Bea Rigsby Kunz on Growing Up On The Farm, Overcoming Challenges, Lipstick and High Heels, and Making Healthy Choices
Note from Linda: As soon as Bea began speaking I was mesmerized by the sound of her Southern-influenced voice. So I said, “Bea, I love your voice!” She proceeded to explain that people in Alabama, where she is from, just sound different. She said, “We have a totally separate way of talking. People say I don’t really sound country — maybe Southern?” Indeed. So, as you’re reading this interview, I want you to imagine a melodic, sultry, southern voice speaking to you…
I like to start at the beginning. Where are you from and what was your family like?
I was born in 1941 in the northwest corner of Alabama on a cotton farm. My father, we called him Papa, was twenty years older than my mother. They had five children, and I was the second oldest. When my father was 69 in 1959, he became ill and passed away when I was just shy of eighteen years old — my mother was still in her forties. This was the beginning of when my life went in a different direction than most kids my age. I was supposed to go to college, but I couldn’t because I had to go to work. But, that’s the way it was — everyone was pulling together, and the family stayed together. In the 1950s, women weren’t qualified or prepared to go out into the world and work so my mother was left with a big farm, five children and no income so to speak. So that was the beginning of my life as a young adult.
I did go to college later. At 23 I married and we moved to the gulf coast of Biloxi, Mississippi. We had lived there in the winters during the years of my childhood, and my father would work a sawmill business he had there. We did that every year up until I was thirteen or fourteen. About three years after my husband and I moved to Beloxi, I brought my mother and younger siblings to come live with me. That was another chapter of my life. And ten years later, my mother got sick and passed away in the 1970s. I instantly became the mother of all my siblings! I have basically spent my whole life being a parent than a child. I got my younger siblings grown, married, and everybody made good lives and they’re still living and happy.
I have a really large family. My father had twelve siblings. My mother had thirteen. You can imagine, I have lots of cousins! We have family reunions every two years with 300-400 cousins. And the family is growing every day! [Bea laughs] I have two sons. The oldest is 54, USN-retired. The youngest is 52, Attorney at Law and Law Professor at Birmingham School of Law in Alabama.
Ten years after my mother passed away, my youngest son, who was twenty, was run over by drunk drivers, and he was badly hurt. He was hospitalized for four months, and lost one of his legs. I was divorced at the time (I stayed single for twenty years), and it threw me into a place where time, finances, and everything was upside down. I spent the next thirteen years of my life getting him rehabilitated and educated. But he got better, and we got through law school, and he’s now one of the most respected attorneys and law professors in Alabama. He teaches at Birmingham School of Law. So that ended well.
I’m sharing this because I want people to know that while it may seem like I have a perfect, sort of fairytale life now, I didn’t start out that way. I’ve had major hurdles to get to this place. So when you do get to the place where you can relax and do your own thing, it really and truly means so much more.
And now you can find me here on the farm doing what I do.
And, Bea, what is it you do on the farm?
The farm is an herb farm. In 2000, seventeen years ago after 2+ decades in private education and a very busy antique business, I retired and came back to my roots of farming. I now had grandchildren and I didn’t like the food choices they had, so I started studying the food system, and I didn’t like what I found.
I put ten years into study and research so I would be qualified to teach people the dangers in the food supply, even though we all have to eat from the mainstream food supply. I grow pretty much all the food that my family eats. My gardens are raised beds and chemical free.
And the financial side of my business is the herbs — I grow and process them into herbal seasonings and teas. I also teach classes locally on how to have a healthier life and body through healthier food choices.
Everybody can’t grow their own food or eat organically. The majority of people don’t have a choice — they have to eat what their local options are, but that food is not always healthy. So, I teach people how to maneuver the mainstream food supply. There are ways to make healthy choices. You have to give up some things, make changes, and make better choices. I try to make it a personal choice — just meet me halfway and things will get better. People are devastated when they find out the truth about their food supply — how dead the food is. They don’t know what to do. I felt the same way when I got started — when you get over the shock you realize you do what you can do. It’s been a great education for me. I learn more every day by teaching.
What is the quirkiest, most interesting thing about you?
One of my quirks is that I have this built-in sense of awareness. I just know things. I can see past the obvious. A lot of times that opens you up to seeing a side of people that they keep hidden or don’t feel comfortable showing you. I can just read people when I’m supposed to.
This ability showed up when I was around twelve years old. I had extremely difficult migraines as a child for four years. Every time I had a migraine I had a dream that tended to follow real life. That’s where my sense of awareness came from. I came through those feeling like I was older and knew so much more than my age. I look at it like life was preparing me for what I had coming in the future. I don’t look at the horrible things that happened to me and feel sorry for myself. I didn’t feel that much pressure from it because I didn’t feel like I was doing something I didn’t know how to do. I just did what I had to do.
Now, my funniest quirk is something very different — MY HAIR!! [Bea laughs] My sister has this saying every time she sees me, “Hey, have you seen the back of your hair lately?” I literally go for days and do nothing with my hair. I shampoo twice a week. It does whatever it chooses to do!
When did you hair turn white?
I started graying when I was in my thirties. I had a gray streak in the front — all my mother’s sisters had the gray streak. I’ve never colored my hair. I lived with that one white streak until I was around fifty, when it really started to gray. I think when my son got hurt the stress really played a part in turning my hair white almost overnight. When your hair turns white, your hair follicles are dead. I was probably malnourished in those years. All those years not focusing on myself, working in the school and two different jobs in order to pay medical bills and keep up, needless to say I didn’t focus on myself.
When I got to the point I could relax and focus on myself I discovered I was not healthy. That’s what started my journey into the food thing — and I had grandchildren — and it was time to get healthy. So, I found an alternative doctor in a wellness clinic (that’s where I go now) and I was healthy in less than a year. I got rid of all the negatives. I got really healthy. I’m still learning what is safe to eat and not safe. When your body is out of balance, you are sick all the time and you just don’t feel good or look good. When you get those things balanced, then, you’re on the road to better health.
After a year under the holistic treatments and getting healthy, my hair underneath got darker. Previously my hair was completely snow white. My hair now is kind of a blend of white and the darker color underneath. It’s because my hair follicles are alive and healthy now. I never know, day to day, what color my hair is going to be! [Bea laughs]
How would you describe your personal style?
I remember well when I wore overalls and pigtails until I was thirteen. I didn’t want to be a girl. I didn’t want anything to do with dresses. My mother sat me down one day and said it’s time you started looking like a girl. She cut my hair and made me put on a dress. It took me a long time to adjust. I didn’t feel comfortable in dresses, the girly look, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I guess that was a quirk of mine when I was growing up – everything was black and white for me. There was no middle ground, and I learned that from my favorite quote from my dad, who always said, “There’s a lot of gray area in our lives, but we make that gray area. It’s either yes or no. You can make as much gray matter as you want, but it still has a right side and a wrong side.” Everything works in two — like Noah’s Ark — everything functions in two’s. Right or wrong. It’s up to us how simple or complicated we make something.
That’s how my style got started. Once I got used to being a girl, I started paying attention to clothes. The big thing was the catalogs – you had Sears, Penny’s, and Spiegel. I fell in love with Spiegel! Every pair of shoes came from Spiegel. Then I started paying attention to movie stars. My mother absolutely adored Katharine Hepburn. So, I latched on to her and I copied everything she wore. That has stayed with my my whole life. Basically, that’s my style. That’s the kind of clothes I like, and it’s what I wear. I have to really work at adding something different to my wardrobe. I would say my style went from dressy and moved into casual with a different flair. So I didn’t really move that far away!
I’ve always been locked into my Katharine Hepburn style, and I’m not comfortable in most other clothes, I was in a boating accident early in my thirties, and it left my left side a little lower than my right side. So I stay away from fitted clothes – it’s very obvious that my body is uneven. The bigger, looser “boho look” is comfortable for me. I don’t have to pay attention to where the seam is. But I do love those big-legged pants…and I have many! [Bea laughs…]
What is your favorite style trick or tip for us?
Lipstick and high heels!! [Bea laughs…]
Honestly that’s it. I don’t go to the mailbox without my lipstick. A lot of days I don’t wear a stitch of makeup, especially during growing season, but I have that kind of complexion that all I wear is lipstick and it works for me. Everything I own and use fits into a little makeup bag. I don’t need a makeup table! [Bea laughs…] I make most of my skincare out of herbs, or I buy from organic places. I’m just very basic.
And, the high heels, I just got used to wearing them at sixteen – I didn’t own flat shoes until I was 25. And I still wear high heels! I’ve never allowed myself to stop – because once you stop your body won’t tolerate going back to them. If I’m going to walk all day I’ll have comfy shoes in my travel bag!
And, sleep and plenty of water. Water, water, water. People don’t realize how much water affects our health.
What’s coming up for you and your company?
I have downsized the farm. There was a time I did a lot of wholesale so I had to grow a lot and it just became not only time consuming but hard on my body. So I started downsizing about four years ago, and every year I take out products that I offer to the public. I’m down to four or five different products that I make from the seasonings and teas that I sell on my website, and that limits what I have to grow and process.
As I did that, I realized I would have to compensate the income from reducing the farm if I want it to continue to be profitable (for charities and things that I support) because the money is for a purpose. So I thought I would take the local classes that I teach and incorporate them into something for online. I shied away from teaching online especially during growing season and I couldn’t stretch myself that far. There just wasn’t enough time.
So now that I don’t have to put in so much time in the gardens, I started talking to my VA (virtual assistant) and made the decision to launch an online program called Healthy After. Actually I made this decision after I joined your Style Success Facebook Group, Linda. [Bea laughed and told me she thinks I deserve a reward for the inspiration! I agreed!]
The idea for the for-pay program just came together. I guess I didn’t realize how much knowledge and information I’ve accumulated all these years, and now I’m able to share it online. It’s a simple launch with 4 categories to the website:
- What We Want
- How To Get It
- Eating For Success
- Life Beyond Food
In these categories, I cover all the information I’ve discovered about the food industry, what is safe to eat, what is not safe to eat, and I give you an outline when you go shopping for food. And good-tasting meals — that’s the kicker! Anybody can eat healthy, but is it going to be good? People will eat what tastes good — your body relates to it in a good way. When you don’t like something, usually it’s because the food isn’t good for you. There is a way to eat within the food options that you like that are healthy for your body.
This is designed to be an ongoing, interactive course. In addition to the content, comments and questions will be addressed on the site, and notifications of updates and new content will be via email.
The program is $19.95 for a month and you get 24/7 hour access during that time with all the 1:1 attention from me. If you want to extend your subscription to the site, I’ll have a 3-month subscription option.
Here’s the link to register >> http://sagehillgardens.com/healthy-after
What lessons have you learned about life and happiness?
What I’ve learned about life is don’t fight what you know you can’t change. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Don’t spend time thinking what if. Just look at your situation, make some sort of determination of what it is, and what you would WANT it to be. You’ve got to decide where you are and where you want to be and then you fill in the blanks. Ask yourself, “What do I have to do to get there? Will this work?” If the answer is no, throw it out. I see so many women start a business that isn’t bringing in revenue for three or five years before they let it go. You have to be willing to make a decision — even if it’s wrong! Well, throw it out, and make another one. That’s the way I’ve come through life.
Please share a favorite quote or personal story with us:
One of my favorite quotes (other than my Papa’s quotes) is:
“Let medicine be your food and food be your medicine”
A very personal thing with me is I’m a Christian, and I believe in prayer and guidance. I truly believe that everything I am and everything I have been able to accomplish is because I was willing to look to a higher power for guidance. I’ve had to change my mind many times because after I prayed about it and meditated, I knew it wasn’t a good decision and I needed to change my direction.
Thank you so much for such an enjoyable time talking to you! I feel like I was sitting at your table outside looking out into your gardens. Lovely! How can our readers get in contact with you?