I spent much of last Friday putting finishing touches on Frosty the Snowman. Despite the warm sunny week we'd been having, I was in a holiday mood as I built a life-size wooden model of Frosty. Christmas music was playing while I worked at gluing pieces of charcoal on him to make his eyes and smile. But all the while the sun was shining and people were outside in shorts and t-shirts that day.
I built our Frosty out of old planks, something I always enjoy doing! The planks were scrap wood from the old mink shed we tore down last fall. It wasn't usable for a new building, but it certainly worked well to build Frosty.
He is sporting an Old Plank Farm t-shirt and carrying a sign that says "eat more vegetables." His nose makes for a tasty snack. I built Frosty so that he can be part of our float in Plymouth's Annual Christmas Parade tomorrow. The Old Plank Farmers are looking forward to being part of the event, and hope you'll come out for it! The parade starts at 7pm on Friday in downtown Plymouth.
When I finished working on Frosty last Friday afternoon it was near 70 degrees outside. Much of November had been this way. I left him in the shop that afternoon, the glue drying on his eyes and smile. I made sure to latch the shop door, since the wind was picking up quite a bit.
The next morning I awoke to a blanket of snow covering the farm. Wind chills were in the teens and the ground had frozen, as did one of our water hydrants. Wind gusts took my breath away as I went around feeding the pigs and chickens. After chores, I went into the shop, got a fire going in the wood stove, and sat next to it to warm up. I listened to the wind and watched through the cracks in the door as more snow came down. The farm was silent except for the wind blowing outside and the fire crackling in the stove. I couldn't help but notice how happy Frosty seemed to be, gleaming at me from across the shop. While I enjoy cold and snow a lot, I can't say I was ready for it yet. Frosty, on the other hand, looked especially pleased with the sudden change in seasons. Perhaps I just did a really good job gluing the charcoal to his face.
This past week our community suffered the loss of Jerry Berg, who was killed in a car accident late Tuesday afternoon. Jerry was one of the original organic farmers in this area, long before there was much recognition for organics at all. He raised cows on his farm just outside of Cascade for nearly all of his life. Into his eighties he continued to graze cows on his farm and, equally important, to help other farmers all around the area.
I am among the young farmers who were grateful to know Jerry. He's helped my farm in many ways over the years. Favors like borrowing a tractor and other equipment go a long way on a fledgling farm like mine. There are signs of Jerry around my farm even now. He gave us the stainless steel bulk tanks that we use for washing vegetables, the manure spreader that we've hauled countless tons of compost with, and the old hay wagon we converted into a mobile coop for pasturing chickens. Two years ago, when I was just beginning plans for what is now the root cellar being constructed here, Jerry was the first to offer me a loan to help finance it.
I can't say that I know much else about him, since our interactions were usually brief and always related to my farm. All I know is that I admired him for his dedication to sustainable farming and was truly honored when he would stop in to see how things were going at my farm.The start-up years at Old Plank Farm were endlessly challenging. Sometimes the fine line between success and failure lies in the strength of the support coming from the community. Jerry was one of the old-timers in this community who not only accepted me and my farm but also encouraged me to keep at it, and that has made all the difference. He was a role model who won't be forgotten.
Jerry didn't ever want much, if anything at all, in return for the help he gave. Perhaps long ago there were old-timers who helped him get his farm on it's feet, and, during the years I knew him, he had become the old-timer who was simply paying it forward. I hope, decades from now, I can be the same.
Late last week we set about planting some winter veggies in one of our hoop houses. It was a beautiful Fall day, full of sunshine. Of course, a sunny day means a summer day while working under the plastic in the hoop house. It was a balmy 80 degrees inside and I was enjoying the feeling of summer again. How quickly the mind seems to forget the difficulties of toiling away in the heat; just one or two cold mornings makes me relish a chance to be hot and sweaty again.
While the heat made me feel like it was summer, I realized my body kept thinking it was Spring, the season for planting. Crawling around in the freshly tilled earth with small transplants in my hands is something I associate with Spring, not Fall. I kept marveling at the notion that these young plants are going to grow and mature throughout the Fall and Winter instead. I'm very excited to be trying my hand at winter growing for the first time this season. If things go well, we may have some winter veggies for sale this year, like carrots, leeks, and fresh salad greens.
And to disorient my seasonal compass even further that afternoon, Angelica had her i-pod on while we were planting. Her music of choice? Christmas songs!
Ah, there's a leek in the well!
Alas, there is also a leak in our well. A crack in the well casing, five feet below ground. We found it when we were digging to put the new water line for the new building. A somewhat serious problem, to be sure. But it hasn't set construction of the new building back at all, and it will be fixed soon! That's not the only leek from this past week, though. Sometime I will write the story of this past week, and I will call it Leak Week at Old Plank Farm. Now is not that time. It's Saturday night, and I am late for game night with my fellow farming friends!
They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Perhaps these ones taken on my old flip phone are only worth five hundred. Either way, I'm not in a very expressive mood this evening, so I'll leave this picture to do the job. The walls of the new root cellar are going up beautifully, despite the over-dose of rain we've had lately.
Meanwhile, we slipped and slopped our way through a very muddy week in the vegetable fields. The gardens are saturated with moisture, but the crops look okay right now. Our raised-bed systems are keeping the vegetables' heads just above water. But if we get another inch of rain tonight I may have to break out the veggie life-jackets.
The first of the concrete for our modern root cellar was poured today. Before the concrete was set, two dump truck loads of stone were brought in and poured on the floor of the excavation site. Then the concrete footings were poured and next week the 10' sidewalls will be poured. Then a little while after that the concrete floor will be poured on top of the stone foundation. So much stone, built into a rock solid building set into the earth of Old Plank Farm. That, in a few words, is the design of our modern root cellar.
We broke ground today on our modern root cellar here at Old Plank Farm. It took all of spring and summer to finalize the financing, get permits approved, and plan the different agendas for each part of the project. While I had hoped to have the building done before the 2016 harvest season started (actually, I hoped to have it done before the 2015 season started, but things never go quite as I plan!), I am finding that now is as good of time as any for the construction to take place. After all, it is a building that is meant to serve the farm for many, many decades, so one additional year spent now to get it done right is well worth it. I have been waiting a long time to improve our packing and storing capacities here, but I can wait a little more.
It has been many weeks since I've written here. Though I think about it almost daily, writing is not a habit I'm able to keep during the mid-summer heat. We've been busy as ever at the farm, and when the day is done I never seem to find the energy to sit down and write. Compared to the energy needed to work in the field during the day, writing a paragraph or two shouldn't be as daunting of a task as it is. Yet any writer might agree that taking a pen to paper isn't any easier than taking a harvest knife to a field of salad mix.