Thankful

Twenty Seven.

I’ve never been more grateful for a number. That’s how many people came along to help this season’s work happen at Healing Springs Acres. They helped keep the farm – and me – going. Some let me know they could participate for a few months. Others are still in for the long haul. Some show up in the number of supporters you can see on our Patreon page. Others gave other ways. Some give small but persistent amounts. Others have made significant one time contributions.

This new mower was provided by one of the supporters who doesn’t show up in any public ways – but shows up in all the right ways as often as possible. Thank You!

In addition to vital moral support to me personally, the financial support these 27 people have provided has made three things possible here at the farm and beyond:

  1. They’ve made another season of work growing food to give away POSSIBLE. This project was on the brink of ending for lack of resources. 27 people agreed that THIS was not the season to stop growing food to give away. It was still a challenging season – not the least of which has been the continuing increased pressure from deer after the loss of a couple hundred acres of habitat just south of here. Challenges are normal. This season wouldn’t have even been possible without the support of 27 people. There’s a summary of the season – and exciting things to come in a previous post.

  2. They’ve helped complete the launch of the new podcast, Welcome to the Table!: what people are doing to end hunger. In our first season of 7 episodes of on location interviews with other entrepreneurial instigators who have started their own food or hunger related projects, we’ve had just over 1,000 downloads of the podcast! I’ve heard from listeners who have been inspired to begin their own efforts to help end hunger in their communities, and there is a growing list of new friends I’m eager to interview for a second season. I hope you’ll listen to back episodes if you haven’t yet. Then, subscribe so you’ll be notified when Season 2 starts. Once a Covid vaccine helps us achieve a safer level of interaction so face to face interviews can be a thing again, I’ll be back on the road and I hope you’ll listen in!

  3. They’ve kept ME going. With quarantine following immediately on the heels of unemployment, this has been the most challenging year I’ve ever face personally. Without the 27 people who agreed that this work is worth doing that that they want to live in a work where someone is doing this sort of thing, I would have had a personally devastating year and this project would have come to a tragic end after being a relatively good, productive, and beautiful thing for nearly a decade. I’ll devote a future post entirely to the podcast. Stay tuned…

27 people is all it took to turn catastrophe into survival. Just the other day a friend asked how things were going for me. I replied,

This sound mixing board was provided by another supporter who won’t show up in any public numbers – but who also has a love for good audio and is invested in the success of the podcast – and me. Thank You!

Things are mostly good. I mean, 2020 good, but mostly good.

2020 good. Yes, that says it all. In 2020, survival was good enough and I am more grateful for the support that made that possible than these words can possibly ever convey. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You…

27 times – Thank You.

There is still a lot of work ahead to begin growing wheat for flour, and to continue producing a quality podcast about what people are doing to end hunger. That will take more than 27 people.

But, for 2020, 27 was perfect. Again, Thank You.

Virtual Visit Update – “Come Ride Along…”

Here’s a link to the most recent “Virtual Visit” and update to goins’-on at the farm. I hope you’ll take a minute to visit. Get in touch if you have questions. Consider helping out if you’re able…

Shifting Seasons

Neither of my current primary vehicles is a straight drive. I miss the feel of slipping a shifter out of gear as the clutch releases, sliding it into the next position and matching the engine speed to the new gear as the clutch re-engages. With an automatic, it all still happens, but you don’t have to pay attention to it or be engaged in the process.

As I grow things here, I’m more engaged in the shifting of seasons than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve mentioned several times that the weather is an unforgiving mistress and she always wants to dance. If you don’t dance in rhythm with the seasons, you may well get your toes stepped on — or, you know, trip and fall and break your neck…

Most folk in our society don’t grow things anymore – other than ornamentals. If we’re not growing things that we depend on to eat, we can sort of get away with going on automatic and ignoring the shifts in seasons. Our clothing may change with the HVAC settings for seasonal comfort but not much else is required in the way of seasonal mindfulness — if we’re not growing things.

The technological conveniences of an information driven, industrialized economy have allowed us to pretend, for the most part, that the weather and other forces of nature are mere matters of inconvenience in our calendared lives rather than an essential rhythm in the dance of life. We may fool ourselves for a good long while that our technology actually can separate us from those natural rhythms and that we can ultimately set our own seasonal pace for life.

That’s true but, there’s another Truth. Absolutely nothing in the natural world cares about our convenience, or has any investment in propping up the illusion that our lives can actually be insulated from the forces of the natural world.

Deer don’t care. There’s not a single animal in the local herd that ever even considers that I might have a noble purpose for the food I try to grow here. They don’t care that there are people who don’t have enough to eat and that what comes from here is meant for them. They are far more concerned with the seasonal availability of their favored food sources than with any designs I may try to impose on that rhythm. When food is in season they will eat it if they can get to it first – and the nocturnal beasts will always get there first. That’s one of the survival advantages they gain from living in such faithful rhythm with nature’s seasonal dance.

Survival. That’s what it comes down to. When the deer are in a season of plentiful food, they eat. When the seasons change they adjust their behavior and change their movement patterns to adjust to the changing season. They’ve constructed absolutely no illusions of the separation of their lives from their natural world. They know better than to ignore the shifting seasons because they know that absolutely nothing in the natural world cares if they survive.

Covid doesn’t care. Covid is a living thing perfectly attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and has absolutely no interest or investment in propping up our preferred conveniences. One of the costs of our delusion that we are able to insulate ourselves from the natural rhythms of life, such as the shifts of seasons, has been our dulled survival instincts in our dance with the Covid Season.

I’m paying attention to the deer. They are so persistently deft at knowing when and how to shift their behavior and patterns of movement to the rhythm of the season. Covid Season has a rhythm – its own natural rhythm – and is also nearly perfectly tuned to navigate this season of its life. It exhibits the same persistent deftness as the deer while it exploits the mistakes of any of its prey. Us. We are its prey.

Far too may of us have leaned into the same base impulses of defiance which define so many of our other approaches to the natural world as a strategy for dealing with Covid. In our naive but determined disassociation from seasonal mindfulness we, as a society, have largely insisted that the Covid virus honor our preference to get on with life. As of this writing, over 231,000 of our neighbors have born witness in their deaths to the frivolity of that strategy and the technologically enabled arrogance that fuels it.

Convenience is a hell of an alter to die on.

Shifting rhythms and patterns of movement in response to the Covid Season of our lives – staying home as much as you can, keeping distance all the time, wearing a mask consistently and correctly when you do have to go out, washing your hands a few extra times – absolutely SUCKS. We all agree. And, I flat don’t care. Neither does Covid. This is a season which demands an adjusted rhythm and exacts a high cost on defiance and apathy. You’d better dance in rhythm to the season, or you’ll get your toes stepped on — or, you know, die a needlessly breathless death or cause the same for someone you know and love.

I’m not being flippant about the recognition that this all sucks. Bankruptcy level sucks. Suicide level sucks. I’m still alive, still almost solvent — but, yeah — it sucks hard. Ever since starting the year with a (not-so-surprising) early end to an interim assignment, I’ve been unemployed through the entire pandemic.

None of the ways I normally make money off the farm are well suited to ramping up in a pandemic economy. Professional strategy coaching is PERFECT for me as a coach during quarantine living. All of my coaching work is already done over the phone. However, most potential clients have pulled back from their own projects during this season as well, so finding NEW coaching clients in this season – sucks. The support I’ve received from some of the folks reading this, alongside some sporadic coaching work I’ve maintained is all that has sustained me during the Covid Season. I GET that it’s been hard. Viscerally. I was already on budget lockdown before any level of quarantine began.

Yes. Quarantine is terribly hard — and I still don’t care how much anyone would like us all to open things back up and just get back to “keeping on keeping on,” and neither does Covid. We have long since shifted into the Covid Season. Adapt, or suffer far worse than the brutal inconvenience of adaptation. Our collective experience seems to bear out the idea that walking to the beat of one’s own drum in defiance of a novel virus is bat-shit-crazy — speaking of bats.

None of my perspectives come from atop a privileged pile of resources that makes navigating all of this easier for me than for others. Staying committed to this farm project is not a luxury I choose to indulge in. It’s something I decided over a decade ago to do no matter how difficult it got. That is not made possible by an abundance of anything other than an above average risk tolerance and the willingness to forego luxuries that most other folk consider to be bare necessities. You know, things like eating out, cable TV and, health insurance.

No, if you’ve gotten through this year on more than about $900 a month, you really don’t want to try to tell me how hard it’s been on folks to stay home. You don’t want to try to explain to me why we should be opening everything back up and getting on with life. You won’t enjoy that conversation. If you are as determined as most folks seem to be to dance to their own rhythm in Covid Season, come on ahead. I warned you.

By this point, someone reading this is chuckling to themselves thinking it’s ironic that I’ve used a metaphor of a herd animal, a deer, to illustrate my point. They’re thinking something along the lines of,

“Isn’t herd immunity the goal??? Staying at home and avoiding mass exposure to the virus just delays that!!!”

Well, yes. Yes, we do want to achieve functional herd immunity. That’s the desired outcome. Let’s be clear though, wide spread, willy-nilly exposure to achieve herd immunity is NOT a strategy. I’m not going to pretend to be a virologist or epidemiologist. I’m not going to try to adjudicate the arguments for or against mass exposure as a strategy to achieve herd immunity — and neither are any you in the comments.

“Winning” is the most frequent desired outcome of running a race. If you’ve ever competed in a race of any kind, you don’t need anyone to tell you that although winning may be your desired outcome, you’d better come at it with a LOT more than just, “winning the race” as a STRATEGY for achieving your desired outcome.

Herd immunity is our desire, but all indications are that it will take something more than mass exposure or desperate desire to get us there. None of the actual virologists and immunologists I’ve read offer any hope of shifting out of Covid Season until we shift into Vaccine Season.

While I’m not going to adjudicate the arguments for or against that conclusion here (and, again, neither are you…), I AM going to continue to listen to the folks who’ve spent their lives studying these things over the folks who just decided they had it all figured out sometime since this past March. If you fit into that genius-come-lately category, what you have is a case of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, not the solution to Covid Season. Either way — Thank You — but, I’ve already got sources on this.

“Keeping on keeping on” isn’t a bad idea though even if having to keep on keeping on while quarantined truly sucks. So does having voracious deer who eat all of your green beans and sweet corn. I’m going to keep on paying attention to the forces of nature bearing down upon me and do my best to make persistent, deft shifts in my rhythm to dance with them. “This is the way.”

One of the most immediate shifts I’m making in response to the natural forces at play in my corner of the natural world is to shift away from planting things that deer like to eat, like corn and green beans, and toward something they’re less fond of — wheat. The immediate impulse for the change is the voraciousness of the deer. As I’ve considered it though, shifting to wheat that I can grind into flour to give away improves the operation here in several other ways as well. I’ll make another whole post about that soon. In the mean time, here’s a link to recent Virtual Visit which includes your next fix of Tractor Cam, and more details on why shifting to wheat is a good idea for my next steps here at the farm.

Seasons shift. We pay attention or we don’t.

What adjustments are you making as the seasons of your life shift?

Are they in rhythm with the forces of the natural world?

Have your shifts in Covid Season been informed most by the wisdom of the folks who study that sort of thing for a living, or by your needs and desires for comfort and convenience. Covid doesn’t care, but people who love you do.

Yes, we’re planting! … and, why Patreon.com…?

Yes. We’re planting!  That’s the important question.

About a month ago I let folks know that this season was at risk of not happening.  Enough folks stepped up and agreed that this is not the time to stop growing food to share with neighbors in the community who are having a hard time getting enough.

Not enough folks have yet come forward to secure all of our goals, but enough to be sure we could get to work.  So, yes. We’re planting.

We’re on schedule too.  I’ve almost always planted in late May.  Between rain, I’ll mow this week and plow as soon as its dry enough.  Seeds in the ground after that.  I’ll plant the usual mix of produce: corn, green beans, okra, squash, zucchini, and pink eyed purple hulled peas.

Planting is the important question – but it’s not the only question that has made its way onto the Frequently Asked Questions lists of late.

The newest most frequently asked question is, “Why are you using Patreon.com to support the farm and the podcast?  Is that a 501c3 platform?”

Good questions. let me answer the second one first.  No!  Patreon is not designed as a platform for 501c3 organizations and does not provide any functionality or features that would facilitate income tax deductions for contributions.  It’s much better than that.

“… so what even *is* Patreon?”

That’s a good question too.  Patreon.com is the democratization of the medieval concept of patronage by nobles.  You know how it worked.  An artist, academic, or visionary of some kind would be discovered by some wealthy noble who happened to fancy their work and deem it worthy of support.  The noble would provide funding so the artist, academic, or whomever could devote themselves to their calling without having to spend themselves paying for life to the point that they had nothing left to invest in the calling.  We will never know how much brilliance, innovation, or human potential was subsumed into the seas of serfdom for not having had a chance opportunity to pique the random whimsy of a bored noble.

Rather than have to wait to catch the fancy of just the right noble to take notice of one’s work and deem it worthy of support, Patreon.com makes it possible for creators to do the thing they do and receive the support they need to do it.  They took the idea of patronage and spread it out among all of us peons who could probably never afford to be any one person’s sponsoring patron no matter how much we valued their work.

Patron. Peon. Patreon.

It’s a website that works the way you’d expect the theoretical offspring of YouTube, Facebook, and PayPal to work.  Creators of any kind can set up a site, and offer general content to public visitors, and additional content to supporting patrons — all in an interactive community environment.  This blog and the new podcast, Welcome to the Table! what people are doing to end hunger, are available to the public.  Currently, folks at the Patreon page are getting previews of the audio for upcoming episodes of the podcast interviews raw before they’re edited into full episodes.  If we’re connected on Facebook, you’ve seen a few recent experiments with providing brief video visits to the farm when interesting things are happening.  There’ll be more of that in the Patrons section as well.

Patreon.com first hit my radar after finding people who are producing podcasts or YouTube content related to hobbies I enjoy.  Their work brought me HOURS of enjoyment and enhanced my skills in areas that mattered to me.  So, I sponsored their Patreon pages.  Not much.  $5 here, $25 there – I was working at the time.

Why did I do that?  Because I wanted to live in the kind of world where there were people like them doing the things I enjoy in a way that I could benefit from them.  Since I want the world to work that way, I had to be one of the people supporting their ability to keep doing that.

Yes, that’s the world I want to live in — a world where people can do valuable things whether those things provide a decent living or not.  I believe that will happen here at Healing Springs Acres as well.  I’ve done my part to help support the things I want to be true in the world.  The right folks will come along here who want there to be room in the world for a farm here and there that grows food to give away and provides encouragement and resources for others to do the same kind of thing their own way – whether it pays a decent living or not.

For about  20 years I worked successfully as an executive in the 501c3 world.  I know well much of the deep value held in that framework for encouraging good work.  I also know some of its pitfalls and weaknesses.  I don’t have an axe to grind, I’ve just decided I’m not going to live in that world any more.  Some folks won’t be comfortable stepping outside the 501c3 framework for supporting things.  I’m good with that and I respect that decision.

I know I’m supposed to say that Jesus is one of the greatest influences on my life.  While that’s true enough, it’s also true that Hank Williams Jr. was one of the most deeply influential forces in my formative years.  Hank Jr. and I don’t jive on a lot stuff as much these days, but one of my favorite stories from his autobiography comes from the period in his career when he was still essentially touring to sing his dad’s music for the audiences who had loved Hank Williams so much and couldn’t let him go.

As Hank Jr. got old enough to have his own tastes he got fascinated with rock-n-roll and wanted to try out some music of his own.  Audiences were hostile.  They did NOT want to hear him sing anything but those old songs the old way.  When he tried to add a song or two of his own to the set, people would get up cussin’ and walk out.

One night Hank Jr. sang one of his songs and the crowd started to thin.   A few people here and there seemed to be into it.  Hank Jr. turned around and told the band to keep playing.  More people left.  By the end of just a few songs, about 80% of the audience had left seething.  They kept playing.

Hank left the stage assuming his career had just taken a nosedive.  His manager told him to turn back around and take another look at the electric energy in the audience that had stayed.

A little over a year ago I was approached by a producer about starting a podcast.  I’ve mentioned that elsewhere.  What I haven’t shared is what happened at a cookout 3 weeks later.  I was the new person in a group of gathered friends.

The Studio

Amid regular get-to-know-you questions I ended up sharing the shortest possible version of what Healing Springs Acres is and does.  Just the farm and growing food to give away.  I didn’t mention anything about the then-only-days-old idea of the podcast about what others are doing to end hunger.

The guy across the table from me just looked at me between burger bites (and, I gotta tell you, these were good burgers…) and said, “You know, you should start a podcast and a Patreon page.  There are people who would want to hear more and support what you’re doing.”  Another person beside me said, “Yeah, I’d give money to support that…”  She was one of the first to take a virtual seat at The Patron’s Table.

By the end of the drive home I’d decided to play to the audience that wanted to hear more – whether I knew who you were yet or not.  When I worked in the 501c3 world, one of the things that was pervasively true was that most of the money we raised, as much as 70-80% came from folks who didn’t care whether or not they got a tax deduction.  Their decision to support the organizations I worked for was utterly independent of the tax benefits they would happen to get.  The smaller portion of money that came from folks who were tax motivated required jumping through a lot of hoops that might make sense for larger organizations, but rarely do for projects on the scale of Healing Springs Acres.

In the past the farm has operated as a project under various other 501c3 organizations so that folks could make charitable contributions for which they got documentation for a tax deduction.  That made sense for a while, but doesn’t any longer.  It’s also never made sense to seek 501c3 status for Healing Springs Acres directly  I still don’t think it does.

When I started this project I made conscious choices that allowed me to keep overall costs as low as possible.   Adding the time and expenses required to acquire and maintain 501c3 status would have me spending more time and money counting my time and money than I have time and money.  I’m not going to live in that world.  I’m satisfied with sticking with support from the folks motivated by nothing more than the idea that they want to live in a world where there are farms that grow food to give away and offer encouragement and resources for others who want to do the same thing their own way.  That’s enough.

Listen, if you need to get up and leave because you thought this was gonna be a different kind of show.  It’s OK.  No hard feelings.  At this point, I still know most of the folks reading these posts.  What I know about you is that you’re good folks who do good things every chance you get.  Keep it up.  I respect any preferences you have for sticking with a 501c3 model for supporting good things in the world.  Go do more of it!

If you’re one of the folks who sticks around for little more than electric energy.  Buckle up.  We’re gonna rock…

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…