“I’ve finally reached my dream,” Heather Patrick said. After eating a Thanksgiving meal with vegetables from her garden, Patrick and her children, Everly, 5, and ‘Baby Brother,’ 4 months, took a hike in their backyard with their rescued cats and dogs in tow. “This is the life I want to live. This is the life I want for my kids. I get to spend my days with rescued animals. I get to spend my days growing food, and eating that food.”

Heather Patrick is hopeful. She sees a future with promise, sustainability and compassion. She started Wild Earth Farm and Sanctuary seven years ago and became a mother five years ago. Through activism, motherhood and working with plants and animals, Patrick sowed the seeds of positivity into the soil and nurtures the land until the roots run deep. 

“I thought a lot about Wild Earth being this space where we don’t just say what’s wrong with the world, we really show what can be right with the world,” Patrick said. 

Wild Earth Farm and Sanctuary is a non-profit vegan permaculture farm and sanctuary for rescued abused and neglected farm animals located in Irvine, Ky., where the bluegrass meets the mountains. Located in the outskirts of rural Appalachia, Wild Earth is primarily committed to teaching community members how to utilize their backyard to further restore ecological justice for the land and food justice to the community. 

“We wanted to combine a lot of different of my personal interests, but also ways to educate the community, to reach out and bring a lot of forms of activism and advocacy together,” Patrick said, this includes “animal protection, working on the climate crisis… food justice and resiliency, connecting people with where their food comes from and connecting people with rescued animals and sanctuary settings.”

Having grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania herself, Patrick knew she wanted to raise children in a similar setting. Being a mother was always a part of her plan, regardless of whether she was married. Her daughter, Everly, now five years old, was the first to make her a mother, but Patrick knew she still wanted to adopt or foster children. 

“I really like the idea of adopting kids, but once I started the training to become a foster parent, I felt much more impassioned about helping the kids and the families that are part of the foster system,” Patrick said.

Patrick sees Wild Earth as, “a sanctuary for non-human animals, but also for humans, for children.” She hopes that the children she fosters are able to gain something from living on the farm, and bring those skills and values into their lives should they return to their biological families.

Nature has been a healing force for Heather Patrick, and she believes children can largely benefit from living closely with nature, she says.
“I just think sometimes how different my kids would be had they been raised in Chicago or a city compared to here, where they’re just able to play outside without care and have contact with the seasons and nature and wildlife,” Patrick said. “I’m really happy that they’re able to live in a place like this, because I know how special it was to me growing up.” As a single mother, Patrick does everything with her kids, but wouldn’t have it any other way. She is glad that their lifestyle allows her children to develop independence and effortless comfortability with nature.

Patrick teaches Everly with a form of homeschool called unschooling, a child-directed approach to education that focuses on the child’s interests. 

“I really liked that she’s able to spend a lot of her days, as she’s learning, outdoors,” Patrick said, “She has much more freedom to really go in-depth into something that she’s interested in, and I think that’s why she has some of these really interesting skills I didn’t expect, like knowing all about wild foods.”

“My daughter loves doing art and drawings, and she loves exploring the outdoors,” Patrick said. “She has a lot of freedom to do that and learn in those ways, and [I] really support those passions.” Thanksgiving looked different for Patrick’s family in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she was still able to show her family a picture Everly had drawn of things she was thankful for. Celebrating and sharing Everly’s passions and growth is fundamental to Patrick’s values as a mother.
“We do a type of homeschooling, unschooling, and it’s much more child directed, so the child can really explore their passions,” said Patrick. Unschooling promotes Everly, her daughter, to be driven to engage in learning useful life skills, such as helping with the barn shores and taking care of the animals. “She was only a couple years old, and she could identify these different wild edible plants,” Patrick said. “She loves to help in the gardens and feed the animals.”

Homeschooling was important to Patrick not only to give Everly freedom that she didn’t see offered in a typical school setting, but to teach her using materials that aligned with her own values and morals. 

“It was important for me to get really, really sick to learn to just slow down and appreciate health when I have it, to appreciate the slow life and recognize where my limits are,” Patrick said. Juggling being a mother, running the farm and sanctuary, and working for another non-profit means Patrick’s hands are always full, but she has learned to give herself grace and practice restfulness while fulfilling these responsibilities. “I remember years ago, I said, ‘I’ll never sleep more than five hours a night because I have so much I need to do, and I really want to be productive,’ and now I’m like, ‘Well, if I need to rest more, I need to do that,’” said Patrick.
“I really like the idea of adopting kids,” Patrick said, “But then, once I started the training to become a foster parent, I felt much more impassioned about, you know, helping the kids and the families that are part of the foster system,” As a foster parent, she feels grateful for the opportunity to share the healing environment of Wild Earth with children she may foster, “This could be a sanctuary for non-human animals, but also for humans, for children.”

Growing up, Patrick was always an activist for animal rights and climate justice. A book that she read as a teenager revealed to her the treatment of animals in modern agriculture and the environmental impact of the industry. This new information prompted Patrick to go vegan and brought her to the belief that humans “need to fundamentally change the way we live our lives, our consumption, our use of fossil fuels,” Patrick said.

“When I was healthy, it was a lot easier, but now I have some chronic illnesses that make it a lot more difficult to just keep going and going and going every day, all day like I used to,” said Patrick. Wild Earth is sustained with the help of volunteers and interns, though the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the help Patrick usually receives on the farm. Though she sometimes struggles to keep up with the work herself, Patrick knows that her body needs rest to keep up with it at all. “I didn’t use to have to plan like, I could just do whatever I wanted that day,” Patrick said. “But now I have to plan like if I spend a whole day working in the garden, I need to take a day of rest afterwards.” Hard work may be exhausting, but it is also fulfilling.
“I really liked that [Everly] is able to spend a lot of her days, as she’s learning, outdoors,” said Patrick. Homeschooling Everly, Patrick’s five-year-old daughter, is of utmost importance to her. “I like that she can have access to certain educational materials that aren’t necessarily promoting a history of colonization or that don’t have respect for other species,” said Patrick, “Doing any sort of homeschooling, you can choose [educational materials] that support your values and morals.” Following their Thanksgiving meal, Patrick took her children on a hike with a tray of food from their feast and their garden as an offering to the spirits that protect the land they occupy. Giving thanks, respecting and celebrating the history of land they live on is central to Patrick’s teaching practices for her daughter.
Heather Patrick speaks about what keeps her motivated.

When she was in college, Patrick’s brother took his own life. “It gave me a lot of perspective on… following your passions and your dreams, because you never know, life could end,” Patrick said. 

“I really wanted to be in a place where I could die tomorrow,” Patrick said. “There are things that I want to do in this life, and I make them happen. The sanctuary was one of those things, having kids… the farm…  the traveling that I’ve done.… I can have that peace of mind of knowing that I was doing those things.”

“When I was healthy, it was a lot easier, but now I have some chronic illnesses that make it a lot more difficult to just keep going and going and going every day, all day, like I used to,” Patrick said. 

Patrick has Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia, causing her chronic pain and food sensitivities that she has learned to cope with. She also spent two years bedridden, suffering from Lyme disease— alone with her thoughts, Patrick considered what was most important to her; “If this is our one life to live, or even if it’s not, you still want to follow your passions, live your dreams and wake up and know you’re doing something that you find valuable to the world,” Patrick said.

“This is the life I want to live,” Patrick said. “This is the life I want for my kids. I get to spend my days with rescued animals. I get to spend my days growing food and eating that food… I’ve gained this fulfillment of knowing that I’ve finally reached my dream.”

“I’ve always felt that crush of time that things could be over tomorrow,” Patrick said, who has spent her life adhering to the philosophy that she should spend every day like it’s her last. “I feel like I’ve really done what I wanted to do, I did what was important and I made a change, I helped make the world a little bit better… I can have that peace of mind of knowing that I was doing those things.”
Heather Patrick is of the belief that following your dreams is the recipe to self fulfillment.
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