

homeschooling PA




What misconceptions do you think people have about homeschooling?
The most common thing I hear when I tell someone that we homeschool -- "Oh, I'm not against homeschooling or anything, but I just worry about socialization."
There are always exceptions, but I think it's fair to say that most homeschoolers are better socialized then their public school counterparts.  Most homeschoolers joke that we don't know why it's called home schooling because it sometimes feels like we're never home.  First of all, because we spend so much time with our kids, homeschool parents have lots of opportunities to train them on how to interact with people.  Homeschooled kids as a group are extremely respectful and courteous.  We attend a lot of group events (like roller skating, bowling, play practice, science fairs, and field trips) with other homeschoolers. 

This gives our kids a chance to interact with other kids, but not just their age peers; they become comfortable with kids of all ages.  Our kids spend more time in their communities than their public school peers.  They go with their parents EVERYWHERE.  They go shopping with us, to the dentist, to the post office, the gas station, you name it.  They become very proficient and comfortable interacting with adults, not just other children at a young age.  And like public school kids, you'll find us participating in other things in our communities such as soccer, swimming, Little League, dance class, art class, piano lessons and recitals, etc.

homeschooling in Pennsylvania

Tell Me More About . . . Engelbert Farms, Nichols, N.Y.

Thank you to Lisa Engelbert of Engelbert Farms in Nichols, N.Y. for being part of this edition of Tell Me More About. Engelbert Farms is owned by Lisa and her husband Kevin. It is a family owned and operated business with her sons and their families also participating in day-to-day operations. According to their site: "Engelbert Farms, LLC is a certified organic dairy farm, certified by Vermont Organic Farmers (NOFA-VT).  It is a true family farm, farming in the same location since 1911. Kevin, Lisa and their sons Joe and John all actively work on the farm.  Their other son, Kris is often around helping out, too."

I recently visited their farm store and highly recommend  their homemade cheeses, especially the lemon and thyme moovache which is only in stock during the summer months. My children and I had a sample and agreed it was the best cheese we have ever tasted.

Tell Me More About is a feature where I showcase artists, business people, businesses or simply every day people with an interesting story.

Image by Organic Valley

Can you tell me a little about your farm, how long you've had it and how you got started in farming?

Engelbert Farms

I grew up on a dairy farm in Athens, Pa.  When my older brothers decided they didn’t want to farm, my dad sold the cows and took a job off the farm.   I’ve always loved animals and loved to grow things, so farming always had a special place in my heart.   The Engelbert family had been farming in Nichols since 1911, and in the Southern Tier of New York since 1848.  My husband, Kevin and I got married in 1980, and took over management of the family farm from my father-in-law.   In 1981, we started farming organically, and became certified organic in 1984.  We didn’t know it at the time, but we were the first certified organic dairy farm in the US!   We are first and foremost an organic dairy farm, but when our sons graduated from college and came back to the farm, we realized we needed to diversify to be able to support more families.  Our operation now includes organic meats (beef, pork, veal), cheeses, small-scale seasonal vegetables, and field crops.  With the exception of the small amount of milk that is kept back to be made into cheese, all of our milk is sold through Organic Valley. 

What does your farm offer the community?

We have a farm store on the farm to sell our organic, farm-raised meats, cheeses and vegetables directly to our customers.   Every piece of our meat is traceable back to the day the animal was born, and our cheeses are made by hand exclusively with our milk.  Later in the summer, as vegetables are harvested, we have potatoes, garlic, onions, and other seasonal vegetables available.  Products from other sustainable farms are available as well – eggs, chicken, turkey, honey, maple syrup, jams & jellies, salsa and pasta sauces.   We also sell meat and cheese to stores and restaurants in the Valley, as well as Endicott, Binghamton, Ithaca and Watkins Glen, and as far as the Hudson Valley and Long Island.  Our farm is part of the Tioga Farm Trail, and the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance.  Several times a year, we have an open house on our farm and offer samples of our cheeses and smoked sausages, as well as farm tours.  Both my husband and I have been heavily involved in organic agriculture at the state and national level, and have done presentations at numerous workshops and field days on organic farming over the past 35 years.

Lisa R. Howeler, copyright

I believe to be truly sustainable and profitable in the future, farms will need to sell as much as possible of what they produce directly to the consumer. 

- Lisa Engelbert of Engelbert Farms, Nichols, N.Y.

How is farming changing today? What is the future of farming?

Farming has always been a challenging profession, but it keeps getting more difficult to do business and make a profit.  Regulations, taxes and land prices continue to increase, putting more and more burden on farmers.  Farms are getting bigger and bigger and small farms are getting squeezed out.  I would love to see farms start getting smaller and more diversified, with their products being processed and sold regionally.  In my mind that would contribute to national security with less imported food, reduced miles that food travels to get to the consumer, and would provide a fresher, safer, more traceable product.  I believe to be truly sustainable and profitable in the future, farms will need to sell as much as possible of what they produce directly to the consumer. 

What is the most rewarding part of owning a small farm?

My favorite part of owning a family farm is dealing directly with our customers and talking with youth groups.  We have met some incredible people over the years, and have made many new friends.  It is very rewarding to know that we are providing high-quality, healthy products.   We like to know who our customers are, and our customers appreciate knowing how and where their food is grown.   When we get thank you notes from customers and from kids that have come for farm tours, it makes us feel like we’re making a difference, and makes all of the hard work worthwhile.   

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Where can people find out more about your farm and what it offers?

Our farm store is located right on our farm just east of the Village of Nichols, at 182 Sunnyside Road in Nichols, NY- look for the little red building attached to the yellow barn.  We’re open Friday and Saturday 10 to 3, year round, unless it’s a holiday.  Our website is www.engelbertfarms.com and we have an Engelbert Farms Facebook page, which I try to keep active with what’s happening on the farm. 

_____

To submit ideas for a Tell Me More About … feature email lisa at lisahoweler@gmail.com or use the contact form under Info at the top of the page. People featured in Tell Me More About are from various walks of life, backgrounds and jobs because we all have a story to tell. 

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Photo by Engelbert Farms

Photo by Engelbert Farms

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Photo by Lisa R. Howeler

Tell me more about . . . Maria Hoover, artist and teacher

Maria Hoover is a mom, an artist, and a teacher from Stevensville,  Pa. She is the owner of Art on A Mission as well as the art teacher at North Rome Christian School, North Rome, Pa. Her business is a paint party business, where she teaches even those who don't consider themselves artists how to paint and get in touch with their artistic side.

She has also been one of my best friend's since seventh grade when we connected over a certain popular boy band from the late 80s/early 90s. 

Thank you, Maria for being part of this week's Tell Me More About . . . feature

Tell us a little about yourself

I grew up in small town, Northeast Pennsylvania in a family of 7 counting my parents. I married my best friend in May of 2006 and bought a house the next month. Nine months later we welcomed our only child to this world. Being a wife and mom are the best things that have ever happened to me, daily it brings challenges, but it's my best sense of security I can feel from another human. Although my full security rests in my God. Growing my relationship with Him is my biggest interest. He has brought me from places I never realized I was in, until He opened my eyes to His Love. I owe Him my life of service, and serving Him is my daily goal. I also love to cook, garden, and paint.

How did you become interested in art?

I have always drawn from a very young age, but my interest came when I was in elementary school art class. My teachers had always encouraged me, and complimented me on my ability. In first or second grade I decided I wanted to be an art teacher. Art was my favorite subject all through high school, I took as many art classes I could. After graduation I began working, and left behind my love of art. Getting an apartment, working, cleaning, a boyfriend, pets, shopping. That all stepped into my life and my art took a backseat.

That's what happens when God has a plan for you, and you don't believe it.

Maria Hoover, owner, Art on a Mission

 

For years I didn't touch an art medium. The most a drew was maybe a doodle here or there while I was on the phone. I let the business of life take over and I lost who I was as a person in all of the demands of life. After I had my son, I was able to be home with him, and I started day dreaming about the enjoyment I had when I would ART. The relaxing effects it would have on me. The satisfaction of creating something that was pleasing to the eye. It was the one thing in my life I was proud of my self for, yet even a couple more years went by before I began to create again.

art by Maria Hoover

 

When Isaiah was 2, I started him with crayons and watercolors. it was a favorite thing for us to do together. He would scribble, I would draw basic pictures, teaching him colors and shapes. As he grew we began to make crafts and our mediums went from crayons to fingerprint and markers. Still in the basics of it all, the God that I had just made room for in my life just four years earlier was slowly returning a love that I had left behind. Because He had a much bigger plan for it than I knew.

How did you become an art teacher?

As I said earlier, in elementary school I wanted to become an art teacher - a preschool art teacher. In my innocence I didn't realize preschool kids didn't need an art teacher, but they mainly had one teacher that did everything with them. As I approached 11th grade, I daydreamed about going to an art college, but with lack of funding, not knowing anything about grants and a fear to leave my family, I quickly dismissed college.. And with a family who lacked in the encouragement I never pursued it even as I grew older.

At one point my mother said, "I wish you would have went to college for your art." Because of my personality, I took that as "I am a disappointment" so art took an extreme back burner. After the summer off following graduation, I stepped into the work force. I worked at restaurants, and our local meat packing plant. There is where I met my husband. For six years art was forgotten.

And then, with the passing of my mother, depression, working, dating, and so many things that made my life busy, I honestly forgot who I was. Then I had a meeting with a God who revealed to me that I had a purpose, and that I am loved. Then came marriage and a baby in a baby carriage, and still no art. But God had sparked a longing in my heart. I started daydreaming now and then, about having my own studio, about painting or drawing but still no ART.

Maria Hoover, Lisa R. Howeler

We began attending a church just before we got married. Six years after I began attending, I was helping with vacation Bible school, and quickly became the artist of the production. It was great! I helped others draw and paint backdrops, I created trees out of paper. For 4 years I helped transform our church every summer into another world. As people began to see my ability, one family in particular, had three girls that attended a Christian school and the oldest girl told me one day that I should come teach at their school, that they needed an art teacher. At the time I laughed it off. In my insecurity I told myself I couldn't teach art. I didn't go to school for teaching. I only remembered how much I loved art. How could I possibly be an art teacher?

 The thought crossed my mind often in the next few months. "I couldn't be an art teacher", became "Could I be an art teacher?". The school year began with Isaiah started kindergarten, and I was babysitting while he was at school at the same Christian school. As I continued to question if I could even be an art teacher, God was positioning me to do just that. I was offered a job driving the very school van that took Isaiah to and from school. I accepted it, opening up the entire day at the very school I was delivering kids to every day. Not long after I took on that job as a school van driver, I also accepted the position of art teacher at North Rome, and here I am 5 years later, doing the exact thing I said I could never do.

That's what happens when God has a plan for you, and you don't believe it.

What medium do I enjoy the most, and why?

 I enjoy every medium I have been able to experience.. Watercolor and pen and ink together are a favorite but I would have to say acrylic paint has to be my most favorite right now. I had never got to work with it too much until recently, and I have found it challenging, yet the finished product is beautiful. I have learned so many new techniques, and love teaching it to my students.

Maria Hoover, artist, Lisa R. Howeler, photographer

What other activities do you enjoy?

I think my favorite pass time is being with Quentin and Isaiah doing something fun. We have recently began kayaking together, and we enjoy it so much. I also like gardening. It's so rewarding when the flowers are full and beautiful, and the vegetables are part of your dinner table, (if you have been able to ward off the weeds.) I also like entertaining, having friends and family over, campfires and fellowship.

Lisa R. Howeler, 2017 copyright

 

How important is art to a child's education?

 I believe art is essential to a child's education. Especially those children who express themselves with the product of their hands. Art comes in so many forms and every one of them are essential. I think when a person does not have the ability to Art, rather it be drawing, painting, sculpting, constructing, photography, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, theater,..they loose who they really are and then are unable to live out their purpose God has created them for.

___

All images by Lisa R. Howeler and some of them are available for sale at Lightstock or Cavan.

To submit ideas for a Tell Me More About … feature email lisa at lisahoweler@gmail.com or use the contact form under Info at the top of the page. People featured in Tell Me More About are from various walks of life, backgrounds and jobs because we all have a story to tell. 

 

Tell Me More About . . . Niki Boon, photographer

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and honored that Niki Boon, one of my favorite photographers, is on my blog today sharing her photography journey and some of her amazingly breathtaking black and white images. She took the world by storm a couple of years ago when her images of her children simply being children in rural New Zealand went viral. Her images capture a universal view of childhood that so many can relate to. I know for me, looking at them not only makes them think of my own childhood with fondness, but also strive to create a similarly relaxed and free childhood for my own children. I'm completely drawn into Niki's world, maybe because she chooses all her images to be showcased in black and white and my focus is on what is happening in the image, versus the distractions of color. In addition to the black and white magic of her images, she also uses layering in so many of her images, which add outstanding depth to the story. Thank you to Niki for finding time in her busy schedule of raising her wild and free children and showcasing her beautiful art to tell me and my blog readers a bit about her journey.

Images by Niki Boon Used with permission by the artist.

Images by Niki Boon Used with permission by the artist.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Niki?

I grew up on a farm in the north island of New Zealand, one of five children in our family. I trained as a physiotherapist at university , and spent a glorious 4-years traveling and working overseas, eventually drawn back to my roots and the country I was born into. I was happy to be home , knowing that this is exactly the place I want to bring up my four wild and free children.

With my husband, we live on a 10 acre property with goats, sheep, chickens, ducks and a dog, small vineyard and surrounded by hills, bush , rivers, and wild coast line - all ours to explore.

We made the decision to educate our children at home , and it has been quite the journey so far.


How did you become interested in photography?
 

My interest in photography started when I traveled and worked overseas after graduating from university

My first lesson in black and white photography was back when I first picked up an SLR camera in my late 20's. Whilst I was living in England I enrolled in a weekend  dark room course, where I spent a glorious two, cold wintery days locked in a tiny room with four others learning how to process and print black and white film.

I fell totally under the spell of the wonder of creating my own prints from scratch. I remember, so well, the endless winter weekend I spent in the darkroom immersed in the magic of it all.... the absolute best way to spend a cold and bleak northern English winter.

I never really focused on it again too much until we decided to educate our children alternatively at home. I knew I wanted to document our days , but I felt that my photography skills were limited , so I put a lot of late nights into researching how to improve my craft. I have taken the long journey of learning how to process an image digitally and the endless search for finding a process that I can love as much as I did my film prints from years ago

 


What's in your camera bag?

 

Up until 2 months ago I shot with a canon 5d mkiii with a 35mm lens. But my canon has been absolutely hammered and taken a lot of places I am sure were not good for it ..and bits are falling of it , and malfunctioning all over the place.. so I recently invested in an Fuji XT2 ( with a 28mm (eqiv) lens which I hope to get .. which I am still building some sort of relationship with.

How do you manage to capture such authentic images with your children?
 

I think my kids are just used to having a camera around them .. they just carry on , they are usually so absorbed in their games , the just get on with it… It is really them that create the pictures , they are the authentic and creative ones, me.. I am just the one that happens to have the camera.

copyright Niki Boon

I fell totally under the spell of the wonder of creating my own prints from scratch. I remember, so well, the endless winter weekend I spent in the darkroom immersed in the magic of it all.... the absolute best way to spend a cold and bleak northern English winter.

- Niki Boon

 


Did your sudden popularity in the photographyworld take you by surprise?

 

Yeah .. for sure … It was at the suggestion of a friend that I entered a few competitions one year , I didn’t expect to gain places in them, so that was an interesting and exciting time. I was asked to do an interview with an American website on the back of one of  the competitions outcomes and from there, the pictures somehow went viral, with a lot of the websites having never had communication or approval from me at all. It was a crazy time for me. I just went with it to be honest and waited till it all passed and now, well there are still a few interview requests, but they few and far between , and I haven’t entered any competitions for quite a while now. I think that time was just fleeting for me.



How has the extra attention changed life for you? Good and bad? More good than bad? Or maybe not bad at all?

It was a crazy time for sure .. but as I said above, it eventually settled down and after a few weeks I was back to the place I was before . Although having said that , it has opened doors to experiences, opportunities and challenges that I may not have had without the exposure . I have been asked to speak at a couple of conferences, a challenge that I took up (despite being petrified about public speaking) , I have also recently been asked to exhibit a few pictures at a photography festival , which is also very exciting.

I hope to  keep taking pictures and documenting a childhood, and will continue to do it for as long as the kids are OK with it. If something else comes of it - books , or exhibition etc.I would love to entertain that.

But basically, at home, I am still Mum- still make the dinners and lunches, fold the washing , work daily logistics of kids extra-curricular activities, wrangle animals, and moderate sibling squabbles and when I have time , take a few photos. Nothing changed there.

What inspires you?
 

I think my inspiration is predominantly the kids. I am fascinated with who they are, the things they get up to, and how they see and exist in the world.

I am inspired by so many photographers. I am ever so slowly building up a small photobook collection with artists I have been inspired by. I think I am drawn to documentary photographers more than any other genre. I am inspired by their art , but also their passion and drive for their stories and their subjects. Eugene Richards is a photographer who’s work I look at over and over.Being outdoors is a big motivator for me too.

 

What advice do you have for other photographers?

It’s not very original … but there is a piece of advice I  read a couple of years ago from a photographer I am inspired by, who said … if things get tricky with your picture taking " get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot through the block, even if what you are shooting is uninspiring. Just keep shooting."

Find more of Niki's work at:


Facebook

 

Website

 

Instagram