2021 was the year we became a farm. Where just two years ago there was an open field of grass, we now have five acres of small berry plants and nut tree seedlings; two little barns with large protected runs for our chickens and sheep; and a house with a wood workshop and a lovely studio upstairs for Mark and me. It is the story of hard work and many pairs of hands coming together.
The winter was lonely. We could not see anyone– - not even our daughters or parents, which was very painful. I made the annual scrum plan, and wondered: would I be doing this mostly by myself? Mark and I grew close in our tiny little duo-pod. We put our four hands to work during long weekend days on the inside of our new farm house.We put in bathroom walls, the kitchen, wood floors, finishing walls and ceilings (it paid off: May 1 we officially got a residence permit!).
The COVID Winter–and the Trump presidency–finally ended, and Spring came, along with COVID vaccines, - and people. Three of Charlotte’s friends–Dana, Alex, and Cori - plus Charlotte, worked on the farm with me one or two days a week. Our busy hands (and backs) put out rows of mulch plastic (not useful), bags of amendments that the soil analysis said were in short supply, countless wheelbarrows full of woodchips, and planted hundreds of berry plants and small trees. What an amazing feeling to transform an entire field. This was real farm scale, not a backyard anymore!
Later, Deysi from Houston came and helped out with the irrigation system; while Joseph and Jennalyn helped me keep the Needham garden somewhat under control.
As the summer progressed, we got into a rhythm with a steady stream of workaway visitors. We often had two groups at once–couples or friends, once an entire family (!), and people who were traveling alone. They were fun and engaging company: we would have dinners with them up on the second floor of our house, overlooking the front field and into our woods across the street. Many conversations were had about the search for what to do in life, religion, wealth or not wealth, the state of the world, and, of course, farm projects.
With all these people helping, we did the impossible: we actually finished almost everything we had planned for 2021 and then some.
One planned project was a new enclosure for an expanded chicken flock. I learned from the cold, wind and wet in the chicken hoop house last year, that it’s nicer to have a real four-walled, roofed enclosure for the winter. Our new design also has an actual hay loft, gets lots of solar gain from south-facing transparent plastic, and, of course, it still accommodates lots of food scraps and compost. This project took about three months. Progress was steady but slow when it was just me and accelerated when we had a group. Charlotte and Cori helped put up the hoops for the outdoor hoop house; four Olin students came and bent the hoops for the barn; Eric, Linda, and Jerry put up the barn wall frames; Nick and two friends came for a day for more help with the framing; Emily helped put on the siding and build the frame for the hay loft; Violeta, Judit, and Jacqueline oiled the siding and helped put up greenhouse plastic on the south side of the barns; Drew put the roofs on. And finally, I built and put in the barn doors!
I was so happy and proud. It was empowering to realize how far I had come – just the year before, I had asked Charlotte’s boyfriend Robin to build the end walls to the first chicken hoop house because I had no idea how to do it–this year, I designed the barn, and managed its construction, and trained people who came to build all the pieces of it.
Then, one unplanned project happened just because people came. I wanted to move the chicken hoop house we had built last year across the street, near the house next to the new barn, but could not see how to make this happen. That is, until the van Gelder family showed up in September. They needed an independent, concrete project. On a whim, I asked: “do you think you can move the barn…?” To my surprise, they responded, “sure!” And they did. It was quite the event: Day 1 – take the first end wall apart; Day 2 – move the wall pieces and put them together in the new location; Days 3 and 4, repeat for the second wall.
The year ended with Kaoru and Teppei coming for a week, and Jacqueline and Drew coming for the Winter. Together, we ended back where we started–in the berry fields–building winter protection cages for all the hundreds of berries. We then had some mild November weather, allowing us to put in a new, small field of blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries that were propagated from existing stands on the land and from Needham. We also built trellises for them.
And then, the season ended. Hay was in the loft for the sheep, the fields were winterized, the chickens (in two barns!) were going to stay warm and dry if they wanted to. We celebrated with a large potluck Thanksgiving gathering in our house – with our daughters and Mark’s parents, and friends. Truly, just as it should be!
Looking back on this year, I realize it was transformative. From its dark, lonely beginnings, it blossomed into a lively gathering. Our farm is now a part of many people’s journey to find their role in life, and make the world a better place. And these folks - all now a part of the farm - helped me to gain confidence, to feel joy, and to come to believe that yes, we can do amazing things here - together.