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Germination

Decision-making is not my strength. I will spend twenty minutes in the aisle of a grocery store staring at butter, because I am not only imagining the perfect chocolate chip cookie but weighing out price, organic or conventional, salted or unsalted… and can that wholesome cow on the label confirm that I am making the correct choice?

And so, our spring projects have stretched on, week after week, while Jacob patiently waits for me to make up my mind: What are we going to call this whole project, anyway? How should we market our products? Which varieties of seeds should we order? When should we plant our onions? How many piglets should we buy? Should our logo be oriented vertically or horizontally? How much should we charge for our CSA shares?

These discussions are constantly evolving. They require energy: After eight pm, I am typically unable to focus on the High Mowing Seeds catalogue to decide between the bolt resistant- Renegade spinach versus the downy mildew resistant- Corvair spinach. They call on experience: We’ll need to calculate the number of feet of row cover we need based on the row feet of our most vulnerable crops. They take time: we made a final decision about our farm name probably half a dozen times, each of which I sat with overnight and then discarded.

Today is March 8. We have applied to the Westford and Essex Farmer’s Markets. Jacob has organized a four-page seed order. We have located piglets that will be ready to bring home the third week of April. We have sent our paperwork to the Vermont Secretary of State for the farm to become a Limited Liability Company. We have started 3,000 onion seeds – 1200 Walla Walla sweet onions, 1200 Cortland and 600 Red Wing – in the germinator, and they are now spiking their way up through the soil. We have prepared beds in the greenhouse to start spinach, carrots and beets to be ready by June 1. We can be reached at humblerainfarm@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Big Work Day! Powers and Keszey clans at the house. Start by tearing out the blanket, foam insulation and Tyvek disaster that’s served as the front door for the last long while, which I gleefully huck into the dumpster to the soundtrack of classical music from the truck radio. I’m thinking of Tom Hanks crashing through scaffolding in The Money Pit. Jacob and I can’t stop noticing the similarity between that old house, full of outstanding, calamitous surprises, and the one we’re moving into. We’ve been reassuring each other constantly that “the house is gonna be great!”

We’ve stocked the truck with all of the necessary supplies for our mission: raincoats, nails, a staple gun, paint cans, drop cloths. A carafe of hot coffee and a dozen donuts. Mop, vacuum, yellow rubber gloves, and a bucket full of cleaning agents: I turned a blind eye and sprang for Clorox, Tilex, and Pledge. (My sister-in-law says it’s “scary” how well Tilex works. Perfect.)

The house looks like it’s maybe been abandoned. Cobwebs float along the ceiling and walls; the doors and windows are mostly trim-less (aside from the front door, which is door-less); the kitchen sink is clogged; the lights are freckled with dead flies and their legacies of mung; the stately parlor furnace is rusty and worn. The plywood kitchen floor has sagged and grayed with traffic.

We divide and conquer. By lunchtime we’ve checked off mopping and vacuuming in the downstairs rooms, scrubbing the refrigerator and stove until they once again resemble kitchen appliances, installing a door, beginning to reorganize the forgotten scrap metal, rotten wood, bathtubs, and trash from the front yard, and tilled over the bouncing hills and dales left in the garden by the pigs who lived there last.

At the end of the day, the place has taken on a different feel: we’ve laughed inside it and shared a meal together. We’ve crammed three people into the bathroom and scrubbed unmentionables from the floor, toilet and shower. The house isn’t sparkling or shining, but it’s beginning to stir. I can tell that as we work, the place will slowly waken.

Of course, what Jacob keeps reminding me is turning out to be true: “This whole Waterville idea? It’s not going to be easy.”

Last summer, Jacob and I moved back to Vermont after two years of living in the small Southeastern corner of Idaho. During Teton Valley’s seventh month of winter, we stared longingly at Vermont Life’s bucolic pick for April: a Cambridge tractor crawling toward its farm beneath Mt. Mansfield. The world is bright with life: electric new green pastures, the lazy haze of leaf buds, sunlight fresh and strong. We could almost taste mud season. Out the window in Tetonia, snow fell quietly, the world below asleep for months yet.

Some obnoxiously muggy afternoon in August, after weeks of the farm labor we’d longed for from the West, we snuck our biodegradable soap down to the White River for a scrub. I found myself convinced that for once, I had a plan. The river sparkled, yet unlittered by Irene’s rainwash; our skin tingled with the salvation of cool water and peppermint after a long day in the heat; the bubbly shock of an icy-cold beer was euphoric. “Jacob, I think we should just get some land and do this ourselves.”

There is a sense of security, an easiness, that comes with the title of Farm Hand. The pay is reliable, whether the tomatoes sell at market or not. At the end of the day, I can turn my back on the fields. At the end of the season, I am free to go. And yet there is something missing: the challenge of a tangible, measurable responsibility. The chance to dig into something and own it. The enormity of the task- simple, physical, and ultimately richly intellectual- of turning a dream into a life.

“Yeah?” I couldn’t tell if he took me seriously, or if he even really heard me- swimming in a river lets loose in him an ecstatic, primitive wildness, and I knew he was distracted. But he went along with me. “Sure. I’m in. You want cows? Veggies? Olive trees?”  This is Jacob: Adventurous Spirit. Fearless. Willing and Eager. The most inspiring kind of idealist. The perfect partner for the project of starting a small farm.

From the moment he spotted the ad, I knew that we were onto something. “Organic Farm for Rent in Waterville,” it suggested casually. 130 acres, barns, farmhouse, pond, view. We went to see the place on the most spectacular day of the fall, too warm in our wool sweaters and full of so many questions. It was better than I had imagined: perched on a hill, gardens and apple trees, the pond surrounded by birch, sunlight in the living room, wallpaper in the master bedroom. The meadows reminded me of my childhood, of sitting in tall grass with my mother painting watercolors. The smell of the sun, of warmth soaked into ground, was the same. In the car on the way home, we both gave it an eight out of ten.

We did not arrive at a decision with grace or ease. We discussed, at length, the amount of work to be done before we could begin planning the work of growing food. Painting the kitchen floor. Cutting firewood. Repairing fence. Readying the barn to overwinter animals. Buying furniture. Cleaning the house. Replacing the front door. Cutting more firewood. Tilling. Mowing. List-making became enjoyable, manageable. As we weighed options, discussed pros and cons, and made more lists, we found ourselves beginning to cross things off. Before it was official, we found ourselves moving in. The place was overwhelming. We’d drive up to visit, to make more lists, and the November sky would come marching over, drowning out our quaint Mansfied view, spitting some kind of frozen precipitation onto our picnic lunch.

In the midst of my anxiety, my doubting, and my second-guessing, I found myself planting over three hundred cloves of garlic. I forgot about the dead mouse under the kitchen sink and the cobwebs in the bathroom. I forgot about the fact that I don’t know anything about raising cows. I forgot about the drafty windows and the dark November sky, and I put fragrant, voluptuous garlic seeds into the springy soil. I remembered that I wanted a responsibility. I remembered that Jacob is as determined as he is adventurous and fearless. I remembered that I like to eat, and eat well, and I hurried to help mulch our first planted bed as the sun made that late-fall, pre-dusk announcement in brilliant orange rays before sliding behind the mountains.

On November 19th, we signed an 11-month lease…

looking for seed garlic!

Bought ten pounds for eighty dollars. Also bought twenty-five pounds of Pro-Gro organic fertilizer, eighty pounds of lime, and a tuna melt and two chocolate chip cookies from a German bakery.

Cold for the first time this week. Spitting snow this afternoon and looking/feeling bleak! House is empty and lonely.