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Plan your work and work your plan

When we decided to pursue earning a living farming, in our case, market gardening for profit, we realized that our daily spinning in circles wouldn’t do.  We’d need a plan.

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When we inherited the garden here, the weeds were at our armpits.  It was a snake pit with purple orbs of garlic blooms floating above yellowed Johnson grass.  Once we got it all whacked down, we found muskmelon, yard long beans, a huge asparagus patch, hundreds of elephant garlic scapes, banana peppers, kidney beans, and a straggling snow pea vine. They were all so happy to be found and nurtured.

Our days were dictated by whomever we glanced at first. “Mexican tarragon on the deck, gone to seed already, needs a trim.  Hostas in the side bed, too close to the mint.  Mint needs to be thinned. Morning glories, taking over the compost, transplant near the front porch“. It guided us rather than the other way around. We felt constantly overwhelmed and hated spending time trying to figure out which task to do when.

The infrastructure was great. Dad had so much homesteading knowledge. I appreciate all of his amazing talents. He was a master mechanic and could build anything, fix anything and was great at long term, large scale planning.  He’d chosen the perfect sunny spot, rabbit proofed and deer proofed the area with proper fencing.  He created a built in compost bin and situated the green house (with electricity) and water spigots near by. The outer edge of the fence is lined with deer resistant lillies and the the martin and bluebird houses are positioned around the perimeter.

We’d read Mother Earth news and Rodale’s Organic Life and Garden and Gun, Backyard Chickens, Modern Farmer, MaryJane’s Farm for years and had spent the past year and a half reading Dad’s gardening library. We felt we’d gained a good amount of knowledge over the years and that the knowledge of our grandparents and parents runs through our veins.

But, in designing our garden, firstly; I wanted it to reflect our tastes rather than our parent’s. What do we eat?  More into black beans than yard long beans.  More into chickpeas than green peas, spaghetti squash rather than summer squash,  purple potatoes rather than white.  Alan is from Georgia and prefers Vidalia onions.  We sweeten our tea with stevia.  We wanted our own citrus, nuts and berries to support our latest “we are getting old and have to obsess on what we put into our bodies” diet.

Secondly; we have to make money. So, What does the market around us want?  Lot’s of Farm to Table networks in the area, so, we’re thinking micro greens, heirloom tomatoes, peppers for our hot sauce account, juniper berries to the cocktail set.  Cut flowers and home decor gifts with a farmhouse vibe.

So, how many of what do we need to grow to make money? how do we arrange them in the space to make best use of water, sunlight, soil, fertilizing, pest control and harvesting? The  growveg.com software we purchased in January helped us get on track and working on it in the winter months worked great. Then in March, we started the seedlings in the greehouse, put cardboard down to kill the weeds, built two raised beds outside of the fence when we realized that we needed more space, built trellises for the tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers and squash, made string trellises for tomatoes and built up the bed for the potatoes, hauled in tons of organic soil, black cow fertilizer, mixed it with our composted soil and worked the beds with a broadfork. Brown paper was added  to hold in moisture and keep the weeds down and the seedlings and direct sow seeds were watered in. Next up, we’ve ordered the drip irrigation system and shadecloth and hope they arrive before the hail and tornadoes do and will participate in our first Farmer’s Market this Saturday. Here goes nothin’!

 

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Reinventing ourselves, again.

When my father passed away in 2014, my sister and I were forced to figure out what would happen to our family farm in Paris, Arkansas. Neither of us could imagine living in such a rural setting on 75 acres and so far away from a city of any size. What the heck would we do?  
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But as we walked the land the day of Dad’s funeral, I was stirred by its magic.  I explained that night to my husband that although it seemed illogical, I thought we should move there. If for no other reason but to secure this new asset.

Our lease in Eureka Springs, Arkansas was up and we had been looking to buy something with a few acres near the enchanting Victorian Village. We had put an offer in on a TinyHouse with some acreage just outside the Eureka Springs City limits and about 15 minutes after we learned that Dad had terminal lung cancer, we learned that our offer was not accepted. The universe had been conspiring to get us here even then.

 A tourist destination filled with galleries, spas, two writer’s colonies, a monastery and a Harley dealership nestled in the ancient Ozark hills, Eureka is a small burg filled with well-traveled people of vision and visited annually by millions of tourists from around the world. It offers the safety and community spirit of a small town with all of the broad-mindedness of citizens whose fingers are on the pulse of the wider world.  A vibe that is important for my husband and I at our core.  

Leaving our happy jobs and visually stimulating environment surrounded by people who “get us” and moving to an area that lacked the same aforementioned list, proved most terrifying for me. Still, we had not found a place to move into yet and a home of our own again with 75 acres and outbuildings was a dream we’d held since we moved back from Spain.  

We cut our work schedules in half and commuted two hours from the farm in Paris to work in Eureka Springs. We took turns looking after the farm and driving to our jobs. We began living in the house that my Dad built, cleaning out the barn, the potting shed, the green house and out buildings and protecting the estate from being vandalized again. Dad had abandoned the place handed down from his mother for his most recent wife and her 200 acre spread in a county nearby. More stories about that in future posts.

Alan embraced the change of more and more time at the farm more quickly than I was able to do.  There was so much to be done on the property immediately that he barely had a choice. I tortured myself with questions such as “We don’t know anyone! What would we do for social life? Would we be lonely without our peeps?” “If we gave up on Eureka and moved lock, stock, and barrel to the farm, how could we possibly make enough of a living to create a secure future?” “What would we do for jobs? Could we be farmers? At our age; 51 and 64, would we have the back strength necessary to grow the volume of food needed to be able to participate in the local Farmer’s Markets?” The numbers didn’t look good.

Our long time friends know that we reinvent ourselves every so often. Alan has been a bass player, recording artist, hair dresser, boxer and stone mason. I’ve been a voice over artist, actress, musician, handbag designer, children’s entertainer, hairdresser, makeup artist, boutique owner and wardrobe stylist. We’ve lived in Atlanta, Austin, Barcelona, Little Rock, Eureka Springs, collectively, and Coconut Grove and Dallas individually. While Alan and I are always ready for a transformation, even with our varied experiences, this one would be a bit of a stretch.  We didn’t know what a crop matrix was, what all of those tractor implements did, how to create pasture land from forested land, or how we could possibly compete with other River Valley farm families like the very experienced Xiong family down the road. And we wished that we’d been a little more specific with our dreams about the location. Paris, France would’ve suited just fine. Paris, Arkansas?

Our drive from Paris to our jobs in Eureka was largely through a scenic, 2 lane, winding road perched on the sides of massive rock faces with hair pin turns known as the Pig Trail. The drive through the mystical Ozark National Forest is a favorite of sports car and motorcycle enthusiasts. With its scenic look-outs and dense forest surroundings, the drive on Hwy 23 is at once stunning and, terrifying. The fear of fog, deer, landslides, trees falling, flash flooding creeks and visions of distant banjo music wafting in should your car break down at the wrong crook in the road, became too much.

My time at the farm this past year and a half consisted of meeting with bankers, lawyers, accountants, financial planners, extension office representatives, farmer’s co-ops, neighboring farmers and ranchers, experiencing failed crops and successful ones. It has taken me that long to work through the grief of letting go of our idyllic life in Eureka Springs where I knew everyone and what I was doing and to embrace a life we know little about.

It has been the deepest transformation that I’ve ever experienced because of what it represents. Letting go of our lives there represented letting go of old comfort zones and finding the courage to live the less conventional lives that we secretly craved. I had to let go of judging myself by the measure of other’s ideas about me and find the courage to give in to what the small voice was saying. I had to let go of worrying about measuring up to their ideas of how my life should look and jump into the unknown. Not my strong suit, number one. And number two, my friends celebrate my journey and love me as I am. So, I also had to learn to stop imposing complete delusions onto myself. Geez. I have trust issues okay.

The re-invention of myself into someone who trusts herself more than she trusts others to know what is best for her was a deeply frightening personal hurdle for me. I had to learn to experience the planet sans the force of my father’s existence, and give in to the illogical conclusion that we want to live in the middle of nowhere, in my Dad’s house, and become farmers .

The new plan is the subject of a future post.  Stay tuned.       

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