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What is the 'Ballerina Farm controversy?' Some viewers feel an influencer's rustic homesteading videos don't add up with her family's stratospheric wealth

What is the 'Ballerina Farm controversy?' Some viewers feel an influencer's rustic homesteading videos don't add up with her family's stratospheric wealth
TikTok Screenshots of Hannah Neeleman covering dough with a cloth, and holding up a mason jar full of lemon juice.
Neeleman has amassed more than 15 million followers across Instagram and TikTok.tiktok.com/@ballerinafarm
  • Hannah Neeleman is a mom of 8, former pageant queen, and Juilliard grad-turned-farmfluencer.

  • As her TikTok channel Ballerina Farm grew in popularity, controversy has also stirred.

  • Some see a dissonance in her rustic social aesthetics given her father-in-law's airline empire.

In a TikTok video with 180 million views, Hannah Neeleman — known to millions by her social media moniker Ballerina Farm — cooks meatball subs from scratch, whipping up homemade mozzarella, meatballs, and sourdough baguettes.

It's an idyllic scene in a rustic kitchen: the once beauty pageant winner is seen working diligently atop a wooden farm table, wearing a floral headband, and flanked by watchful children.

But in recent years, some viewers have sensed something amiss under the surface, calling out what they see as a dissonance between Neeleman's homespun brand of content and the stratospheric wealth of her father-in-law, David Neeleman, the prolific airline entrepreneur who founded Azul, JetBlue, and Breeze Airways. (In 2007, when Neeleman was removed as the CEO of JetBlue, he owned almost 11 million shares in the company worth about $112 million, Reuters reported at the time.)

Accordingly, some say Ballerina Farm's homemaking and farmfluencing content feels misleading — and even offensive — in light of her immense family wealth.

In a Substack conversation with the journalist Anne Helen Peterson in 2022, the writer Meg Conley observed, "So many people who do live off the land are in such a desperate state. When Ballerina Farm pretends their reality is reality, those people are erased."

Who is Ballerina Farm?

The Ballerina Farm account is fronted by Neeleman, a former pageant queen and Juilliard graduate. The Mormon family also homeschools their children, according to Vox.

Both Neeleman and her husband, Daniel, were raised as "city kids" but have subsequently settled on a farm in Kamas, Utah, according to their official website (which vends subscriptions boxes of meat, ready-to-bake goods, and a coterie of lifestyle products, including tablecloths, clogs, and totes).

The Ballerina Farm brand is rooted in a massive social presence on Instagram (8.5 million followers) and TikTok (6.9 million), where Neeleman documents life on the farm.

As a result, many have classified Neeleman as part of the "trad wives" genre on TikTok, or women creators who romanticize a return to traditional ideals. It's a trend that took off post-COVID and often overlaps with Christian beliefs.

Controversy has stirred on TikTok in recent weeks

While conversation surrounding Ballerina Farm and her wealthy family has quietly circulated over the years, it's reached a new and widening audience in recent weeks following the birth of Neeleman's eighth child.

She's currently documenting her "postpartum pageant prep" for the Mrs. American competition, a pageant for married contestants, which she won last year. She is set to compete 10 days after having given birth.

The creator @caroclaireburkeeen has critiqued Ballerina Farm in several videos starting at the beginning of this year. In her most popular last week, with 400,000 views, she said one of her gripes is that Neeleman's life isn't subject to the same "stakes" as other farmers or homesteaders because it isn't "tied to direct financial stress."

Commenters have applauded and amplified this critique.

"Lack of financial worry makes literally everything in life easier to handle," one person wrote. "A safety net is everything," another top commenter added.

Other creators, however, have entered the fray in Neeleman's defense. In one video, the fellow farmfluencer @thecopperpony gave Neeleman credit for "still working her butt off" and "not living super lavishly" — even amid her family's "safety net." She chalked much of the criticism up to jealousy.

Ballerina Farm did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

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