OXFORD • Once upon a time, Jake Keiser owned a public relations firm in Tampa Bay, Florida, and spent idle moments fantasizing about a simple country life while adding chicks to her virtual cart on MyPetChicken.com.
Ten years ago, she turned the virtual into reality. She sold her business in Florida and bought a farm in Oxford, where she lives to this day. She even wrote a book about it.
The 48-year-old turned a house and plot of land into Daffodil Hill Farm, a quaint country estate that abounds with furred and feathered creatures.
Keiser’s memoir, “Daffodil Hill: Uprooting My Life, Buying a Farm, and Learning to Bloom,” will be released on June 7, published by The Dial Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
It’s a story of trial and error, success and failure, and by sharing it, Keiser hopes to inspire others to follow where their hearts lead.
A decision to become self-reliant
Keiser grew up a military brat, moving from place to place. She lived in Oxford as a child, along with stints in Kentucky, Georgia, Guam and the Philippines.
She’d also attended the University of Mississippi, where her father, Ed Keiser, was a biology professor, and her step-mother, Sue Keiser, served as assistant to the chancellor.
Although strong ties led her back to Oxford, they were not enough to negate the shock of moving from a bustling city to a quiet life of solitude on a farm.
The owner of Keiser & Company, a Tampa-based PR firm, Keiser lived a busy and sociable life. But she was unhappy. Trauma from her childhood, several miscarriages and a failed marriage haunted her.
Eventually, she came to two realizations: Despite her success, she felt unfulfilled. And she had no self-reliance skills.
“It was somewhat of a burnout,” Keiser said. “I started fantasizing about farm life and the peace of it.”
She’d already ventured into organic DIY projects in the city, making her own lip balm and almond milk, but she wanted to take it further. She wanted a garden, animals to care for and total independence.
During a two-week visit with her family, Keiser told her step-mother that she’d like to retire to a farm someday.
“Well, you don’t tell her what you want to do, because she’s going to make it happen lightning-fast,” Keiser said.
Not long after she returned to Tampa, Keiser received a call; there was a house and 5 acres of land for sale in rural Lafayette County.
From Gucci to goats, a blog to a book deal
Nearly a decade later, Keiser is still living in the house, she thought would be a starter home, situated on a plot of land teeming with life.
The first farm animal she acquired — ahem, inherited — was a feral kitten that had been living under the house. She named her Gia. Keiser was gifted geese, ordered chicks online and bought her first chickens from First Monday Trade Days in Ripley.
She now has several chickens, geese, goats, two dogs, two cats and a turkey. She generally tries to keep the number of animals she cares for around 40 to 50, but that number has reached up to 100.
Back in Tampa, when Keiser had ventured into a more organic lifestyle, she started a blog called “Gucci to Goats” where she shared thoughts and tips with others through the process. After moving to Mississippi, she gave up the blog and had virtually no online presence. Only a handful of people knew she was leaving Florida, but she continued to run her PR firm for a time from her new home.
“I had a lot of healing to do,” Keiser said. “A dark night of the soul is what I was going through.”
She’d lost her sense of self-worth, which was ironic because she’d moved to Oxford to save herself.
After a couple of years of working through inner turmoil, Keiser had a dream in which her grandfather told her to restart the blog.
So, that’s exactly what she did. She woke up, threw her hair in a ponytail, and started typing.
Keiser wrote a blog post every day for 30 days, musing about food, animal health and her daily life.
On the thirtieth day, after hitting “submit” on that day’s blog, she was contacted by Cosmopolitan magazine. They featured her story alongside other women who gave up successful careers to start farms.
“That kick-started everything,” Keiser said.
Shortly thereafter, agents began contacting her. Before she knew it, she had a book deal.
Keiser never planned on being an author. Despite her blog, she didn’t think she had anything to write a book about.
She did. And after signing a book deal in mid-2018, she wrote the manuscript that became “Daffodil Hill” in six weeks.
Sharing ‘Daffodil Hill’ with the world
Keiser’s memoir covers her first four years on the farm as she discovered both the wonders and horrors of Mother Nature.
At times humorous, others serious, she takes readers through ups and downs — from the joy of collecting the first egg laid by one of her chickens to dealing with the despair of giving up a life and career.
The book’s cheerful cover features chicks, eggs and flowers alongside a designer handbag. The art was inspired by the time one of Keiser’s chickens perched on one of her Prada bags.
In Oxford, she traded designer clothes for overalls, and her feathered friends have turned out to be her best accessories.
“They’re all different colors and shapes,” Keiser said. “But unlike my handbags, they love me back.”
With the book, she hopes to encourage those looking to make major life transitions to take a leap of faith. In writing about being unable to have children, she hopes to help other women who feel they’ve lost their role in society to see that they do have value.
By sharing her own experiences — both good and bad — Keiser hopes to show others their lives have purpose. Maybe just not where they expect it.
“I pushed myself to be as authentic and brutally vulnerable as I could, because otherwise I can’t help anybody,” Keiser said. “If I don’t show who I am, if I don’t talk about things that I’ve had shame over, it will help no one.”