Cog Hill Farm has gone viral
Words by Jennifer Kornegay
Photos by Jaclyn Head
Take a kid who enjoyed using the family camcorder to make mini-movies and combine him with the adult version of the same person, a guy who prefers rural landscapes to city life and digging in the dirt more than managing employees, and what do you get? Jason Smith, patriarch of the 40-acre Cog Hill Farm in Chilton County, Alabama.
With his wife Brooke and 13-year-old daughter Marycarl, Jason is growing and raising most of what his family needs on their farm while also cultivating a wealth of entertaining and educational content aimed at spreading a “farming is fun” message to the masses. Cog Hill puts out three video episodes and a livestream on its YouTube channel each week, produces a podcast, and does livestreams, posts and reels on Facebook and Instagram, too, all allowing folks to follow the Smith’s homesteading lifestyle.
Cog Hill’s YouTube channel is currently getting 100,000 views on some of its videos (the average is well above 60,000 views), proof that the Smiths’ authentic take on farming blended with an obvious enthusiasm for their land, their animals, their work, and each other, really resonates. The Smiths built their farm from the ground up, teaching themselves along the way. They’re still learning, and viewers and fans, whom Jason calls “the Cog Squad,” learn alongside them. They watch a giddy Jason in his greenhouse as he touts the benefits of growing veggie plants from seed and walks beginning gardeners through the process. They join him and his family as they do their daily farm chores and explain the how and why of the tasks, such as collecting fresh eggs and checking fences. As the Smiths greet and feed the farm’s menagerie of animals, the viewers meet them too. There’s Peaches the pig, Pink the black barn cat, Nugget the emu, Scott the peacock, Moody the cow, and Nubian dairy goats such as Joe.
Viewers can’t stop watching the Cog Hill Farm story play out; there’s a huge audience taking it all in, but it had humble beginnings, when Jason and Brooke left town for the country and then got several surprising boosts. “We were living in Selma when we decided we wanted to live out on some land,” Jason says. “Funny thing, around the same time my mom discovered she’d inherited some property, about five acres,” Jason says, “so we were able to start our farm there.” Surprise number one.
While Jason continued to work as service manager at a Selma car dealership, he and Brooke jumped right into farming, despite both having zero agricultural background. “We just had a yearning for it; there was just something inside us that wanted it,” Jason says. They started with chickens, which Jason calls the “gateway animal” for new farmers. Next came some geese, ducks, and goats, but the chickens became key. “We raised meat chickens, for ourselves and then for some family and friends,” Jason says. When a chef in Birmingham with a catering company became a big fan of their birds, the chicken business took flight. “I was blown away by the response to our chickens; people really wanted them,” Jason says. Surprise number two.
Surprise number three came courtesy of COVID. “The caterer had opened a restaurant and was still sourcing his chicken from us, but then the pandemic stopped that,” Jason says. Jason had been playing around with videos and had made a Cog Hill Farm YouTube channel right before the virus hit. When it did, and lockdowns came, the viewer numbers skyrocketed. “It just blew up. More and more people were watching and subscribing,” Jason says. “I really couldn’t believe it, but all of a sudden, the farm made enough money off the videos and social media that I could leave my day job,” he says. “That’s been great, because I love making the videos.”
Now, the Smiths run the farm and create farm content together, and it’s a full-time job. There’s more to oversee and document than ever before. The Smiths outgrew the farm’s original five acres, and in 2021 moved Cog Hill to the current 40 acres. With the additional space, they’re growing a wider diversity of crops in the garden: tomatoes, squash, zucchini, purple hull peas, rattlesnake pole beans, bell peppers, okra, and more. They’ve begun a flower farm and a fruit orchard, harvesting sunflowers, Asian pears, apples, figs, blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, and kiwi. Cog Hill also has room for more animals, although other than the laying chickens, the barnyard collection isn’t currently producing any farm products. “They’re basically pets,” Jason says. The Smiths often end up with more food than they need, so they’ve built a roadside stand on the edge of the farm to sell extra eggs and produce to the community.
At every step, there’s been something to new to learn, which the Smiths tackle by doing. “There’s been a lot of trial and error, but we’ve become pretty self-sufficient, and we want to promote this lifestyle and show others how it can be done,” Jason says. He notes that many of the skills they’ve taught themselves are dying out and yet are still valuable. “I think COVID showed us all how important it is to have a food supply,” Jason says. “I really want to show people how to garden and how to grow food.”
He knows many in Cog Hill’s audience will never browse a seed catalog or hold a spade; these folks tune in for the animal antics and Jason’s funny, sometimes folksy, anecdotes delivered in his upbeat country-boy twang. “The entertainment aspect of our content is pretty high,” he says. “I think some are learning things, but for others, I think the nostalgia of it, the escape, is what’s appealing. We’ve got a little Andy Griffith vibe going.”
Whatever viewers come for, one thing they all find is Jason’s farming philosophy, which he stresses is a pretty good playbook for other endeavors too. “I say a lot, ‘Don’t give up. No matter what. We’re all different, so figure out what works best for you, but keep trying to figure it out. Adapt,’” he says. “I think that mindset works well for a lot more than farming.”