Think You Know Ballerina Farm? Here’s What You Haven’t Heard About Hannah And Daniel Neeleman's Story

Hannah and Daniel Neeleman of Ballerina Farm came to speak at my university and they shared some things you might not know about their story.

By Nicole Andre4 min read

If you follow the Instagram influencer world at all, it’s hard to miss Ballerina Farm. With 8.9 million followers sharing her life on a farm with eight kids, it’s easy to see why her account has caught the interest of so many. And if the homestead appeal isn’t enough for you, Hannah is also a former Julliard ballerina and a recent winner of the Mrs. American pageant.

From would-be homesteaders to ballerinas to people astounded by how she seemingly does it all, it’s safe to say people are captivated with Hannah Neeleman and her family. So when the rare opportunity to hear her speak at my university came up, I had to take advantage of it. 

Their Story

With her newborn baby strapped to her chest and looking absolutely radiant, Hannah took the stage alongside her husband, Daniel. Both naturally donned cowboy boots for the occasion. Her boys sat in the front row in plaid shirts and cowboy hats, looking every bit like the country boys that they almost weren’t.

You see, their lives weren’t really supposed to turn out this way. Hannah was studying ballet at Juilliard, a New York art school so prestigious that only 12 women are accepted into the dance program each year. Hannah was one of them. Daniel was studying history at Brigham Young University with the ultimate goal of getting his MBA and becoming an entrepreneur. 

In fact, Daniel swears that he “had never seen a cow!” Nobody could have guessed that the young couple would one day end up together, for starters, as she was busy in New York City and he was living in Utah, but certainly would never have predicted that they would start a successful pork farm. 

But life is funny sometimes, and the two first met at a Brigham Young University basketball game where Daniel asked her out. She explained that she was studying at Juilliard and was already headed back to New York. She thought that would be it. Until on her next trip to Utah, when her parents told her to get a date for an art ball being held nearby. A date? Who was she supposed to bring? “That Daniel kid” came to mind.

She called him, but he apologized, explaining that he had a girlfriend. Well, that was that, Hannah thought. Except it wasn’t, because the next day he called her back saying things didn’t work out with his girlfriend and he could accompany her after all. 

They got along swimmingly. But alas, when Daniel asked her to go out again, he was met with the same reply: She was headed back to New York. Only this time, Daniel, the son of the owner of JetBlue Flights, decided he was too. What a coincidence he told her! He had his dad pull some strings, and they sat together on the flight, and by the time they took off, they were holding hands. Within the span of a month, the two were getting married.

Hannah had the strong impression that she should leave the timing of their first child up to God, and so they soon welcomed Henry. She was still in Julliard at the time and as the first student to ever have a child while in school there Hannah worried about what the dean would say. But she was surprised to find how supportive they were. 

Their Road to Farming

Daniel had long ago taken a career aptitude test that pointed him toward agriculture, but he had laughed it off. The Neelemans’ journey to farm life really began on the East Coast – there was a grocery store called Stew Leonards that had cows out front, and Daniel loved going there just to look at them. 

Then, while Daniel worked in Brazil at his first startup company, the two found themselves visiting little farms as much as they could, and later smuggled goats and chickens into their backyard. They knew they wanted to start a farm, and Daniel was determined to help them find a way to make money while doing it. He did some research and decided that free range pigs were the way to go. 

Ballerina Farm Is Born

They bought their first farm in Utah while Daniel was still working in night school. What was plan B? There really wasn’t one. The two agreed, saying, “We really wanted to make this work.” 

At first, Daniel tried to think of some cool masculine name for their new venture, until Ballerina Farm was suggested. From there on on out, that was it – Ballerina Farm was born. And it was a fitting name as Hannah was crucial to the process. She decided to document their journey; Instagram would help them immensely to sell their pork when they got their first harvest. 

And then the unthinkable happened. A fire burned their farm down! The Pole Creek Fire, as it was called, came over the mountain, down the creek, and, in Daniel’s words, “burnt everything to smithereens.” They had to let all their pigs out and headed north to Kamas, Utah, where their farm is today.

But what they thought could have ruined them really worked out in their favor. Hannah filmed everything that happened, and she said, “the thing just spread like wildfire. It was the craziest deal.” Suddenly, they started gaining more and more followers on Instagram. What they thought was the worst possible thing to happen to them ended up being a blessing when it was all said and done.

On Managing the Business, Social Media, and Family Life

And that’s how the Ballerina Farm as we know it today came to be. Hannah has been very business savvy, always thinking of the next thing. Recently, she said the Lord guided her to share less of her family and more cooking. She makes faith and seeking the Lord’s guidance in her life a part of all her decisions. For Hannah, the mornings are a time of clarity where she has lightbulb moments to quickly jot down in her iPhone notes. She never lets the business stagnate, but instead is really in tune to what should be their next move. To quote her: “If He’s part of your decision making, He’ll let you know.” Daniel does the same. And the two never make a decision without one another. 

The farm business isn’t always easy. The two face their share of discouragement. But they rely on each other. When Hannah has a hard day, she has Daniel. And when Daniel has a hard day, he has Hannah. 

And they make sure that their life is not all about business. When it comes to interviews and speaking events, they’re few and far between. Daniel says, “99% of the time we say no to everything because of the stage of life we’re in with eight little kids.” For Hannah and Daniel, family will always come first. 

They love farm life because it teaches their kids hard work. Hannah shared, “Everyone has responsibility. The kids milk the cows and do the chores. They have to milk the cows, or they’ll get mastitis.” 

While farm work might be conducive to teaching responsibility, that’s certainly not the only way to teach it. Daniel said, “I don’t do the boys' laundry. Nobody does, but they must be doing it because they look really good.”

Hannah is adamant about the importance of having her priorities straight, even with the demands of being a social media influencer, saying, “We have to be creators and not consumers. For me, I have eight kids so I’m not able to spend a lot of time on social media scrolling. I snap content during the day, and then after the kids go to bed, I edit reels.” 

And just because sharing is part of their business model, that doesn’t mean they don’t do it mindfully. Daniel said, “We have a saying on the farm: We share the good, the bad, but not the ugly. Sometimes, Hannah will look at me and say, ‘Is this ugly, or should we share this?’” 

Good Values Make a Good Life

And what keeps everything running smoothly? If you ask Hannah and Daniel, it’s their faith in God. The two are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when asked for life advice, Daniel, without hesitation, said, “Stick to the little things. You know where you're supposed to be on Sunday morning and what you’re supposed to be doing with your kids before they go to sleep. That’s going to solve 99% of your problems.”

And Hannah emphasized having trust through the hard times. She bore her testimony to the crowd: “God gives us the righteous desires of our hearts. His vision is much more exciting than ours.” 

Closing Thoughts

Hannah and Daniel Neeleman of Ballerina Farm seem to be two people who really have it all. How do they manage to accomplish it? They put God, family, and the farm first. In that order. And that makes all the difference. 

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