Lisa King says reality show 'Farm Kings' is 'tender to my heart'



Lisa King cannot stop moving.

She admits, "I have a hard time with down time; I get restless just sitting to have my hair done."

While talking to a reporter, the matriarch of "Farm Kings" grabbed a spray bottle of Austin's to clean off some stainless steel cupboards at Freedom Farms' market in Valencia, Butler County. Then she arranged a lovely bounty of fresh vegetables and a chilled bowl of cooked chicken that would serve as a backdrop for the film crew due to arrive in half an hour.

'Farm Kings' matriarch talks about being on a reality show

Lisa King is the mom on the hit reality series "Farm Kings" on the Great American County Network. She discusses what it's like to be part of the show. (Video by Doug Oster; 4/18/2013

Two years ago, cable network Great American Country decided the story of an indefatigable woman with 10 kids working a farm might make for good reality television. In the King family, it has something for everyone. There's the hard-working mom with a sense of humor, nine brothers -- some of whom have become internet pin-up sensations for their ability to look great shirtless -- and their sister, plus a relatable struggle to keep the business going in a tough economy.

This dovetails nicely with GAC's homespun sensibilities. Ms. King, 53, joked that she had never heard of the "Ked-dashians," and that anyone tuning in to watch glitz and in-fighting would be disappointed.

"Being that we have a lot of personalities in this business, it [drama] does happen, but the thing about this family I'm so proud of is we can have our disagreements and our arguments, but we move on.

" 'I love you, you love me.' We have our business and we're here for family."

The King Family roll call begins with eldest son, Joe, then sister, Elizabeth. After that, it's Tim, Peter, Daniel, Luke, Sam, John, Paul and Ben.

Season 1 of "Farm Kings" was GAC's highest rated non-musical series to date, and more than 62 percent of the viewing audience was new to the network.

"The episodes this season are even better," said Sarah Trahern, GAC general manager.

Season 2 began shooting in February, with snow on the ground and expectation in the air. The first episode aired April 11. In it, eldest brother, Joe, and his siblings were trying to come up with ideas to improve the cafe they opened last year in New Kensington.

Ideally, Ms. King said, the Kings would like to find an investor who would enable them to consolidate the market, cafe and Boldy's Bakery, just down the road on Route 8.

"If we could move this to a bigger location, we could have hay rides and put some of our livestock there so the kids could see. People could see where they're getting their chickens from.

"We may be getting some fame here, but we definitely are not rich people," Ms. King said. "Our living comes from the farm. We are on television, and there are some benefits from that, getting the exposure on TV and in newspapers.

"But we have financial struggle."

Freedom Farms has embarked upon a community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative it hopes will allow them greater flexibility with budgeting.

"Our CSA is a little different from everybody else's. You buy into it, almost like a credit card, and you're not limited by what you can buy. If we have an abundance of lettuce, that's our problem, not yours. You could come in and buy from our bakery, or some free-range chicken eggs," she said.

Then there's the prospect of writing a cookbook, on which she says she's got to get cracking. If all this sounds ambitious, it is. Lisa King grew up in Carrick, one of 12 kids. She married a farmer, worked the fields -- days before the birth of son, Peter, she was helping start 15,000 pepper plants -- took the kids to football and wrestling practices, learned how to box at age 45.

After a somewhat public divorce from Joseph King, she and the kids proceeded to buy their own farm. Their story caught the attention of a production company in Philadelphia, which pitched the idea of a reality show to GAC. It wasn't an easy sell to the King family, who had finally put the divorce "gossip" behind them, Ms. King said.

A short film, shot by the production company from a 2011 visit, convinced them.

"To go public weighed on our minds, but we decided after seeing the 10-minute reel, it was so heart-moving," she said. "We'd come a long way, and we wanted to share that with everyone. We're self-sustaining people and we hope to teach people that you can be strong and take care of yourself."

With so much work to be done -- the farm added livestock in the past year, in addition to a cut-flower business -- the idea of having to accommodate the time demands of the film crew would seem perilous. Ms. King prepares lunch for the members each day.

"The crew is easy to work with, they're fun," she said. "They've become like family to us. It's like 12 to 17 of my kids coming from Philadelphia, looking for Mom's home cooking."

She and daughter Elizabeth recently attended the Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., where they cooked up "Easy Zucchini Bake" for 250 people. Two days before, Ms. King was at the market, which doesn't open until next month, with some of the crew.

While mixing up chicken salad, she answered questions from a director about her competitive nature, and how she wanted to do well at the April 20 "Good Taste! Pittsburgh" event in Cranberry. That same day, another small crew followed one of the King sons on a run down to West Virginia.

"I think we're all getting more comfortable in front of the cameras," she said, adding it's nice to watch "Farm Kings" because it gives her a chance to see her family at work.

"Sometimes I'm so busy with the cut flowers, I don't get a chance to see them with the chickens, or in the fields anymore. I'm not there with them, so it's a great opportunity for me," she said, momentarily overcome. "I'd say it's tender to my heart."

It's especially warming to see how youngest son Benjamin has adapted. Born with Down Syndrome, he was reluctant to be around the cameras at first but has grown to love the attention.

But there are trials as well. Last summer brought drought. A freak hail storm destroyed young crops and watching the experience recreated on television, Ms. King said, made her "cry through that whole episode."

Although Great American Country is big in the South and West, it isn't as well-known in Pennsylvania. Fans of the show from Arkansas, Florida and Georgia have stopped by the cafe.

Once, in the checkout line at T.J. Maxx, another customer turned around and started screaming. It startled Benjamin as well as his mother.

"I had to hug her and say 'It's OK.' That was my first experience and it just shocked me, to be recognized," she said, laughing.

The Kings aren't shy. Peter and Daniel gave modeling a try when they were younger, and when Freedom Farms takes its wares to markets around western Pennsylvania, it's not unusual for fans to request having their picture taken with one of the boys. The GAC web site (gactv.com) advertises a free mobile app that allows users to insert their image into a photo with the shirtless brothers.

"I like to think that their beauty comes from within, too," said Ms. King, smiling and shaking her head.

Still, they'd be nuts to ignore the calendar possibilities.

"They're very good-looking with their shirts on, too," she said, adding that, like the rest of the King family enterprise, the upcoming calendar will be "very wholesome."

As the business grows, so do story lines for "Farm Kings." But thank goodness, there are no Kardashian behaviors on this show.

"We are a family, just like everybody else," Ms. King said. "We just had a stroke of luck; the show doesn't make us any better than anybody else."

food - mobilehome - tvradio

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1478 or on Twitter @MariaSciulloPG. First Published April 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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