Julie and Rusty Bulloch’s ranch in Lakeland, Florida, sits upon acres of dirt and grass. But in the spiritual sense, their family home is built on the rock that Jesus talked about, the type that couldn’t be knocked down by rain, winds and floods because it was built on a solid foundation.
Now, America will be introduced to that foundation as well because Julie, Rusty and their unique, extended family are sharing their lives on the new reality TV series “Bulloch Family Ranch” on the UP TV channel Wednesday nights at 10/9C.
Julie and Rusty are high school sweethearts who have been married for 28 years and have two grown biological children, Amanda and Brodie. Over the past 16 years, they’ve also welcomed nearly 30 other teens and young adults into their home in order to provide them with a stable family life – or to help them get away from gang life or drugs in their old neighborhoods.
The Bullochs didn’t adopt or foster these young people, but rather worked in conjunction with their mothers. During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Julie explained, “Every one of our kids has a mom at home who loves them. To me, being a mom is sacred and we always uplift the mom. It just so happens that there are situations where they might not be able to supply what that young person is needing at that time, so we have had a relationship with a majority of the moms.”
Fathers, on the other hand, don’t get off as easy in the Bullochs’ minds, especially in light of the fact that an estimated 95 percent of their “kids” come from broken homes.
Rusty – whose compassionate heart comes through despite his tough, football coach exterior – said, “I definitely believe that men aren’t stepping up…Anybody can be a father but it takes someone special to be a Daddy. A lot of these kids haven’t had a man come up and hug them and say ‘I love you.’ [I know I’m] making an impact because I can call those kids now and the last thing they say is, ‘Love you, Coach’ or ‘Love you, Rusty.’ So I don’t know if some men are scared to love, thinking it makes them less of a man. But I’m a pretty tough cookie and I love kids and I think the nation is not doing well as Daddies.”
That lack of a stable family life is one of the reasons young people get involved with drugs and gangs. Rusty is reluctant to blame the child for getting into trouble, though; again, he feels the responsibility falls back on the lack of fatherly influence.
He said, “A lot of these kids start selling drugs when they’re as little as 10 or 11 years old. So they’re making money, more than they’re going to make at any job, and they’ve got each other’s backs. If one of them is going to get in a fight, there’s 10 or more of his ‘family’ gonna come in and help him…It’s survival mode. We’ve actually had some of the kids say, ‘If we didn’t steal, we didn’t eat.’ When you look at it like that, how can you blame that kid for surviving? I blame the dad for not being there and bringing them up in a godly home and leading them in the right way. So they survive by the only means they know how.”
The Seeds of Selflessness
Julie and Rusty’s upbringing account for some of their selflessness and generosity. Julie grew up in a home where there was always someone living with them – grandmothers, uncles, etc. The concept of sharing was introduced to her life early on.
Rusty comes from the small community of Sheffield, Alabama, where he says “everybody took care of everybody’s kids.” Friends were always spending the night over other friends’ houses under the watchful eye of involved parents.
The Bulloch’s faith is another factor in the choices they’ve made. Rusty said, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. If you’re not living Christlike, you can talk all the stuff you want to, and those teenagers are going to see right through it…Our faith in God is what’s gotten us through a lot of this – everything from the financial to being able to deal with the [kids’] different personalities. We’ve had to do a lot of praying over stuff like that.”
Financially, the Bullochs, who are largely self-employed, work hard to make a living and have often struggled just to make ends meet. Yet their commitment to taking on extra mouths to feed hasn’t wavered. Julie said, “We live off the land, we have a garden, we have four freezers, and my whole family hunts. That helps a lot with the food bill…During the years when we were struggling financially and wondering if we’re going to make the mortgage payment, God always provided that extra job that came in…So we were always taken care of by God. I think it taught the kids a lot. We never ordered pizza, we never went out to dinner as a family, we had family dinner at home.”
Julie believes that all families would be better off if they tried to live more frugally: “There are parents out there who are working two jobs, they’re working to make ends meet. But some are doing that to provide things like a pool, a pool boy, someone to come take care of the lawn, a maid to come clean. Not all, but there are a few. But you know what? It would be better sometimes to cut back on that overtime and just say, ‘We’re having peanut butter and jelly for supper tonight. We’re going to watch a movie. We’re going to do family time.’ That’s one thing you can’t buy and never get enough of.”
Real Life Reality TV
When producer/director Ian Wisniewski wound up at the Bulloch Family Ranch a few years ago in the course of doing another job, he was struck by the welcoming atmosphere he felt there. He told them, “I’m from Canada, but when I think of an American family, this is what I see.”
Convinced that the TV landscape would benefit from seeing a family like the Bullochs, he set out to create a reality show about them. Thanks to UP TV (formerly gmc), that dream is now a reality. And having watched the pilot episode myself, Ian’s hard work was worth the effort.
The positive fruits of young adults raised in an environment that includes structure, discipline, consequences, hard work, fun, laughs and genuine love are as clear as the Florida sky on a beautiful summer day. The sense of family and community are palpable. Julie and Rusty, who believe raising kids has strengthened their relationship as a couple by making them function as a team, are role models for making marriage work.
On another level, the show provides a vision of racial harmony in highlighting the Bullochs, who are white, and the African-American teens to whom they open their home. Julie said, “When a young person walks through our door, they’re walking is as a young person. We don’t see skin color; we see their heart and the will and need they have to change.”
Now America can see that real life reality TV as well when they tune in. Rusty said, “One thing we really like about [the show] is that a grandparent can sit down with a grandchild and they can watch the show together. They’re gonna crack up laughing. They’re gonna probably shed a tear every now and then. They’re gonna see every emotion, the highs and the lows.”
If you’re looking for an uplifting family viewing experience, look no further than the “Bulloch Family Ranch” Wednesday nights at 10/9C on UP TV.
To listen to my full interview with Julie and Rusty Bulloch, click the podcast link:
Christopher Closeup podcast – Guests: Julie and Rusty Bulloch