Leaving their loving lambs behind, the McPhersons weren’t sheepish about finally signing up for the good life on Siesta Key
By John Morton
Going from 20 acres to less than one should not have been easy for folks like the McPhersons. But Siesta Key has a way of making transitions quite smooth.
“I would have never envisioned living on an island – to me, it felt like life on a postage stamp,” Kevin McPherson said. “But it took me only two weeks.”
Two weeks for what?
“For me to say, ‘You’re right,’” he said in the direction of his wife, Betsy, who nodded in agreement. “This is where we should be. I have no regrets whatsoever.”
After 10 years of the couple operating a Romney sheep farm, of all things, on rolling land in Montpelier, Virginia (40 miles northwest of Richmond), it was Betsy in particular who was ready for a change. Her late mother, in 1989, had built a contemporary-yet-charming house on Oakmont Place on the northern part of Siesta Key, providing Betsy for many years a fun place to frolic on vacation during visits. All the while, it was calling her name in some way.
“It was always a special place for me,” she said. “A magical place.”
Today, it’s a place she finally calls home. But that took some time.
As for the sheep farm, affectionately and adorably called Love Ewe Farm, it first started mostly as a hobby for Betsy after she retired from a career in nursing.
And the rural bliss was a good fit for Kevin, offsetting his demanding career as a supply chain consultant for the pharmaceutical industry. After all, he was raised in the Future Farmers of America program in western Pennsylvania.
“It’s something we had always wanted to do,” said Kevin of the farm life. “It was the perfect setting.”
But next thing they knew the five sheep they started with, just for a little farm flavor more than anything else, had grown to 25. A bunch of lambs would be born, and subsequently a business would be born. It became successful with both the sale of wool that Betsy spun and the sale of the sheep themselves.
But with all that, the workload became immense. “We’d usually have 20 to 30 lambs per year. Once, we had as many as 40,” Betsy said.
And they needed lots of TLC — especially those that became orphaned.
“We had to feed them every eight hours for six weeks,” said Betsy, who with Kevin eventually came up with a bottle-holding wooden gizmo to accommodate the mass feedings. “We called them our bottle babies.”
As for the wool, an individual sheep could produce as much as 10 pounds of it at as much as 6 inches in length. It would need to be cleaned before Betsy would begin to work her magic, spinning it into wool.
Then there was the need to control the flock and keep it on the move.
“I was a sheep shepherd – a sheep shepherd with two artificial hips,” she said with a laugh.
Another outlet for Betsy was the life of an author. The sheep-themed children’s books she wrote on the side became part of the fabric of the community, prompting her to make appearances at libraries and schools with her serving as a story-time narrator.
“That meant a lot to me,” she said of the books that spoke of life lessons with the lambs as characters.
It’s not surprising that Betsy gave her animals human-like identities, seeing as each skein of yarn she created bore the name of the sheep that provided it.
“I treated them like they were my own children,” she said of her wooly wonders. “I sure miss their little faces.”
In time, however, the farm-life stress outweighed the splendor.
“It became work. It stopped being fun,” Besty said. “And, we would hear about people our age dying. We had reached that point, and that was tough. We wanted something else in life.”
Meanwhile, back in 2007 after Betsy’s mother died, the Siesta Key house was inherited by Betsy and her brother. It was in limbo, waiting for a new chapter to be written.
So, the McPhersons bought out Betsy’s brother, aiming for more getaway trips to Florida. But for the next 15 years the house sat mostly vacant – never once rented out — as life on the farm and the frantic pace of raising their own children limited the McPhersons to about three visits per year. They were putting on hold that “something else in life.”
Finally, Kevin and Betsy sold the farm and moved into the house a year ago. And they have never looked back.
“Had it been my choice at the time, I would have sold the house five times over,” Kevin said. “I’m glad that didn’t happen.”
That’s because they have fallen in love with island life and its offerings. Betsy religiously participates in water aerobics in the gulf. Kevin, who still works remotely, often hits the tennis courts. Together, they kayak all over the place.
“Now these are the things on which we should be spending our time,” Betsy said. “Had we waited 10 more years, we couldn’t enjoy them as much. What we did is we traded our land for the ocean. And we love it.”
Vacant land next door is also part of the property, offering up some breathing room. The McPhersons recently cleared it and plan to plant some avocado and lemon trees, with bigger things to come.
“Realtors ask us to sell them that lot, or to tear the house down,” Kevin said. “No way. We like both, and eventually we’re going to use the land to build an addition.
That land, by the way, was bought in 1988 for less than $50,000. Today, the house and property are valued at about $1.4 million, according to a variety of online real estate sites.
As for her sheep in Virginia, Betsy keeps connected to them by continuing to sell online both her yarn, of which she still has bags of it in her home, and her books, entitled Daisy and the Shepherd and The Shepherd and the Bottle Babies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
She’d also like to continue reading her books and explaining the process of turning wool into yarn. Contact her at the email address if you’d like such a service.
“There are probably many youngsters here who have never seen a farm. I think they’d love to learn about a different world, a different way of life,” she said.