Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spring, despite itself

Today the temperature is hovering in the mid-teens, and with the wind, it feels closer to zero. There have been intermittent snow showers, a hazy sun obscured and finally gone for the day as steel gray clamped on the skyline. The mountains are obscured by slow moving clouds and fog. We have been running the wood stove on sticks Norman has cut from dead trees in our yard, as we ran out of our bought wood almost a month ago.

It's cold. It's winter. In Pennsylvania (though I know this winter has been different) I would have planted onion seeds with seventh graders in the greenhouse by this time, been harvesting from the high tunnel with morning work crews, and had delivery of my season of seeds and potting mix from Vermont Compost (another irony being that I now live within 5 miles of this fine living growing medium selling establishment). This is a very different season.

I had a revelation of this difference on the thaw last week. For three days temperatures soared into the 40s. I went for a mid-morning run in only leggings and fleece. I closed my eyes into the sun, running down the hill on the road. I got to see mud and the erosion of these unpaved back roads. I got a taste of the fifth season in Vermont called mud season. I have the wrong shoes.

And though the light and warmth was a blessing and surprise, it did not, on the whole, make me happy. I felt robbed of time, like I should have been planting onions already. Like I was making a mistake, in fact I still was in Pennsylvania. I also felt scared, scared of being one step closer to getting into soil, starting seed in the basement, making a go of this farm. It was a lot to get from a day in the sun, but I took it.

Lucky for me, it froze up again on Sunday and we haven't looked back. I get to have my Vermont winter. I get to plan and take the time needed to learn what I need to learn. I've written a survey for folks on their farm loving habits. I've begun to clean out the basement, plan for seedlings, chicks, workspace for building a hive. We've opened our business bank account, and I am pricing supplies.

But that's not the whole story. In the past days and weeks, as day length increases, there has been an interesting and much forgotten experience from my youth-- indoor spring. A proliferation of ladybugs have attached to our bathroom window. Spiders we brought in with the wood are getting fat on our fly population. There was a large assassin bug in our pantry. The grapevine given to us by a beloved family member and friend is sprouting new leaves in our downstairs south facing bathroom.

These are all promises of a spring that I know is waiting under all this snow, past the zero temperatures and 20 mile an hour winds. At lunch with the men who came to prune our orchard of plums, pears, apple, apricot, and cherry, the joke was when Norman asked, We do get spring here, right? And the reply--Yes, around the 4th of July. But that's only a story we tell ourselves. What's true is life is waking up, even in this cold, and we have to pay attention to its awakening, and welcome whatever it brings.

Happy spring.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Open Way Farm: The Plan

From the wilds of a north-central Vermont winter, we are dreaming of peas. Dreaming of chickens, high tunnels, functional barns and farm stands. Dreaming of bright air and seasons long growth. We are dreaming, and we are planning.

I just completed round one of a business plan, projecting out three years for the farm, and projecting further in visioning the long terms potential for this land and community. Lucky for me, I have nine folks out there in the world who are looking at it and critiquing it in the next few weeks. I did ask them, but they could have said no, so I am lucky, and grateful.

What's in this plan? The biggest aspect of the plan is to begin the financial engine of our homestead and small market farm, and to ground that engine in this good earth and space. These first years will be full of log jams, confusions, failures, and unexpected turns in the road. And each turn will be towards a long term sustainability, or at least that's the plan.

But I know that plans are meant to be thwarted and thrown in the trash heap, along with all the will and certainty of vision, in the face of the following that is required of me. I have decided very specifically that I am following God(ess) and the impulses and leadings within me, if meeting my joy and the world's need, are part of that plan.

This is a hard won belief and decision. To listen to my self, my self in relief, in reflection, in impulse and push, is not an easy thing, and not something I have always, or mostly trusted. But I'm here, working it out. I refuse to mock my desire, the movement within myself. I refuse to be suspicious of myself any longer.

This does not mean I do not plan, however! In some early board work, I remember being introduced to the article The Tyranny of Structurelessness. This article drove home what I had been experiencing in many small community based groups of which I was a part. The resistance to structure within groups leads to impotence and solipsism. It also leads to a lack of accountability and a sense of disconnection to a greater context or work. It also means you don't get anything done.

So I attempt to put a structure on what can feel like a structureless call to the wilds of the broken world, my heart reaching out to express a desire for connection with the earth, with broken and hard working movement builders, with sustainability and self-sufficiency as teacher and muse. I put numbers on start up costs, though they feel like a lot of conjecture. I made a list of goals and plans. I wrote a 25 year visioning statement.

I was surprised at just how specific I could get. Residencies for burnt out activists. Community gatherings and events around the cycles of farm and season. Connections with urban organizations needing space to send leaders and workers for respite. Niche markets or CSA membership, or value added products, or, or…..

There's a lot of possibility when we vision. It's powerful, and potentially paralyzing. And it needs to be tested, I need to test my vision, against the good minds of folks I respect and care for. I also need to take my vision to the feet of the woodlands, to the feet of God(ess), to the space where I am both powerful and vulnerable, and where I must listen.

I am sometimes good at this, and sometimes too caught up in my own self-importance to stop and do this important work. The good news, I find in this inconsistency, is that no matter what I do lessons and shifting happens. I cannot control what will happen, despite any expertise or best efforts. In fact, trying to do that leads to a lot of pain. And so I act, I plan, I build, and I know it is just as much an inchoate cry as the unformed vision welling up in me. And yet, it suffices, and things progress.

So again I find myself holding possibility and uncertainty, but this time looking at cash-flow numbers and risk analysis. Is it any different from holding these two headed hydra without the numbers? No, in fact, it is not. I am glad for the numbers, as an anchor to what will be happening in the next weeks and months. I am also glad for the years of work to get here, and the listening I make space for, or that is forced upon me, by the closeness I seek with the world, with the land, and with God(ess).

Bring it on, world. I am ready.