There’s a new cowboy on the block… errr… I mean frontier. His name is Todd Sanders, and he’s a walking juxtaposition. At first glance, you likely wouldn’t realize this guy’s a cowboy. But, didn’t your mama ever teach you not to judge a book by it’s cover? Because behind the unruly locks of hair, the dark rimmed glasses, and the tattoos, Todd is a cowboy at heart.
Todd has had a colorful history. His history does not mimic that of the typical cowboy’s. This is not a lifestyle he ever knew. Becoming a cowboy, a good ol’ boy, was a choice.
You see, Todd was born and raised in Southern California… Los Angeles County to be exact. He’s a city boy. At 12 years old, his family moved to a “small” town in Riverside County, California. At 16, he began working in the kitchen of the Temecula Creek Inn, a golf resort and hotel. Three years later, he attended the cooking school in Peteluma, CA, through the United States Coast Guard. And, suddenly, he found himself responsible for feeding 80 hungry crew members three meals a day!
To further checker his background, Todd was able to travel the world with the Coast Guard where he was exposed to many diverse ethnic cultures & cuisines. Upon completion of his tour of duty, Todd began working as a culinary member under the strict guidance of the #1 voted chef in Washington State. During his stay in Washington, he graduated from The Art Institute of Seattle’s Culinary Program. Shortly thereafter, Todd traveled to Singapore to do an international culinary externship.
Enter Sarimah… his half Indonesian and half Indian future wife. He returned from Singapore with extensive new culinary knowledge as well as a lovely bride. Todd decided to make Los Angeles his new home. After several years of cooking at a couple of highly acclaimed new restaurants as well as being a private chef, Todd and Sarimah decided they were done with the rat race. They were done with the traffic. With two little ones, they sought a better, slower, quieter life for their children.
They began to think about where they might like to live. As they tossed around a few ideas like Idaho, Montana, and Texas, Todd diligently prayed about the future of his family. “Abilene kept coming to mind,” he recounts, “even though I’d never been there.” He came out to Texas on a one week hunting excursion sans family. Driving through good ol’ Comanche, Texas, he decided this is it! And, next thing you know, here they are!
In November, 2012, they bought a place with some acreage and a few out buildings, and they dove in. While this was a foreign lifestyle to Todd and Sarimah, they decided they wanted to farm and raise animals. And, the journey began.
Being a city girl myself, my curiosity is piqued… I mean, how do you learn to farm if you’ve never done it before? So, I ask the obvious question, “how did you learn what to do?” The short answer? “YouTube” Todd says with a smile. With chickens, ducks, guineas, donkeys, a mini horse, a Tennessee Walker, goats, sheep, parakeets, and lizards, their quiver is full, but not quite full enough for them.
I went out to their farm to see them yesterday. When I got there with camera in tow, Todd greeted me at the door with his infectious smile, a tad bit unruly hair, bare feet, a tee shirt, and some camouflage britches. (It is dove season, afterall. He’s reminded me of this when he tells me his availability is limited once hunting season starts. I’m lucky to have secured a little of his time on this particular day.) And, close by his side is his beautiful, ethnic wife Sarimah in her familiar attire… athletic clothes. She is devoted to being healthy. There before me does NOT stand the typical cowboy and his wife. They are a lovely couple, and getting to know them only magnifies their loveliness.
They show me around the house a little bit. I ask to see their kitchen. (He’s a chef, afterall… girl is curious.) And, then we start to head outside. Glancing at my camera, Todd says, “I guess I better grab a hat.” He throws on a black felt cowboy hat, and slips his feet into his work boots. Out the door, we go!
We are instantly greeted by several chickens and a couple roosters. He immediately shoos a rooster as he tells me, “that one there is mean.” I secretly thank him for running off the mean rooster. Untrained animals, of any size, frighten me. A mean ol’ rooster flying towards my face? No thank you.
Against the backdrop of the warm Texas breeze, the sound of rooster’s cock-a-doodle-dooing, and grasshoppers fleeing my every step, Todd & Sarimah lead me to one of the first outbuildings. It’s his “man cave” as Sarimah says. When the door opens, to my surprise, I see countless painted canvases… countless works of art. Turns out, Todd is a pop art painter. Wow! I immediately envision my big empty living room wall, and want to commission him to fill it. “Focus, Amy. Focus. This is not about decorating YOUR home,” I tell myself. As I look through some of his work, I am reminded of some of the other cowboys I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know lately. Cowboys tend to be… creative. They tend to be artists. I am beginning to be taught. I am beginning to have my mind broadened, and I love that.
After snapping a photo of Todd with one of the most vibrant, eye catching pieces (in my estimation), we moved on. We walked on to see some of his livestock. As we walked, we talked. Again, my curiosity has gotten the best of me. Why, WHY did they choose this life? Why do they so value farming and ranching? I mean, I get it… you wanted a slower pace for your children. But, you could have just moved to a small town on a regular street with no acreage. So, of course, I ask.
“We wanted to be self-sufficient. We want to know what’s in the food we eat. We want to know there’s no GMOs, and we want the food to be fresh.”
Ahhh… totally makes sense. He’s a chef. She’s health-conscious. This is perfect for them. Yes! Currently, they’re building up their herds. Herds? Is that what you would call it? Right now, they’re only using their chickens for eggs, though they intend to use their chickens for… well… meat once they have more chickens. The same is to be said for their goats. Once their goats… umm… multiply, they’ll use their goats for meat and goat milk. As it is now, they have too few. When Sarimah expresses her impatience with waiting on goat meat, Todd responds with, “Sarimah, they have names. Do you want to eat the pets?” He then looks at me and says, “See, once we have lots of goats, one can just go missing some day. No big deal.” Ha! I secretly like that.
He then recounts his first time on a tractor. “We got a tractor. I’ve never driven a tractor in my life,” he says laughing. “I sat there and thought, okay… now what?” Well, they must have turned to YouTube for help. Or a neighbor. Because, they’ve got their fields cleared and ready to accommodate their livestock.
They definitely see the humor in their learning experiences. Almost immediately after telling me about his first experience on the tractor, he begins to laugh and he says, “Sarimah banded her first goat on Valentine’s Day.” I join him in laughter. Juxtaposition. It follows them.
I look at Sarimah and ask, “How’d you learn to do that?” With a complete seriousness, she looks at me and very matter of factly says, “YouTube.” She tells me how her children, Leif and Skylar, held the goat while she did the… dirty work. I love that about Sarimah. She is a get in there, get your hands dirty kind of girl. She waits for no one. She will learn what she needs to know, and she will conquer the challenge.
After a few giggles and photographs later, it’s time for me to head back to the office. I could have lingered there all day. I could have sat in the stillness of their farm and contemplated life for hours. Their passion for what they’re doing inspires me. But, alas, back to the office.
As they walk me through the house to the front door, I notice a chore chart on the fridge adorned with several shiny star stickers. It catches my eye. It’s just so… ideal, so quaint. They are the picture perfect family, and I want to know more. Amongst the expected chores like clean room and make bed, I noticed things like collect eggs, feed animals, clean water buckets, etc. This is a family affair.
“We want our kids to know that money doesn’t grow on trees. We have to work for our money, to pay our bills, and we want our kids to work for their money, as well,” I’m told. And, it doesn’t seem that the children object at all. Todd and Sarimah wholeheartedly agree that the smiles on their children’s faces is the biggest reward of it all.
My visit to their little farm has been a blessing. I am grateful for the new cowboy on the block and his sweet family. They enrich this small Texas town with their childlike wonder and endless work ethic. Welcome to Texas, Sanders family!
**Todd will have a showing at the Brownwood Art Center on Thursday, October 3rd, if you would like to see more of his art work.**