Florida public relations executive Jake Keiser never “in a million years” thought she’d leave behind her work-driven life in Tampa Bay to start a sustainable farm in rural Oxford, Mississippi.
But after suffering six miscarriages, the self-described “workaholic” found herself deeply depressed — and in need of a change, and a breath of fresh farm air.
“After the loss of my last baby, I coped by overworking,” Keiser, 43, tells PEOPLE. “It was a clue I wasn’t happy and something was broken.
“I was severely depressed and I needed to start living again, to give myself permission to feel pain.”
So, Keiser packed up her bags in 2012 and bought five acres of land near Oxford with plans to start a sustainable farm — something she’d dreamed of doing for years.
Today, she cares for 50 animals, mostly chickens, and has a nonprofit organization called Daffodil Hill Farm, to educate children on sustainable farming.
“I’ve learned to love myself again, which I don’t think I’d done since I was a child,” she says. “With these animals and the simplicity of life and responsibility to care for living things on this farm — my entire life perspective has changed.”
‘Broken isn’t bad’
At the age of 30, Keiser and her husband filed for divorce — a major reason for the separation, she says, was her first “shockingly horrible” miscarriage.
“It went downhill from there.” explains Keiser. “I felt so horribly guilty about it.”
So, Keiser threw herself into her public relations/marketing business, Keiser and Company, to bury the pain.
After her divorce, Keiser started dating again and had two serious boyfriends during her thirties, eager to start a family of her own. But the miscarriages continued for years. Doctors told her the reason she was miscarrying was related to an abnormality in her immune system.
“The last [miscarriage], I was 38 and I just thought there’s no way this can happen again,” she says. “There’s no way someone can have this much loss. It kind of killed a part of me, a part of me died as well.
“And I lived in that moment, I never forget it. A part of me will always live in that moment.”
The recurring tragedy sparked something in Keiser — who describes it like “waking up” for the first time in a long time.
“After losing the last baby, and having another failed relationship and pouring myself into work, I realized I was living the life of someone that I didn’t want to be,” she explains. “I was severely depressed and broken down. I had been collecting distractions as a way to cope and ignore the issues that were deep down inside. Every one of these was clues to finally finding satisfaction and happiness.”
So, the businesswoman decided to pursue a new venture. And it was quite different from any public relations/marketing position she’d held in the past.
Keiser decided to become a sustainable farmer.
A big change
Around the time that Keiser had her last miscarriage in 2012, she felt herself being drawn to all things lively, vibrant and colorful — farmer’s markets, animals and nature. And soon she became obsessed with the idea of starting and owning her own farm.
“So much life was taken away, but thinking about a piece of land teeming with animal life and trees and grass was so intoxicating,” she says. “I was at peace thinking about a new future.”
Later that year, Keiser began looking at land in Mississippi. And when she came across a five-acre plot with pecan trees, wild blackberries, grapes, persimmons and mulberry trees in Oxford, she fell in love. She bought the land (without telling any immediate friends or family), named it Daffodil Hill Farms and began planning for a life closer to nature.
“This was totally unlike me, but it was something I had to do,” she says. “I didn’t want judgement or people to think I was running away from my problems. I just needed to deal with [the miscarriages] in a private way.”
Keiser ordered five chickens to be delivered to Daffodil Hill Farms, and named them Mae Mae, Fiona, Babette, Coco Chanel and Carmen. New to farm life, she scoured YouTube for tutorials on how to raise chickens and spent hours studying proper feeding and care techniques.
“I basically taught myself how to run a farm through online research!” she says. “It was one intimidating moment after another, but I got the hang of it and bought quail, geese, rabbits, ducks and goats.”
Teaching sustainable farming
Keiser now owns around 50 animals total, including goats, geese, dogs, cats, turkeys and chickens. One of her newest additions, a baby goat named Ellie May, is great with kids — especially those with special needs.
“We are training her to become a therapy goat,” she says. “I also have local kids come and learn about hatching eggs, the life cycle on a farm and sustainable farming.”
Keiser has turned her passion for education into a nonprofit educational corporation called Daffodil Hill Farm, which acts as a laboratory for sustainable farming used for instruction and experimenting with different models. The organization was granted official nonprofit status in January.
“It’s a great way to connect with the community and teach kids about farm life,” says Keiser, who still oversees Keiser and Company for the time being, but hopes to run her nonprofit as a full time job. “It’s so rewarding.
“I finally feel at peace, I’m at home with my farm animals, they’ve become my babies and given me an outlet for love and affection.”