Twenty-seven years ago today Dennis and I moved to Foundation Farm. Now it is for sale. And I am soaking up my last May here.
May! I swore long ago never to leave this farm in May, never to miss a moment of this wonderful, magical month. (When the black flies appear and the crabgrass seeds germinate by the gazillion all over the garden.) Suddenly everything is green, green, green. The place smells of lilacs. Orioles and indigo buntings serenade me as I work in the garden. Last night we had a fresh-picked salad for supper (three kinds of lettuce, arugula, tatsoi, and mint) and a rhubarb meringue pie. The calves are galumphing around in crazy delight in a knee-high pasture. The chickens have been devouring the dandelions I’m pulling out of the asparagus patch, so the yolks of their eggs are deep yellow. The cutting garden is blue with irises and pansies; the edges of the woods are full of the carnation-smell of wild phlox.
As Jim said the other night, after he came back from a sunset run in the greening hills, as we were all standing around in the kitchen, nibbling on fresh-steamed asparagus, “I think my quality of life may never be this high again!”
We’re scrambling with our gardens. Stephen and Kerry are off to an earlier start than ever with their three acres of vegetables. Their Saturday farmers market starts next week, and their CSA deliveries start the first weekend of June. We mostly don’t see them now, once the sun’s up in the morning, until the sun goes down at night — except on the run, as they come by to pick up a tool or water the hoop house. I did see them last night, followed by a dutiful procession of calves with tinkling bells around their necks, headed into a new pasture.
Jim has taken on the brook garden, the one made famously beautiful by Chrissie and Scot when they lived here. It’s a nice garden, because the brook flows around two sides of it, so you can jump in when you get hot and muddy, and it’s surrounded by singing birds. But it’s been abandoned for two years, so Jim will have to hustle to stay on top of the weeds, which he’s tilled under several times now. He and I are growing the food for the house. Because his garden is bigger, he’s taking on the space-absorbing storage crops — potatoes, onions, squash, tomatoes, dry beans. He’s also doing some of the sweet corn and onions and carrots, and I’m doing the rest.
My garden, just downhill from the house, is the one we can run out to when we want fresh lettuce or basil or broccoli or peas or flowers for a bouquet. I’ve got it about 2/3 planted now, and it’s already yielding up asparagus, rhubarb, and salad. The remaining 1/3 will go in next weekend, when we should be out of frost danger. We had a killing frost on May 18, which is about par for the course. I hope we won’t have any more, because I’m beginning to take chances and put out tender stuff. We also had a 2-inch downpour last week, which we sorely needed, though it really made the weeds grow!
Oh! So beautiful! I walk up to shut in the chickens every night and just inhale, breathing in sweet lilac and phlox and honeysuckle. (Then when I walk in the chicken house door I get swarmed with teen-aged chicks, who never have enough to eat no matter how much I give them. I’m starting to bring up dandelions for them, too. It keeps them amused.)
We got the screens put up on the back porch, so we eat out there every night. We had our May birthday party out there last week for Stephen, and belated April and March birthdays for Chrissie and Scot, and for all the cats and dogs, whose birthdays are actually or by tradition declared to be in May. We have hot dogs (the only time all year we eat hot dogs — actually the dogs eat most of them — it takes Emmett roughly 1/2 second to eat a hot dog) and turkey dogs and chicken dogs and tofu burgers, with all the trimmings, and potato salad and green salad from the garden and birthday cake. Maybe because it’s so simple, the Pet Birthday is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I hope in Cobb Hill we can keep one day every year to celebrate our funny, fuzzy, four-footed companions.
Speaking of Cobb Hill, things seem to be moving again — till we get to the next Stuck Place, anyway. We have a new member family, wonderful folks from Kentucky, who found us on our website (www.coopsports.com/cobbhill/ in case I haven’t already told you). They had a dairy farm for years, they farmed with horses, they know all about country skills. Now she’s a school nurse and he’s founded a nonprofit institute on sustainable agriculture! They know and admire all the folks I do (Wendell Berry, Mark Ritchie, Wes Jackson), and it will be natural either to run our institutes side by side, sharing office equipment, or to merge them. Hal and Susie are LOVELY people; we’re absolutely thrilled to have them join us! One of the amazing things about Cobb Hill is the people it is attracting. We can hardly wait to be finally, actually, living together.
That makes 12 spaces filled, 10 to go. Many others are hovering round. I suspect that when our permits are finished and we start building, the other spaces will fill fast.
The permits are still in process and will be for some time. We still haven’t drilled at our third wellsite (I won’t bother you with the reasons — for a change the delays are coming from the driller and not from our decision process). The water uncertainty is holding up our Act 250 submission. We’re still wrangling with the Agency of Natural Resources on the requirements for the graywater leachfield. (We got them down from 150 to 97.5 gallons per bedroom per day, but we need to get them down to 90, and they’re not budging. We figure we’ll actually use under 50.) Next week we go out on the site with them, to point at an always-dry 20-foot-deep gravel pit as evidence that there can’t be any groundwater 20 feet down from our proposed leachfield. For this we have to pay a hydrogeologist $500. Costs creep up.
We have contacted 16 construction managers for interviews, which start in early June and should be finished by July. We won’t start to build until late fall at the soonest, more likely next spring, but Jeff our architect needs to be working with a construction manager now as he works out detailed building plans and redoes the cost estimates.
I think I may have finally found the lawyer we need, one that understands both condominium and coop legal options and can help us decide between the two and draw up the incorporation papers for our homeowners association. That’s another thing we have to do before we submit Act 250. We had a split on the legal committee about whether coop or condo would work best, but it became obvious that the split was generated mainly by our ignorance and by huge frameworks of assumptions we were building up about those two options. (Through our guidelines we’re finding that most of our fights are about unwarranted — and testable — assumptions. We’re learning to test them, rather than just go on hurling them at each other.) We weren’t helped by the fact that there seem to be coop lawyers in the world or condo lawyers, but very few who understand both and can help us sort out the differences. That’s the lawyer I’ve been seeking — also one in whom the whole group has confidence. I’ll tell you next month whether I’ve actually found him.
We’ve been doing some work on the ground over at Cobb Hill, and that feels great. Stephen and Kerry tilled up seven acres of bottomland and broadcast it with oats to get a cover crop going on what will be next year’s CSA garden. (As if three acres weren’t enough!) I’m using the long strip Jim and I tilled up to park perennials from Foundation Farm — daylilies, oriental poppies, Jacob’s ladder, phlox, Siberian iris, valerian, Virginia bluebell, violets. It’s beginning to look civilized and beautiful. I’ve also moved over some basket willow cuttings and some black raspberries.
As I work over there, planting and weeding and watering, the neighbors drift over. That’s the right way to meet them, not in Act 250 hearings. This summer we’re going to have two weeks of intense work on the barns (which urgently need it), and I hope we’ll pull in lots of neighbors that way. Every will know, if the barns finally stop looking so decrepit, that we’re finally moving in.
We’ll only begin to get the barns stabilized. We have a big drainage job to do over on the Curtis side, where the new development is backing up the Sugarbrook. Stephen and his friend John Hammond have to fix the fences before we can move the horses and cows over next fall. That perennial strip probably won’t be the final resting place for most of the plants. I won’t even be able to imagine the final resting places until the construction is done and I can tell where the sunny and shady corners around the houses will be. It will take years to bring the buildings back to life and to build up the variety of growing things we have here at Foundation Farm. I still have to move bearded iris and lily of the valley and tarragon and lovage and thyme and chives and …. But it’s so right to be working over there. I used to come home from the abused, graceless Hunt farm filled with anger. Now I’m coming home filled with peace, knowing that we’re turning a corner, beginning to love that place back to health.
It’s what Dennis and I started here at Foundation Farm so many years ago. This place too was pained with bad husbandry and bad vibes. For about three years it almost literally threw things at us (drainage system collapsed, well got contaminated, chimney fell in), until we calmed it down and began to fill it with happy people. It took enormous effort and not a little money to turn Foundation Farm around. And we did. It can be done. Now it’s time to do it on another farm!
I hate to admit this, and I hope you won’t tell anyone, but I brought in some friends to do a “spirit cleansing” at the Hunt place. (I don’t believe in this kind of stuff, except when I do.) I don’t know what happened that evening, but it certainly cleansed ME and my feelings about the place. Now I go over and climb partway up Cobb Hill and look down on the land and talk to the devas, the spirits of the place. I tell them our plans and ask their opinion and guidance. I tell them who’s coming and how much we already love the place, and how we want to help it heal. I do not see or hear devas. I hope no one ever hears me talk to them. But I feel so much better, not angry any more at the state of the land, just peaceful and ready to do a lot of hard work.
The great news is, there will be so many wonderful people to do it with. A lot of them are really skilled gardeners. Give us 27 more years, and we’ll have a paradise over there!