Archive for the ‘Growing the Farm’ Category

Winter Work

I’ve encountered the oddest idea lately – that farmers have the winter off because there isn’t anything to do on a farm in the winter when no crops are growing.  You know, like how teachers have the summer off.  What those of you who don’t happen to have experience with farms don’t know is how hard all of the other readers who DO have experience with farms are laughing right now after having read that first sentence.  Just give them a minute to catch their breath and we’ll go on…

IMG_20120107_153000 (800x541)Winter on a farm is when you do all the work that doesn’t have anything to do with actually plowing, planting, tending, and harvesting crops.  It’s when you do all the things you don’t have time to do in the summer.  This winter’s list for Healing Springs Acres was full: renovate a barn, build chicken coops, set out mushroom logs, build a rainwater collection system, and install solar panels on the renovated barn.

One of the things my ex-wife was always the most right about was the multiplication factor by which she adjusted my estimations of how long a given task, process, project, or function would take.  Let’s just say that I’m usually a bit over ambitious about how quickly I can get something done, or how much I can get done in a given time frame.  If I recall correctly she multiplied by three.  If I said it would take 30 minutes – whatever “it” was – she would count on an hour and a half and not really begin to consider than anything had gone wrong unless it took significantly longer than that.

OK, this winter’s project list might have been a little ambitious for one person with too little funding…

Then, of course, there’s also Maslow.  His hierarchy asserts that one’s basic needs for shelter, safety, and security jealously trump all aspirations for higher order productivity.  In my experience, he was right.

IMG_20121115_152614 (800x405)Late last fall we began setting up a trailer on the farm as a temporary shelter until something more permanent can be built.  I have a friend in Texas who has had an entire house built from scratch in less time than it has taken to get this trailer set-up and ready to satisfy the county.  There are still a couple of repairs that need to be completed before the plumber can finish.  I was explaining to a friend that I’d been waiting on dry enough weather to get back into where the trailer is to finish it and she just laughed as she said, “Welcome to farming!”

Unfortunately all of the other higher order projects depend on having power to run tools (for the most part).  Power depends on the trailer.  All of the electrical work is done.  The transformer is set and, the meter boxes are wired, and the trailer is connected.  All that has to happen to have power at the farm is for the county to decide that it’s all OK.  So, the plumber and I wait for things to dry out a bit and all the other projects wait for the most basic needs of shelter and power.  Welcome to farming.

101_2077 (800x600)There has been progress though, even if not as much as I might have projected or preferred.  Two of the most vital issues that had to be resolved for me to move onto the farm and increase the productivity over previous years were shelter and transportation.  With only a few weeks’ exception, the need for shelter at the farm has been met.  Power and water follow along with shelter.  The mushroom logs will be inoculated the second week of March and symbolize the beginning of a cash crop to help offset expenses with farm based income.  If you’ve followed previous blog posts you’re familiar with the saga of trying to solve the problem of suitable farm/family transportation.  That need has been met as well.

A good-bye drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway...

A good-bye drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway…

I finally resolved the NC title issues with my old ’77 Volkswagen camper and traded it for a new old truck (2001 F150XLT 4×4 Super Cab).  It will haul everything important; both the food we grow to give away, and my daughters when they are with me.

101_2073 (800x525)Along with the new old truck, I got a nice dual chamber barbecue smoker.  The smoker was just an added bonus in the deal and rather serendipitously provides a solution to two conundrums I’ve been pondering since this journey began.  How does Healing Springs Acres go from being a project to being a community – without a bunch of people moving to Healing Springs?  And, how do churches relate to the farm in a financially supportive way without cannibalizing their budgets?

101_2141 (800x676)That’s where the smoker comes in.  I’ve already booked a couple of BBQ fundraisers for the farm which are being hosted by congregations.  Within an hour or two of the farm, I can show up early with the smoker, have BBQ ready for a Wednesday night fellowship meal or other special event, and bring something of the farm to the congregation.  I’m betting that if the BBQ’s good, I can find a handful of churches which will welcome some variation of this once or twice a year.

101_2143 (800x600)The BBQ fundraiser provides funding in the form of money that would have been spent for food anyway (who’s not gonna eat some good BBQ every now and then…?), without taking money from the church’s mission budget.  I also assume that these regular annual, or semiannual, visits would inspire occasional crews for workdays at the farm.  The doing of it regularly nurtures an ongoing relationship in which the congregation can become truly aware of, connected to, and involved in the ministry of the farm.

Chicken coops and a rainwater collection system would have been nice to have this spring, but they weren’t critically necessary items.  We may not have accomplished three times as much as would be reasonable to expect for an underfunded operation, but we did solve the critical problems.  Moving onto the farm with power, water, and a decent farm truck will allow us to tend twice as much land this year as last.  The ability to irrigate will make all of the land we tend more productive than last year.  That’s progress – and I’ll take it. Please forgive me though if I continue to project three times as much progress as is fiscally possible.  It’s just what I do…

Winter is a time of dying. The cycle that feeds the earth – and thereby all of us – cannot continue without the death and decay of last year’s growth.  The soil is amended by reclaiming the life it produced.  It is made ready to produce the new life of the coming spring.

Winter is also the time of Lent.  I did not grow up in a liturgically minded tradition, but I have come to appreciate the work of dying necessary to the Lenten journey.  The dying of ambitious striving to make a way for satisfaction with the accomplishments which bring new life.

Part of what is still slow to die in me is the idea of self contained sufficiency in this project.  To those of you who have already chosen to be part of the community of support for the ministry of Healing Springs Acres, thank you.  Thank You.  Thank You.  Thank You!

Spring is coming.  May we all finish our winter work to make way for spring’s new life…

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On Naming A Truck

I’ve had more vehicle trouble in the last two years than in my entire previous life. No exaggeration. Nearly every vehicle I’ve owned, or even used, since I left Atlanta has had fatal mechanical issues. A blown engine, a toasted clutch, massive electronic failure. That’s just the Cliff’s Notes version of the highlights not including last week.

My vehicle needs are simple. I need:

– something reliable I can use to transport myself to and fro,
– something to carry up to two other people, with luggage, when my daughters are along,
– and something I can use to do work on the farm.

Obviously, I need a truck. Sounds simple. But, it hasn’t been.

I already own two vehicles. Neither one is a truck.

“Silver” on a little mesa overlooking Death Valley

The most reliable vehicle I own is my Harley, named Silver. With over 96,000 miles it’s never leaked a drop of oil from the engine during the time I’ve owned it – a rare claim for a Harley. I bought it in ’08 with 20,000 miles on it and can’t speak for its behavior during that period of its life, but since then it has behaved. There was a brief period in early ’10 when it leaked oil from the primary drive housing – which led to the above mentioned toasted clutch – but that was corrected and it’s been tight ever since. So – take that naysayers. Go pick on some other bike brand – preferably one of the ones made out of plastic. Leave my Harley alone.

Filling the primary drive housing

The bike only satisfies one and a half of my three needs. It will haul me. It will haul me to see my girls, but won’t haul all three of us with luggage. While I have used it to haul farm supplies and produce, it has obvious payload limitations. It’s not an acceptable primary vehicle. One of the most difficult decisions I’ve had over the last couple of years has been whether or not to sell the bike to re-allocate that money to some other form of more practical transportation. I don’t think I could.

Oh, believe it or not, I could survive emotionally without the bike. I’m not sure I could actually get enough out of it financially though to solve the resulting need for reliable transportation. Key word – reliable. There have been too many times when the other vehicles around me have let me down and the bike has gotten me there when I absolutely had to see a client or get to a meeting. I’m not sure the amount I could get out of it would replace it with something as drop dead reliable as it has proven to be. That, and it’s nearly the only thing in my life that never fails to make me smile while asking almost nothing of me… Silver stays.

The Pickle. It has a fridge, sink, stove, and sleeps 4 if you REALLY like each other.

The other vehicle I own is The Pickle, a ’77 Volkswagon Westfalia camper bus. Despite its reputation, it is also a fairly reliable vehicle. Quirky? Yes – but reliable. However, The Pickle suffers from a titling mishap between the state of GA and the state of NC which I won’t detail here because it’s my fault and I don’t like talking about it. Don’t ask. While The Pickle would actually satisfy all three of my vehicular requirements – and with style – the end of the story is that I haven’t yet been able either to register it in the state of NC to make use of it, or sell it to make use of whatever money I could get out of it. So, for now, The Pickle stays – and stays immobile.

When I left Atlanta, I was on a shoe string budget to support my daughters and myself while getting the farm started. A new vehicle, even an old new vehicle, just wasn’t in the budget. So, it’s been quite an odyssey over the past year and a half to solve my basic transportation needs on a knowingly and intentionally constricted budget. After the death of a Honda Civic during the limbo existence of an unregistered hippie van, I’ve driven a mid ’90’s model Nissan Maxima on loan from a generous friend to address needs one and two. Others have loaned the occasional pick-up when farm tasks demanded. That’s worked well enough, but I obviously needed a permanent solution.

I actually solved my transportation problem back in October of last year by negotiating an advance from a then client. It was enough to purchase a truck so I started looking. I struck a verbal agreement to purchase a truck that would have been nearly perfect for the farm. It was actually a truck I had purchased new in ’96 and later sold. There would have been absolute poetry in buying back my own truck. I was looking forward to writing that blog post – instead I’m writing this one.

After I inquired about buying the truck back, we agreed on a price and agreed on the sale with the timing of the transaction being contingent on the owner finding a suitable replacement. The price we agreed to was substantially less than the advance I had negotiated, so I applied the balance to other pressing financial needs and waited to receive word that it was time to consummate the sale. Instead I got word that the owner was backing out of our deal.

That left me with no truck, not enough money left on hand to get another truck, and still working off an advance with no resulting cash flow to put toward saving for another purchase. By this time I had taken a job with far greater time demands than would allow me to maintain the consulting work which would have made it easier to just go buy another truck. I was stuck for at least a year not being able to budget another vehicle purchase. That opportunity was a one time window which had been slammed shut on my fingers. For the record, it was my fault for trusting the deal to begin with. I should have known better.

An old truck in need of a new home.

Perhaps you can imagine the sort of salvation it felt like finally to have found an old truck that would mostly meet all three of my needs after having had the funds for purchasing it donated. The heavenly blue body of the old ’77 F150 may look like hell, but the truth is that the in-line, six cylinder, Ford engine is reputed to be pretty much “bullet proof.” This engine and 4×4 transmission are actually highly sought after as replacements for newer models. It’s not an interstate vehicle but it should be a long lived and useful tool.

Finding the truck was so exciting that, as many of you reading this will know, I immediately posted a “Help name this truck” thread on the Healing Springs Acres facebook page (which you can “like” to keep up with all the cool news from the farm). I had originally planned this blog post to be a pleasant stroll through the many heartfelt name suggestions, culminating in a reveal of my final choice – which I’ll get to in another few paragraphs or so…

A week ago today I went to pick up the truck. It runs like a sewing machine when I crank it. However, it doesn’t run at all when the engine is under a load once you get up to speed like, oh, say, going up a hill. I knew there wasn’t much gas in the tank and left a childhood neighbor’s house to go to the nearest gas station which involves going up a steep hill. Well, it involves attempting to go up a steep hill. The truck died. I coasted into a driveway, sat, got it cranked, and tried again. The hill I went down to get into this little valley isn’t as steep as the one that just thwarted me, so I tried going back that way to a different gas station. No go. Coast. Park. Sit. Crank… This time I made it farther up the steep side of the God-forsaken-death-valley-of-no-return, but not far enough. Tried the shallow side again to no avail. About the time I got off the phone with the wrecker service, I began to think up an entirely new set of potential names for this machine that I used to think I was going to enjoy getting to know.

Hitching a ride out of the God-forsaken-death-valley-of-no-return.

The names y’all came up with were much more flattering, cute, and quaint than the ones I conjured on the side of the road in the God-forsaken-death-valley-of-no-return. Altogether there were 68 entries. 12 of them got more than one vote. Oddly enough, Seymour, Tiffany, Turnip Truck, Blue Balls, Mephibosheth, and Consuela weren’t among the offerings which got affirmation from anyone but the authors. Go figure – although, I have to admit, Consuela does have a ring to it. In Spanish it is the feminized version of a word meaning, solace, hope, and consolation. Fitting, perhaps.Here are the top suggestions according to reader feedback:

Ole Blue (Blue, Old Blue, etc…)
Babe
Blew
Blue Bell
Hank
Tater Bug
Abby (for “Abundance’)
Blue Moon
Cooter
Henry (Henry Ford)
The Blue Goose

Blue, Ole Blue, and other Blue variants were the clear front runners with over 25 combined votes. Fourteen for Ole Blue alone. Had the name decision ever been designed to be a simple vote, this would be the last sentence of this post. Funny thing is that when I posted the facebook invitation to suggest names, I had intended to add the disclaimer, “OK folks, Ole Blue is such an obvious choice as to constitute pandering so I’m counting on y’all for more creative suggestions than that,” but before I could get that added it had already been suggested more than once. I didn’t want to stifle the flow so I just let it go. However, I stand by my assessment and Ole Blue’s not going be the name.

My plan all along was to gather suggestions and let my daughters help decide. The cuteness of letting them participate should mitigate the frustrated whining and grumbling of those of you whose suggestions aren’t chosen. The youngest went with Henry, for Henry Ford, right out of the gate. She quickly changed her mind though to Blue Moon when she heard the reasoning behind the suggestion – that the truck looked like it would only run once in a blue moon. The eldest was disinterested. At first I assumed it was typical teen disregard for anything not deemed cool enough to be paid attention. Upon asking why she was so quiet I learned, as I often do with both of my daughters, that there was more wisdom there than I’d initially accounted for.

She was making a principled decision not to invest energy in what she had assessed was a doomed endeavor. “You can’t just get a bunch of suggestions and pick a name for a vehicle. It has to come to you on its own” she said. The child knows of what she speaks. She is the new driver of a burgundy wine colored little car. It came to her early on that her first car should be called, Winona. It fits.

With no consensus from the daughters, I was left to make my own choice. There was actually one suggestion which did resonate with me immediately and evoked fond childhood memories when I heard it. Babe. As in, Paul Bunyan’s Babe the Blue Ox.

Babe awaiting a rebuilt carburetor

As of this writing, the carburetor has been removed, the fuel filter cleaned, the fuel pump checked out, and the clarity of the gas seems to suggest a generally clean tank. The acceleration pump in the carburetor is being rebuilt and all should be well. I’m going with Babe because, after this episode, this truck sure enough better be as tough as a mythical ox. I’m about to put it work and if it doesn’t pull its weight, we’ll find out for sure whether or not the engine lives up to the reputation of being bullet proof.

Moving on — onto the farm!

The first potato

Since leaving my position as president of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Foundation in Atlanta in June of 2010, and tossing a perfectly good six figure position right out the window I have: lived in a relative’s basement one door away from dogs, camped on friends’ couches, lived in a bartered house, a few hotels, and a part-time parsonage.  All part of the odyssey to create, grow, and live on the farm known as Healing Springs Acres.

“Massy” plowing potatoes

Soon I will become the first full-time human resident at the farm in over 40 years.  This marks a major evolution of the ministry from its beginnings as an experimental garden plot to becoming a living, breathing ecosystem to grow food and give it away.  Healing Springs Acres is coming to life.  Not just as a farm, but as a community of generosity.  In our first two growing seasons over 50 people have come together to give away over 10,000 pounds of food.  That’s about 20,000 meals worth from just a little over an acre.

Freshly dug ‘taters ready to pick up

We’ve barely gotten started and we can do so much more: Planting generosity, Providing food, Proclaiming that others can do the same.

Tex Sample proclaims that one cannot build the relationships necessary to do substantially effective ministry among “survivors” and “hard living” folk by visiting them.  You have to join them.  Incarnation.  In a loose translation of the Hebrew word which corresponds to the idea of incarnation, he calls it “pitching tent.”

Bending and stooping and bending and stooping

One of Jesus’ less inviting sales pitches to would-be followers was, “foxes have their holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  The tag line to this brilliant recruiting pitch was his oft offered invitation, “follow me.”  If that’s the standard of comparison, I’ve succeeded.  By any measure I am now poor and have nowhere to lay my head.  Well, that’s not technically true.  It is essentially true though and the technicalities which keep it from being actually true are tenuous at best.

Johnny The Hippie

In a little over a month I’ll finish my work as interim pastor in Elkin, NC and move on from the part-time parsonage which has become a full-time residence this last month as I transition from one housing solution to another.  Ultimately, I have a place to go – eventually – but timing is going to be an issue. The actual residence on the farm will not be ready by the time I need it to be.  Earlier this week I finally finished snipping through the pile of civic red tape which had previously bound up tangible progress toward getting water, a driveway, a septic system, power and some of the other ingredients essential to establishing residence on the farm.  The way is now clear, but there is still a ways to go.

Home sweet Allegro

I have access to an RV which will serve as a temporary way point on the way to establishing residence on the farm.  The only problem with that is that it’s illegal in my county to “live” in an RV other than in an officially designated campground.  So, technically, I won’t.  I’ll literally “pitch tent.”  As far as I can tell, there’s no law against plain ol’ camping – just RV camping.

Oh, I’ll use the RV – but I won’t “live” in it.  It will be hooked up to appropriate water and sewer resources and will have power as needed through a generator. Basically, it will be a glorified bath house and camp kitchen.  I have a perfectly good Kelty tent I’ve looked at wistfully for years wishing I made more time to use it.  Now, I will.

Yukon Gold!

The last time I used the tent was living in the Gulf Coast heat for a week while helping rebuild after the hurricanes.  It already has a few miles on it in service of a worthy mission.  May as well keep up the pattern.  I’ll “live” in the tent and use the RV for storage and cooking.  If that’s illegal, then consider this my official notice of intended civil disobedience in pursuit of a good cause.

Many of you will be sitting is some form of whatever you consider to be comfort as you read this.  You will be tempted to feel sorry for me as I weather this little timing glitch between residences.  Don’t.

Not quite half of the harvest

Those of you who have known me longest will recall that I spent my last year of college debating whether or not to get married right away or thru-hike the Appalachian Trail which, of course, is really just a six month migratory camping trip. It’s not like this sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me in all kinds of ways.  To quote Hank Jr., “A Country Boy Can Survive…

I’ll be fine.  I’ll be on the farm.  It’s what progress looks like in this situation.  It’s Incarnation.

A Farmer and a Preacher

What’s important is the ministry that happens at Healing Springs Acres.  The pictures you’ve been looking at as you’ve read this far are what really matters – this year’s harvest.  Ten of us gathered two weeks ago to pick up the potatoes we planted back in April.  We harvested over 2,000 pounds of white, yellow, and red potatoes.  Those potatoes were on the streets within days serving people who don’t have better options for a meal.  They were distributed by at least five different feeding ministries which are still serving them.  That’s what matters.

Double checking

A few months ago a pastor friend who knew of the housing related issues with which I was wrangling asked me what I was going to do.  I said, “I’m going to keep working to make Healing Springs Acres a reality until there just isn’t any way to keep going.  I’m going to grow food to give away to people who are far worse off than I am.”

End of the row

As bothersome as all this sounds, I still have plenty of workable options.  Having options, and the wherewithal to choose among them, makes one wealthy in ways not everyone gets to experience.  There are still plenty of folks out there worse off than me – and I can still do something helpful about that.

Maybe you can too…

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