We have lived on this farm for 10 years almost exactly, since July 1, 2007. It is a long time. We came here so excited that first night and camped on the porch before my brother arrived with the box truck the next day carrying our bed. It was just my wife and I and our son who was one year and three months old.
When my brother arrived, my family also came: mother and father and a sister. They saw the house and farm for the first time, which was overgrown, not bought in foreclosure but close. We purchased the place using a “No Doc loan” and just before the mortgage bubble burst. Lucky we did, because we wouldn’t have the farm otherwise. At that time, I was unemployed.
I remember that first day when we unloaded the box truck. After finishing bringing stuff inside the family wondered how else they could help for a few hours. So my brother and I took to tackling a large-tooth aspen tree that had its top blown out and resting precariously on a empty chicken run extending from a lean-to attached to the garage. I shimmied up in the tree in my army fatigue pants and a short-sleeved, button-up shirt. I can’t remember if I knew that I was climbing among poison ivy or if I thought at that time I wasn’t susceptible to its accompanying skin rash, but I really laid into it, rubbing back and forth against the leaves as I used the handsaw to free one of the limbs of the dead aspen top. Two days later, my family long gone, my arms were a mess, an unholy mess of itch and pain.
We didn’t plant any trees that first year and I can’t find record of planting in 2008 either. It wasn’t until spring of 2009 that we started the first orchard, mainly picking varieties out of Miller’s (since purchased by Stark Bros) catalog according to ripening time and hardiness. We knew very little about what we were doing – very, very little.
But over those first years we did learn, little by little, first about livestock then trees and gardening. Mainly, the land taught us but Failure had perhaps the best lessons. We learned about boostrap farming however we could: from books and movies and a little from neighbors and online. Family and old friends didn’t know anything about bootstrap farming, so there was little they could impart. But we learned the path. It is a strange and slow path. And perhaps it is not a sustainable path (because it assumes that the mortgage is paid off) but it is a path nonetheless and this lifestyle can work.
There was a time that I knew the path before I could even articulate it. Even now, I would hesitate before trying to put it actually into words. There is no elevator pitch for this path. Money in fact has very little to do with it. But I did know in my heart that it could work. And this can perhaps be the worst part of the journey: knowing the path. If you know the path, Oh boy, you open yourself to some hardships. I tell you, there can at times be nothing worse than knowing the path – the terrible teeth gnash all the more if it is a true, good and valuable path for the world.
Now we are halfway down the path, well, maybe not quite halfway. We’re a good ways down it anyway. And, in the last 5 years around our area I’ve seen some gung-ho, very hip and hot farmers toss in the towel. Still, we plug along little by little.
Really, it seems anymore like there is a path but we don’t know we are on it, or rather that the path has somehow disappeared but there is still something beneath our feet. Here we are in this place where we can look around and see things both done and undone, we can listen to people who know and who don’t, who understand and don’t; see those supporting us and thwarting us. We can see many things and tell ourselves a multitude of tales about what we see. Still, here we are at this moment in time, still at it. Such is life.
Featured image Artist unknown