Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo
“I grew up in Indiana when I graduated from college and moved to Texas to be a teacher. I married my husband and we moved to Washington State with because he was in the Navy. For five years we lived in Washington State until the Navy moved us to Virginia. We bought a little farmhouse in North Carolina that was built in 1854. After a few years, he was stationed in Kenya when he made Chief, and he was there for three years with special forces. I stayed back in North Carolina with our two kids.
When he finished his tour in Africa, he got orders to Italy and our family moved to Naples. I loved Italy. I really loved the people; they were just really warm and caring. It was while we were in Italy that we started our adoption process for our three children from Uganda. Six months before leaving Italy we went to Uganda to get them. Living overseas and adopting overseas was very difficult. We couldn’t go back to Italy with the kids after we left Africa. Instead, we had to come back to the United States, finalize the adoption here, and then apply for their passports and visas. So, after we adopted them, the kids and I were actually in the United States for three and a half months before we should go back to Italy. By the time that we got back to Italy, we were only there for a few months before we got orders to move to Spain.
Growing up, I was big into horses. My dad raised quarter racehorses and I did barrel racing in college. For a while, my dad lived in Idaho and I would go out to visit him and spend time and we were at rodeos all the time. I really wanted a fast horse so I could Rodeo. My dad bought me a fast horse and I started rodeoing, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a rush for sure! When I moved to Texas after I graduated from college, I rode a cutting horse for a man that made all sorts of money on this horse and wanted an amateur to ride her. That was even a bigger rush than barrel racing. I think I loved it so much because there was that added animal in the ring that made it more challenging.
When we moved to Spain, my husband paid for me to study with a retired instructor from a well-known school of dressage. I studied with him once a week for the three years we were in Spain and I absolutely loved it. It was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done on a horse. Getting on a horse and running it is pretty easy compared to using your whole body to get them to move like they do in dressage which can be very challenging. You have to be very fit, patient, and focused. There were days I left the arena in tears, but I would be rewarded later when I got it and I could perform the skill.
When we started looking for a house here, a big criterion for us was to have some land so we could have animals. I just fell in love with this place, and I fell in love with Calvert County. We have 8 acres, and all five of the kids love this life. In addition to our horses, we got Alpine goats so the kids could milk them and we could make cheese. Some of the kids are now showing them in 4-H too. They were pretty successful in their shows last year and this spring we will have lots of baby goats.
Last year we decided to get the KuneKunes pigs. These pigs are so cool: they are cute, easy on the land, minimal maintenance and they take less feed since they are a lard breed. They are also extremely tasty breed when they are harvested. Gestational times for them is fairly short, and although they take longer to grow-out than commercial breeds, we practice rotational grazing. We brought our first four home at the end of February last year, and we were all absolutely in love. At that point I realized I didn’t want to wait another year before litters, so we bought four more breeding girls and two boars, and we have had several litters now. My next project is rendering the lard down to make soap. I am pretty excited about that project. So, we will have meat and soap at the farmer’s markets and some pigs and piglets for sale at some of the swaps.
When my husband was in Kenya, they would have drivers from the country and they would refer to him as “the big man with the big hands”, and they also would tell him the “hand of the Lord is on you.” So, they would call him Mkono, which is Swahili for “hand” and taken from the phrase ‘Mkono wa Bwana’ or ‘the Hand of God’. When we left there, his boat driver carved the word MKONO into a piece of driftwood. When we were trying to come up with a name for the farm, we went back and forth with a lot of ideas-Crooked Branch, Whispering Hope, and this went on for weeks. With one of us suggesting a name, and another person ruling it out. And one day, I came across that piece of driftwood. I said, ‘What about MKONO for our farm name?” And that was it. We had the name for our farm!”