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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fort Thomas Couple Starts Balanced Brilliance Organic Farm

Terrence and Lizzie Mueller pose with a couple of their chickens. 
Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that he “went to the woods to live deliberately.”That can be said about Terrence and Lizzie Mueller and their Balanced Brilliance organic farm.

There is no mistaking that Terrence Mueller is the son of retired Highlands’ football coach, Dale Mueller. It is uncanny how much they look and sound alike. Terrence’s degree is in mathematics and education and he was set to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Lizzie Mueller is from Cincinnati and is a DAAP fashion design graduate and spent a few years designed clothing for Chico’s, a popular fashion chain for women.  Other than casual family gardens and a love of fishing and the outdoors, neither had much exposure to real farming, but then, something happened that sent their lives in a direction that they never anticipated but are nonetheless grateful for taking.

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Terrence Mueller says, “I worked in the solar energy field for five years. I really liked it. We found it easy to make enough money but we wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit more. So we started this WWOOFing" which stand for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an international organization where people can network to learn first hand about organic farming techniques.  WWOOFer makes an agreement to work in exchange for room and board, mentoring, and learning about organic farming. Mueller says, “You work for about 25 hours a week in exchange for education and room and board. We spent 5 months in Greece as WWOOFers” because, as it turns out, Lizzie is Greek.

A view of the field from the greenhouse.
Their education was wonderful. Terrence says, “We WWOOFed and traveled for a year and a half” learning organic farming techniques from around the country and Europe. Lizzie adds that “After our year and a half, all we knew is that we wanted to try it out. Learn how to be farmers So here we are.” 

Now this particular “here” is five acres in the corner of a 200+ acre tract owned by Rich and Lisa Boehne, the parents of Terrence’s childhood friend, Luke. Terrence says that the Boehnes “were looking for someone to cultivate their unused land.” And it was just a happy coincidence that Boehne’s needs and Mueller’s wants should intersect in a mutually beneficial way. The house and barn rest on a wooded knoll overlooking a rich five acres of bottomland. It looks pastoral and relaxing but it requires a lot of attention and labor.

And it’s a pretty good thing that Dale Mueller has retired because he is on the farm every week. That day that I visited, he was busy on the tractor plowing the field. And it turns out that the rest of the Mueller family has been out to lend a hand as well to the fledgling farmers. Lizzie says, “The Muellers know how to work hard, that’s for sure.”
Retired coach Dale Mueller tills the soil.
The young couple had to carve, dig, and cut out their space. That meant taking chainsaws to open up space in the woods for a mobile home, setting up a system to collect rain water into cisterns, plowing fields, building a greenhouse, constructing a chicken coop, and creating a compost pile.  All of this happened in the first eight months. Oh, and don’t forget that Terrence and Lizzie married two months into the experiment. So there’s a lot happening here. It’s an exciting time of life for the young couple.

Terrence Mueller reflects, “As a WWOOFer, I just had to pick up a shovel and dig where I was told. I didn’t have to make any decisions. Now we have to make the decisions, then do the labor. It's more stressful, but much more rewarding. I definitely have been less organized than I have been.” Lizzie, though, is thriving with the chaos of daily farm life. As bucolic as farm life may appear to be to outsiders, it is a demanding occupation. There is always something to do, fix, or plan.  Lizzie Mueller says, “Terrence is very logical. I am very gray, nonlinear. We balance each other. Farming is math and design. You’re just building systems. Trying to make thing work better.” 

The farm’s name, Balanced Brilliance, originates from a Greek saying that Lizzie’s grandmother often recited. It loosely translates into “'Everything in moderation' but  more literal translation is 'Everything in balanced brilliance'” which Mueller takes to mean that “everything in moderation” results in a brilliantly balanced life. It’s a bit more than that, but that brilliant living concept is really at the heart of everything they do - from Lizzie’s textile and painting, to Terrence’s physical accomplishments on the the farm itself, and to their interactions with customers.
The "girls" come running to greet visitors. 

“We are USDA certified organic,” Terrence says. What does that mean? Paperwork. Record keeping. “We just can’t buy anything. Like wood chips at a big box store has chemicals in it so we can’t use that with our chickens.  We must buy organic food for chickens.” He adds, “Inspectors come once a year to check.” They have sixty Red Star chickens that should be producing before summer is over. They even built a chicken wire tunnel to lead them from their coop to a field to range. Lizzie is nervous about that and says, “It’s like sending your kids off to school for the first day!” But they have taken precautions to keep predators at bay using overhead wires and other precautions to keep their chickens safe. Terrence says, ”They are known to be good brown egg layers.”

Terrence and Lizzie beam with excitement as they give a tour of their farm. I wondered if the experience has tested their relationship.  He says, “We must be 100% organic from top to bottom. We buy or use all organic inputs,  which includes the seed, soil, chicken food and bedding, and even the hay Our plants and animals are never allowed to be in contact with treated wood. Oh, yeah.” 

The couple has learned a few lessons. Lizzie Mueller says, “There’s no one else to blame except yourself. It’s not the tractor. It’s not the snake. It’s not the employee. It’s you.” Terrence Mueller echoes that, “You are responsible for the world you live in. There is no one else to blame out there.” 
Organic vegetables wait to be planted.
Harlan Hubbard, Fort Thomas’ native son who lived the life of Thoreau and lived an organic life long before it was called that, wrote in his 1953 Shantyboat, “I merely wanted to try living by my own hands, independent as far as possible from a system of division of labor in which the participant loses most of the pleasure of making and growing things for himself…. In short I wanted to do as much as I could for myself, because I had already realized from partial experience the inexpressible joy of so doing.” That is the joyful story of Balanced Brilliance Farm.

You will find Balance Brilliance Farm at the Fort Thomas farmers market on Wednesday and the Covington market on Saturday. The Muellers plan to open the farm to tours and workshops. They strive to be a garbage free business and they offer some form of a rebate or discount for returning reusable packaging. And they plan to begin a compost program for customers. You can find Balanced Brilliance on Facebook or contact them at

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