Extended Feature: Spinning a Yarn at Lazy Pi FarmsNov 17, 2014 02:07PM ● By Kevin
by Kerry Pipes
Jules Cox is a modern day farmer who, with the assistance of her husband Curtiss, lives and works on Lazy Pi Farms, a 5-acre farm in Mansfield. She’s interested in “farming, homesteading and country life,” and says she's also a voracious writer and a huge fan of the Mansfield community.
Jules is originally from Duncanville and most of her extended family lives in the DFW area, so their roots go deep. “I stay home with the kids and the farm, I write fiction and I do a lot of things in the textile arts related to the farm - dyeing and selling yarn online, teaching classes like knitting and spinning yarn, and of course, a lot of knitting, crocheting, felting and spinning myself.” Her husband is a warehouse manager in Grand Prairie and their two children attend Perry Elementary. We had a chance to catch up with this busy woman and here’s what we found out about her and the Lazy Pi Farm.
In Print Q&A
Tell us more about what you do and how you spend your time? I am fortunate that my husband's job afforded me the opportunity to stay home with our two small children for the past 9 years. During that time, teaching classes and running a small business selling the yarn from the sheep has been a nice second income. Writing short stories and a novel helped a little, too.
How did you get interested in farming? I have always been drawn to this lifestyle. There was never a time I didn't want to live on a farm, even though I grew up in the suburbs. I attribute it to my genetics - my maternal grandmother grew up on a farm in Groesbeck, Texas, and some of my family still lives on her land. There is a particular archetypal personality that cannot be happy anywhere but on their own land - hard working, proud, stubborn, patient and perhaps a little delusional about their own strength and endurance. Longing for peace, and needing to see physical accomplishments like a barn built, a fence fixed, a garden plowed, to feel fulfilled. That archetype is definitely present in me.
Tell us more about the origins of Lazy Pi Farm? I was struggling with a name for the farm before we even bought the place. My friend Jen came up with the name. Old Western ranches for cattle frequently had names like "Rocking R, Lazy K, Rolling P" to describe what their brands looked like. Obviously I don't use brands, but I wanted to call back to that naming tradition. The "pi" is of course in reference to pi in math, 3.14 - which serves as a symbol both for my extreme geekiness and for the surprisingly complex mathematical elements of farming and textile arts. If you are skeptical about that, read an article about resizing a knitted sweater pattern, or try reading a lace chart. I love holding up textile arts as an example for those who say that women aren't naturally mathematically inclined.
Describe your current crops and animals? Our land is essentially a big hill of limestone and clay, so we decided we would build a greenhouse instead of trying to till and cultivate this very difficult soil. That is a big project that we have not yet begun. Instead, we have concentrated on the animals, rather than the plants. We have a small flock of heritage breed sheep - Shetlands, Jacobs and Gulf Coast Natives, just a few of each. They are hardy animals, well suited to our area and vegetation. Each one has an individual personality, very distinct. Anyone who says sheep are dumb hasn't seen my old Shetland ewe at work - she's as wily as a fox. These are breeds well worth preserving. I make yarn from their wool, dye it and sell it. We also have a pair of Angora goats for mohair. Initially we had more goats, but we found the sheep did better on our land, so we decided to change our focus to what the land naturally seemed to support. We also have a flock of chickens with a variety of breeds - bantam Cochins and Silkies, standard Ameraucanas, Easter Eggers and Marans - for eggs and from whom to hatch chicks. They are delightful animals, I think everyone ought to have a few chickens!
What other things have you grown? At our suburban home, I had a huge perennial garden. I did not have the opportunity to transplant any of the plants, sadly, so I've started over here at the farm. I have a passion for native Texas wildflowers; I have a patch down at the front of the property I've let grow wild, and I've been rewarded with naturally occurring bluebonnets, basket flowers, firewheels, Texas Stars, verbena, morning glory, vetch, clover, buttercups and Mexican hats. Our herb garden is slowly developing, with mint, rosemary, thyme, lavender and lemon balm. I have some daylilies, and a passion flower vine with little passion fruits. Perhaps one day I will have enough to offer them as crops, but not yet! We also have plans for a berry patch, like we had at the old house.
Where is the farm and how much space does it take up? The farm is a long rectangle of 5 acres on County Road 526. The house is right in the middle, so we have a large pasture in the front, and we are saving up to fence in the back, where we recently built a barn.
What’s your favorite part of farming? I'd say sharing the farm with visitors is my favorite part. People seem so touched and amazed by the animals - their soft wool, their adorable babies, the ridiculous chickens, and their interesting behaviors. It's especially great to see children get so excited about the animals.
How long did it take to get your farm just the way you wanted it? I don't know that it will ever be "just the way I want it" - I am always thinking of new ways of improving what we're doing and new projects to try. We've been at the farm for almost two years, and we've done so much to improve it, but we still have a long ways to go!
Describe the maintenance and upkeep of the farm and surrounding area? When we built the fence, we did so with the intention of only doing that project once! Same with the barn, they are therefore very sturdy. So, there is not much maintenance there. Our temporary shelters in the front pasture are ugly, and I can't wait until they are replaced by more permanent structures, but that project is a ways off yet. The only daily maintenance is making sure everyone is fed, watered and where they are supposed to be. Gather eggs. Maybe pull a thorn out of someone's foot. Every couple of months, someone needs their hooves trimmed, so they get a pedicure. Twice a year - spring and fall - we have the enormous task of shearing, and at that time we give everyone their vaccinations, too. When I do it, it takes forever. When Danny Smith, the shearer, can get out to us, it's ten times faster! The only big medical upkeep we have is staying ahead of internal parasites - they are a big problem in our area.
What do you think is most unique about your farm and grounds? Because the number of animals is small, I have individual relationships with all the animals. Because it doesn't have to earn me a living, it can stay small. I can therefore tell visitors more than they'd ever want to know about each critter!
What kind of recognition/awards have you received? There aren't really awards for farm work on this scale; it is its own reward. However, I have been sought out to teach workshops, write articles and such, from as far away as Tennessee.
What’s next for Lazy Pi Farms? We have a pair of baby Nigerian Dwarfs that we are bottle feeding. When they are old enough, they will be our milk goats. I am looking forward to making cheese, soap and other products from our own goats' milk.
Describe how your family has supported your time invested in the farm? My family has been incredibly supportive of the farm; they're always interested in what we're up to! I am fortunate to have so much family nearby.
Do you have other interests/hobbies? I am enthusiastic about geeky stuff - comic books, science fiction, high fantasy, science, history, etc. Anything I can really sink my intellectual teeth into. I am interested in, but frustrated by, gender issues in those areas, as well. I have had a difficult time coming to grips with being female, but not really feminine, especially in intellectual groups. But that stuff could fill, and has filled, whole books.
What do you do in your spare time? Honestly? Daydream about the Avengers, mostly. My spare time is mostly the quiet moment between laying down and actually sleeping.
What do you like about living in the Mansfield area? The schools were a big draw. I liked that it was an expanding area, that it had both rural and urban spaces, and a lot of economic growth on top of that.
Web-Only Exclusive Q&A
Who have been some inspirations in your life? For real life loved ones, my friends Karen, Roiana and Jen, my parents and family, and my farm mentors Mea, Mary and Cindy. On a professional level, I'd name Cecilia Tan, the head editor of Circlet Press, which exclusively publishes erotica with a science fiction or fantasy slant. Their motto is "Erotica for Geeks." My novel and several short stories are published by Circlet Press. She's been doing this for 20 years, mostly without any profit whatsoever. I write for Circlet Press because I believe in what she's doing. I believe intelligent people, eccentric people, just-a-little-bit-different people should be able to find romantic and erotic stories that bring them joy, in which they can identify with the characters, and that are very well written. The romance section of the bookstore is sadly lacking in representation of people like me and my geek peers; Circlet seeks to fill that gap. It's very inspiring to work with someone with that kind of vision and dedication.
Best advice anyone ever gave you: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.
Best advice you ever gave anyone: You can get mad, but you can't act ugly. (To my kids. Applicable in so many areas of life.)
Biggest project for the year: I finished my novel earlier this year - "Capricious" is out on Amazon.com now, under Julie Cox. My biggest projects for the rest of the year are finishing the short stories that I need for upcoming anthologies with Circlet Press. Most of the farm projects are already done!
What do you do to unwind? I enjoy reading science articles and trash novels (if I want realism I'll go outside, I'd rather fly to Mars with cyborg dinosaurs in my fiction.) I knit. I spin yarn. I mess with the animals. I snuggle the children and watch crappy television with them. It's great.
How would you describe your personality? Most people would probably list my intelligence and creativity first among my personality traits, but I tend to think kindness is more important. I have endeavored to impart that to my children, as well. No matter how strong or smart you may be, the way you treat those over whom you have power will say more about who you really are. Ok, so I can be a little pompous too.
What’s been your secret to life? Irreverence. I can't take anything too seriously. Mortal life is absurd, and gross, and tragic and cruel. If I couldn't laugh at it, it'd be too heartbreaking a world to live in. And love the kiddos fiercely.
Anything else you think people might find interesting about you? I have a tattoo. I'd like to get another one, a Captain America shield on my bicep. We'll see if I ever actually do it. Maybe I should take bets.