On Wednesday morning I rolled into the greenhouse at 7am and started to seed some herbs while I waited for my soul twin and partner in crime, one Matthew LaVergne, to arrive from Philadelphia for a day of major seeding projects.
The greenhouse was already warm enough for T-shirt attire. I could hear the woodpeckers in the woods all around. And for the first time since this frigid winter began, I could see the end. And for the first time since packing in Season 2013, I felt like I was home.
Two weeks ago my crew of beloved friends and neighbors assembled to help me finally get the greenhouse up at the new place. Stefanie Angstadt, seasoned Eckerton Hill vet and fledgling area cheesemaker (and, let’s be honest, my first farmer crush of 2012) arrived to help put in the center pole and side boards. And she brought coffee, because my friends are the sort of folks who bring breakfast when they come to do favors. I am a blessed human.
The next day my carpenter/substitute/pirate/beer-brewer childhood affiliate Steve rode up to help post up the end walls and make fun of my poor carpentry skills (which, hey, we blamed on the other guy who helped, because we could). After some sketchy work with a hand saw, we got everything where it needed to be. And then we brewed some beer.
Notice a pattern here? Next come’s the plastic. The following day Matthew slept in…but thankfully Teena Bailey, local farm-woman extraordinaire and mentor, did not. And as she ran off to collect our neighbor Reuben of Willow Haven Farm for some extra hands and an actually-functioning staple gun, my dear friend and Health Habits co-worker Gina Medvedz arrived with her adorable self to pitch in. Matthew did arrive in time, and the greenhouse finally became a greenhouse.
Teena and Reuben are pivotal folks in the area when it comes to small-scale, low-budget, sustainable vegetable farming. The two of them use composting manure bunkers for passive solar heat to start their seeds and keep their greenhouse warm, and after some coaching from them, I decided to follow suit. Thus began a several day operation of leaving the dairy after work and picking up truckloads of cinder blocks, building four-foot walls inside the greenhouse for the manure bunker with said blocks, returning to the dairy for work and to collect truckloads of manure, and then up to unload the manure.
One of the perks of working at a dairy (and having kind and generous bosses), by the way, is free manure. Thank you Excelsior Farm, for once again being awesome.
Repeat this a couple of times, with literally about three tons of manure and 120-some cinder blocks, and you get a bunker.
A bunker that is toasty warm for the onions nestled on it. A bunker that, though a bit smelly at the moment, will continue to heat and break down and become really lovely compost in time. A bunker that provides more room and heat than the manufactured grow cables or heat mats. And all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel to change its size and shape to suit my needs throughout the season.
So, there’s a greenhouse. And a bunker. Now it needs to be filled!
Grandma Wagner is always up for a trip to visit our Mennonite friends and supply vendors out in Berks County. We saddled up on a Friday morning and drove out to Meadow View Farm in Fleetwood to pick up a big order of potting mix, tomato stakes and ground cover.
We took Glenn’s truck because it’s cozier, and because his 80-year-old, 4’8″ mother is too short to get into my truck easily. It led to a morning of her shouting things like “Let’s burn rubber, kid!” and me repeatedly shouting back, “Yeah! Not my truck!” Because we are adults.
Grandma chummed it up with Jay, the nice boy who pulls our orders, and then we dumped everything off at the farm and went for one last truckload of manure. While I stacked blocks of potting mix, Grandma Wagner tried her hand as a graffiti artist and spray painted some water barrels that we then filled in the greenhouse for extra heat retention.
After a quick call in to my aunt, we reconvened at the house and loaded up my dad’s truck with the greenhouse tables and seeding trays and flats and other greenhouse supplies that had been lingering (much to Glenn’s chagrin) in the garage. We tied it all down and caravaned back to the greenhouse to unpack and settle in. My mom returned the next day to help finish the job, and all of a sudden we had a fully furnished greenhouse.
With my crew of retired and semi-retired bored women, and a handful of crust punks, we will rule Pennsylvania.
In the midst of all these other things, some other work got done as well. I made business cards; I took a shank off the cultivator and drug it around with me to tractor supply stores and Internet searches until I procured the missing parts I needed for a full set; I finished Season III of Game of Thrones and didn’t cry all that much; I had a Tony Luke’s breakfast sandwich with broccoli rabe in it and missed South Philly. We’re chalking all these up as wins.
I’m talking to a food hub in Philly about selling them lots of greens for their CSA shares. I keep failing to rendezvous with my awesome extension agent to catch up and talk about building my cold storage unit. PASA posted my blog post about the conference on their pages – which was a totally amazing experience when a new friend mentioned how much she liked what she saw on the PASA Facebook Page. Next week I have a phone call with the membership coordinator of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition to discuss opportunities in this area.
And so Matthew arrived, ice coffees in hand (see my earlier note about awesome friends), and we cranked out a full day of seeding. He kept seeding when I left him for two hours, and when I returned he had installed a doorknob and organized the space. And added a root vegetable to my 2014 wall (by the way, friends and neighbors mentioned in this post today – you all need to come back and sign the wall).
And that’s the thing. Mom Wagner and I got it done last year, and successfully, but I didn’t realize how lonely and exhausted and overwhelmed I felt so often until these folks were in my life asking what they could do to help. It is awesome to have this kind of community, and it is one that got built in the midst of the insanity of last year.
Working the dairy has taught me all sorts of things about farming in this area and animal care. I’m so much stronger now, and Andy and her family have been nothing but kind and generous with their time and aid. Jerry, the herd manager, is constantly bringing out newspaper articles about small farms and farm-to-table operations. The store gave me my first local following and my cohorts there love to promote the farm, and now even my parents’ chiropractor has joined the CSA.
My parents have tolerated a myriad of things parents shouldn’t need to deal with once their kids move out the first time. They’ve allowed me to stay here and work as much and often as possible to accrue some more business funds. Mom Wagner feeds me and helps fill in the watering, heating and covering gaps in our once again crazy schedule. My college friends, my runner friends, my office friends and now my sister’s college friends are ready for me to be back in Philly, and local caterer Dina at My Grandmother’s Table is the first person asking for spring greens.
Things are going to be crazy again for awhile. I wake up and drive to New Tripoli to uncover the trays. In the middle of the day, sometimes between jobs, they need to be watered. At night, also sometime between jobs, they need to be covered again. There is so much seeding to be done. Once I’m working outside I will be leaving the dairy (or at least incredibly cutting back my time there, because I may miss my new friends and the cows to much to really leave). With the help of Derek, Matthew and some other Philly friends, I am trying to pick up another Philly market.
There’s a lot of good people in my corner. And I’m not the scared, sad, indecisive girl of 2013. There is always the nervous feeling before the plunge, but there is too much excitement overriding everything else.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, and for listening, and for sharing this adventure.