A Personal Glimpse of The Woman Behind “The Dragonfly Farm” :
“Growing Through the Dirt” ~ by Julia Redemske ~ April 2016
Laurie Jean Sennott said “Every flower must grow through dirt,” and my mother is no exception. Growing up as a first generation German outside of Chicago in the 1950s was challenging to say the least. Bullied at school, assaulted in her community, and helping her parents learn English at home as an only child, she found sanctuary in her father’s lush gardens. Among the dirt and vegetables, the flowers and the bunny rabbits, she nurtured her own soul and created a light within herself that has endured to this very day.
When I was a little girl, I came upon a group of boys throwing rocks at a string of distressed baby ducks by the lake I passed on my way home from school. They managed to hit one by the time I arrived, at which point I promptly scolded and chased the boys away before scooping up the injured baby duck and carrying him home to my mother. Where other mothers would have squawked and said “don’t bring that in the house!” my mother instead crouched down to my eye level, gently took the baby duck from my hands and said, “You did the right thing in bringing him to me.” Together we nurtured the baby duck back to health and were soon able to return him to his family by the lake. I still remember how joyfully the other baby ducks rushed up around their sibling in an enthusiastic welcoming celebration and how the mother duck walked a few paces toward us and stared at us for a moment as though to say “thank you.”
And it is that unwavering example of warmth and compassion my mother set for me my whole life. To have a nurturing heart and be kind and respectful to this planet and all its inhabitants, without expecting anything in return except the joy of doing the right thing. We brought food to those who could not provide dinner for their families over the holidays. When a man she barely knew had watched his life crumble to pieces before him and he was left with nothing but the knowledge of his trade as a handyman, my mother collected the tools he needed from her own garage and left them for him anonymously so that he could rebuild his life. Regardless of her own struggles, no matter how little she had, or what losses and hurts she suffered, and how many times we had to start over ourselves – she was always there to give two hundred percent of herself to her family and the world to which she had extended her familial love.
For the majority of my childhood, it was just my mother, older brother, and I. We stuck together like the three musketeers. Even when she was tired to the bone from working two jobs to provide better opportunities for us, she still found the patience and energy to help us with our homework, cook dinner from scratch using herbs and vegetables from her garden, listen to us with an open understanding, volunteer and cheer us on at our sports games, sew my Brownie badges on my vest, and tuck us into bed each night with story time and lullabies. She always kept her promises and encouraged us to follow our passions. She always accepted us for who we were and taught us to be strong and independent. And this strength was certainly tested. When I was fourteen, my brother became sick. Very sick. For many months my mother did everything she could to support and help her son as he battled Leukemia, a battle that I can describe as nothing less than horrific. And a battle that ended abruptly upon my fifteenth birthday as he died in my mother’s arms. These were the darkest days for our family and my mother’s suffering was a tangible thing. But in the midst of losing her eighteen year old son, she continued to breathe, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to be strong for me. She continued to be there for me and focus on my health and education. She continued to nurture my inner light, even though I knew that hers was barely flickering. My mother taught me to be strong and together, we persevered.
My mother channeled her grief into giving. And as I grew bigger, so did her gardens. Her journey through the many years since my brother’s death has led her to rehabilitate an old farm in the mountains of Virginia and transform it into lush gardens and an animal sanctuary called The Dragonfly Farm. She became a Master Gardener, certified by Virginia Tech and the Franklin County Extension Service. She co-founded and served on the executive board of the Moonshine Beekeepers Association, a Beekeeping Club in Franklin County, Virginia. During that time she spent years organizing fundraiser and educational events, teaching people in her community about the importance of bees and beekeeping, as well as publishing content on the organization’s website (www.moonshinebeekeepers.org). As a contributing author, she wrote a chapter about growing Common Paw Paws for the Virginia Gardening book, “101 Tried and True.” She voluntarily manages two Facebook Pages for the Moonshine Beekeepers Association and the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Music Festival in her local community. Additionally, she manages her own three Facebook Pages for The Dragonfly Farm, The Dragonfly Farm Animal Sanctuary, and last but not least, Healthy Herbal Homesteading Hippy, which she uses to teach and share information with others about gardening, beekeeping, homesteading, sustainability, survival, healthy eating, cancer, herbs, essential oils, environmental issues, peace, and positive attitudes.
The animal sanctuary she created and runs is a truly magical place where many abused and neglected animals including horses, llamas, dogs, cats, an attention-seeking cow, and a particularly cuddly donkey have all found refuge and a place to heal among the gardens, chickens, ducks, and my mother’s caring hands and heart.
Five years ago, she created her own business making homemade soap, which quickly expanded into a full line of natural bath and body products that can be found at www.the-dragonfly-farm.com as well as local shops in her community. She single-handedly runs, promotes, and creates products for this business, working long hours every day and traveling to countless farmer’s markets, craft fairs, and Earth Day festivals to sell and promote her creations as well as educate people about the importance of natural products, animal and bee welfare, and the importance of supporting our environment through sustainable agriculture. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the proceeds go directly to benefit her rescue animals at The Dragonfly Farm Animal Sanctuary as well as support her beekeeping and gardening efforts.
Although she has more than thirty years of organic gardening experience, she continues to educate herself. She has taken many classes to learn more about herbs, essential oils, beekeeping, organic composting, and different gardening techniques. This led her to develop a line of herbal products and healing salves that are also used successfully on her farm’s rescue animals and dogs. She maintains several beehives, but leaves most of the honey for her bees and what she does harvest is used in her products, along with the beeswax, bee propolis, local milk, and local wild-crafted herbs.
In recent years, she has also worked for a non-profit classical music festival organization as the Executive Director as well as a Project/Advertising/Fundraising Coordinator for Spikenard Honeybee Farm & Sanctuary in Floyd, Virginia. At Spikenard Farm, she learned methods of Biodynamic gardening and natural beekeeping that she has incorporated into her own homestead and agricultural practices. Her efforts have directly benefited not only her own farm, but the field of agriculture itself. The education and advocacy for sustainable agriculture and healthy bee populations she promotes each and every day is felt in her community and beyond through all the lives she touches and all the minds and hearts she inspires.
With the bounty of her sixteen hundred square foot organic garden, she donates her extra produce to those in need through her local church. She also continues to donate some of her hand-made body products to other non-profit organizations. Although she has a business to run and a farm and a family to care for, during the past five years her helping hands have continued to benefit and build her community. She has donated her time serving monthly spaghetti dinners through her church as well as preparing healthy snacks for children during summer camp. She made and sold Mason Bee houses with instructions and hand-painted bluebird houses for a fund-raiser to help educate people on how to increase the local bluebird and Mason Bee populations. As a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, she contributed by planting full landscaping and writing an instruction manual for the new owner of the Habitat for Humanity house regarding the care and maintenance for their new gardens. She volunteered during the week-long 2015 FloydFest in her local community, contributing to the event’s success by helping people from all over the United States with their camping gear and navigating the festival grounds. And she still finds time to bring homemade dinners and desserts to her 74 year old neighbor and fellow farmer.
It is all these great and small acts built over the years and through harsh adversity that make my mother the miracle she is and truly a mother to the world. Whether she’s overcoming her own grief over the loss of her son in order to raise me as a child or years later in order to raise her baby step-grandson full time with a loving and open heart while helping her step-daughter to get back on her feet, my mother is the strongest woman I know. She has grown through the dirt to become the most beautiful flower.