Jared Thurmon has advised and helped the Adventist Review in various capacities for the past eight years. During that time he transitioned from living the city life to life in the country. His wife, Annette, made an even larger transition that involved becoming an active social media influencer. As we at the Review explored the topic of influence, it seemed a natural step to discuss how their decisions have affected their lives.
Merle Poirier, operations manager for the Review, and the Thurmons spent time talking about country living, social media, faith, and family. —Editors.
Merle : Jared, Annette, we’ve been colleagues and friends for some time now. I follow Annette on Instagram and have watched her grow in influence and followers. I remember many highlights: the pre-farm days, your move to the farm, announcing your pregnancy, and the steady accumulation of “animal friends.” Let’s start with some history. What led to your move to the country? I think it’s fair to say that this was an intentional choice to transition to this lifestyle.
Jared: Yes, we clearly chose this life. We recently returned from attending a homestead festival south of Nashville. We were invited to be on a panel with others, and the interviewer said, “Now, Jared and Annette, you’re unique in that you don’t eat animals or eggs from your chickens . . .” From the gasp of the audience, you would have thought it was just announced that we killed cats for sport (note to cat lovers, Annette is a huge fan). It’s pretty rare to raise so many animals and not eat them.
Annette: Our motivation for moving to the country came around 2008 when we heard some sermons and read some books that reminded us of the reasons God made humans to live in a garden. We read a statement from Ellen White that two things most favorable for character development are caring for plants and animals. We knew we needed to change the path of life we were on. We only wish we had done it sooner.
Country living is not a new idea for Adventists. Many Adventists today don’t take it seriously. Yet country living or homesteading is trending in secular society.
J: It’s amazing how many forward-thinking, innovative ideas Adventism has had in the past that the world has now taken the lead. There’s plant-based eating, hydrotherapy, wellness centers, and this idea of living outside the city. Annette and I have been fascinated when many people share they would love nothing more than to live on a few acres outside a major city, yet don’t do it. We feel very fortunate to have acted on this counsel to experience all the personal benefits that extend beyond the prophetic warnings of Ellen White.
A: I would agree. It is trending. Brands see this trend and are jumping onboard. Even though it seems outdated in some Adventist circles, we see many church members making similar decisions.
So you moved to the country; got a few animals; planted a few things. And somewhere in there, you became a social media influencer.
A: I started sharing my life on Instagram as a way to document my journey in homesteading and sustainable living—it was a hobby. But it gradually grew into a full-time job. I’ve been able to connect with people all over the world who share my passion for living off the land and caring for plants and animals.
Being an influencer takes social media to a whole new level. It’s not just a photo here or there. It’s sharing your life. What are the pros and cons of documenting your life for all the world to see?
A: The biggest pro is definitely the connection I have with my followers. By sharing my experiences, I’m able to inspire others to make positive changes in their own lives. It’s been an amazing platform to connect with like-minded people and build a community. The biggest con is definitely the lack of privacy. When someone shares so much of their life, it’s easy for people to make assumptions and pass judgment on everything you do. It can be hard to deal with negative comments and criticism, especially when it’s about something personal.
Was it initially awkward to put your life out there?
A: Yes, I think at first I took some pictures here and there that I found beautiful and wanted to share—the same way many use Instagram or other platforms. Then I had a friend who said that I should take it more seriously and go “all in.” I think that once I made that decision, I saw the need or felt the pressure to share more and more. I realized early on, though, that if this wasn’t my actual life and I just did things for the camera or for the “likes,” I would burn out quickly. So I made a commitment to share only what I want and not be caught up with the latest trend. I’ll be honest. There were times I would see other accounts doing those things and growing [in followers]. But I reminded myself why I do this—because I enjoy it and would take the same pictures and videos if it was only for my own memories.
J: I think that’s one reason people find Annette so genuine. She really doesn’t do more for the camera than what she would do if no one was watching or following. Now, don’t get me wrong. She puts a ton of work into recipes and photoshoots that are clearly a little extra to make something more beautiful. But she seems to enjoy it, so I say go for it.
How many hours do you give to social media? If someone reading this were to consider pursuing social media as an influencer, what should they expect?
A: I would say a few hours each day. But I also spend a few hours writing, editing, planning photo shoots, all while bringing Ava, my daughter, along. I have learned that if I schedule out blocks of time, it becomes something manageable. If I don’t, I will admit I can get overwhelmed. It’s especially true when I partner with brands on projects and there are deadlines. If it’s raining and we can’t do the shoot or my parents need to go to the doctor or something else, it can throw things off. To anyone wanting to do this full-time, you have to ask how much you love it and how long you’re willing to do it with nothing in return. If you’re committed and dedicated, the results will follow. I have seen that reality again and again with new friends who have a few hundred followers and a year later have tens of thousands.
It sounds like you really put all of yourself into this, in time, energy, and transparency. How do you balance sharing life with followers but also keeping some things private?
A: It’s all about setting boundaries and being intentional about what I share. I try to be honest and authentic with my followers, but there are definitely some things that are too personal. I also make sure to take breaks from social media and spend time away from my phone to prioritize my mental health and personal relationships.
Let’s get specific. You’re not just any influencer. You’re a Seventh-day Adventist. Do you incorporate Adventism into your social media? Or is faith something kept separate?
A: I share that our church day is on Saturday and that Sabbath is crucial to our lives. We talk about how we eat a plant-based diet, which, as Jared mentioned, is strange in the homesteading world where most see animals as the source of protein on the farm for their own survival. I promote kindness, compassion, and loving people who may not be like you. Yes, I personally feel I share the core elements of my faith with others.
J: I’m always more tempted to be more direct about things, so I’m learning life is a journey. If we are prayerful and kind, the conversations will come. I’ve been fascinated to see how many people reach out to Annette about subtle things she mentions here or there and the amazing conversations that result. I’m sure there are more creative ways to share unique points of faith, and we always ask each other how to do that. We try to do that in our weekly podcast and have gotten some great feedback because we have time to explain things better than in a 30-second reel on Instagram.
Social media seems like a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week kind of job. Some influencers believe they must be “on” all the time or risk losing followers. How do you incorporate Sabbath into influencing?
A: I made it a point not to go on Instagram or post anything on Sabbath. That’s been nice, because the rest of the week I’m go, go, go. Sabbath is the best day of our week. Just ask Ava. She asks us every day, “When is Sabbath?” or “Is it Sabbath yet?” We think it’s because we make it like a holiday every week. She sees her friends at church. We have all the family and some friends over to the house for lunch. We eat outside like kings and queens. It is our best day of the week. Being able to rest and know that while we rest, God does things for us that wouldn’t be done if we did it ourselves is so satisfying.
I believe part of being an influencer is to attract brands and products. You then promote them through your social media platform. Does that ever interfere or cause you to pause about endorsing a brand?
A: Yes, it’s a delicate balance. I was able to replace the income I was making while nursing with what I do now on social media. People think it’s crazy when I tell them that, and honestly, I don’t even know how to explain it. The last thing I want to call myself is an “influencer.” But to do it at the scale that I do, I had to flip the switch and treat it like a business with a calendar, to-do lists, and deadlines. I plan things out, I think about how not to cross that line where things get weird, and, to be honest, I don’t like following people who talk about only the latest gizmo or product they are promoting. For me, that gets old. I think the fine line is finding brands that align with my principles. If you just want to make money, you can find brands who will throw money at you, but these products don’t align with who I am. I like to find brands that I actually use. That’s the best scenario. If I don’t already buy their stuff, then I ask them to let me try it and see if I would actually use it. I have so far promoted only things that I actually use. But with my decision to make it a business, it’s tough to know how much is too much. I had a friend recently ask me why I didn’t promote anything. To me that was a win because I have been, but I have been able to do it in a very tasteful way that’s not in your face. The brands have been happy with how I do it, so I plan to continue to do so.
While I understand it’s a business, it does lead me to another question. As Christians we’re taught not to focus so much on ourselves, but on others. Social media seems like a very self-oriented medium.
A: That’s something that’s hard to balance for many people. I’ve taken the position that I’m doing this for myself, as well as to encourage others. I’ve never cared about the number of followers, and I’ve chosen not to do things simply for more “likes.” I think that decision has been easier for me because my parents raised me to know I was loved by them, but even more so by God for who I am, not what I do. So many people scroll through social media thinking there is greener grass out there, when the reality is, and I can say this personally, we post only the prettiest moments for people to see on social media. It’s not real life. We don’t show people, in the case of our farm, the heartache, the dead animals, the weeds, storm damage, etc. So knowing our value in God’s eyes and recognizing that social media isn’t real life are key to making it about something more than just drawing attention to ourselves.
You’ve chosen to involve your daughter in your business. How did you come to the decision to include her?
A: I’m not afraid to show myself or my family. Some people are afraid of what others might do to their home or family, so they don’t post, but I’m careful in how I show her. I feel that ultimately showing our whole family and how our choices benefit all of us is more positive than any potential negatives. We aren’t motivated by fear, but a love for what we are doing and a desire to share that with others.
Does Ava know why you are taking so many photos and videos, or does she think this is just normal?
J: That’s a fine line. On one hand, Annette loves documenting everything and capturing beautiful moments. Ava has learned this is just part of the adventure. At the same time, we are pretty hard-core on not letting her look at screens. We show her a video or picture here or there, but for the most part, we are doing all we can not to lead her down a path that says, “Screens are fun; look at them often.” We think we’re doing fairly well in that she really doesn’t care about them when they are around or when we are looking at our phones. But she loves to be silly and I’m a huge fan of laughter, so she’s always thinking of ways to do something funny, especially when we are recording something.
Ava is engaging and speaks easily to adults. Perhaps your choice to do social media has helped her feel socially comfortable and confident.
A: Someone told us before she was born that one of the best things we could do was never to talk to her like a child, but instead as an adult. There was never any baby talk. Jared’s already had the conversation about the birds and bees, for crying out loud, so we treat her as one of us. We love that she seems to be a social butterfly, going up to people, asking their name or their age. Perhaps it’s from our intentionality to demonstrate this to her when we are around people. We are always striking up conversations, seeking to make people feel heard and loved.
Let’s put the social media influencer component aside for a moment. Comparing life before with life now, what’s the biggest benefit/difference for you?
A: I think for me it’s that so many things I used to care about, stress about, think about, no longer matter. Whether that was the latest fashion or look or—this may sound silly, but I used to be all about manicures all the time. Now I have dirt under my fingernails, and I really don’t care. I no longer care about the latest cool shoes, but instead I want to purchase a chicken that lays blue eggs. I would say the biggest difference and benefit is caring about things that matter and aren’t artificial.
J: I would say there is a clear divergence from keeping up with the “Joneses” and recognizing the benefit of a simple life instead of chasing the latest thing. It isn’t worth it. That’s not imaginary, but close to home. I remember convincing Annette she needed a nice car, and we could afford it. Today we laugh to think about getting into a car like that when half the time we’re walking around with chicken poop on our shoes.
What counsel would you give to Adventist families who might want to move to the country, but feel like there are too many obstacles?
J: Our only regret is that someone didn’t sit us down the very day we got married and say the greatest thing we could ever do for our joy and marriage in this life is to move to someplace in the country outside of a major city and get some animals and live life. Ellen White talks about how families that do this will live like “kings and queens.” I believe it. The main excuse (and we used it too) is that we’d miss out on life. But honestly, it’s indescribable how much fun we have. When we moved here, our friends thought we were crazy. But when they come visit, they say, “OK. I get it now.”
A: I would say we didn’t know what we were missing until we experienced it. To any family with children, it will be the best decision you ever make. I know Jared can get preachy, and many have done that, but our desire is to make what we have chosen beautiful and attractive and something people would want to do rather than something they had to do. I would say many people point to Ellen White on this subject, and rightfully so—she does talk a lot about where we should live. But if you go through the Bible, there is a strange pattern of where most of the heroes—both men and women—grew up. Thanks so much for sharing your time and experience with our readers. For more about Annette’s business, Azure Farm, visit azurefarmlife.com