This little bit of land, this first incarnation of Folkways Farm, has been an experiment for us in so many different ways. When we first bought the house, we had visions of doing much renovation to the now 104 year old structure. We managed to get the living room done before realizing doing much more than that while living in the house would cause a perceived inconvenience far greater than the idealized reward. So we went on living in the house and started to work the land.
A few things happened at the same time that sent us into the whirlwind that often happens when folks get bit by the farming bug. I left my stable job of six years, sent my construction energies into an exploration of alternative building methods, and we ordered our first batch of chicks.
Chickens, we have learned, are a gateway farm animal. And building with Earth easily becomes an insatiable obsession.
(This is Niko writing, for our regular Blog visitors seeking Brandi’s inspiring prose.)
Cob and chickens arriving in our lives together turned out to be a good pairing, for it saved us nearly seven hundred dollars on the stick-frame coop I had sketched out. Building their coop out of cob, an old dead apple tree, and other people’s leftovers was a challenge indeed and consumed plenty of my time. Luckily, that was a time when I had plenty of time. I’ve seen plenty of fine coops built from good ole dimensional lumber, and lots of creativity in those but I just love seeing our little hobbit house coop every time I step out back and am so very grateful we chose to tread down that muddy path.
Wheels started turning, we had so much to learn to fulfill our need for more farm in our life. By then I had already started dabbling with this strange idea of compost and managed one fantastic failure of attempting to compost within the shell of an old incinerator by the back fence. With the addition of that magical and ubiquitous substance commonly known as chicken poop, those compost piles caught fire – in the internal sense. Before we knew it, we had a factory for making good food for the garden beds.
We’ve spent a lot of time failing at growing a decent garden. I experimented with building a Hugelkultur, which was with much disapproval from my beloved. Though many experiments failed, we were moving toward the real goal of building good soil. This year we gave a shot at straw bale gardening – and failed yet again. However, that failure provided and auxiliary success, for the bales protected the plants in the ground, and we had a beautiful garden. Unfortunately, we neglected to develop decent harvesting habits and so lost plenty. Some to freezing, some to over-ripeness, some to neglect. My batch of cucumbers saved from the frost was set aside too long and rotted before it could ferment into a fine batch of pickles. The chickens, however, were grateful for the bounty thrown their way. We now have a passable solar thermal mass greenhouse where seedlings happily flourish, we have a number of growing beds all around the property that have begun to show their worth, we’ve developed discipline in watering and weeding and worked with the rain to send it where it’s most needed. Next year, I tell myself, we’ll work with all that still, yet my goal shall be to better reap the fruits of our labor. (Oh, and I don’t imagine I’ll ever again plant amaranth as a food crop. Harvesting is a hassle and I discovered I don’t much care for eating those quasi-grains beyond the form of flour.)
A wonderful new job came along that lets me work at home and allowed me to retire from the knee-busting work of a tile contractor. With the need for half a garage worth of tool and material storage gone from my life, the notion of transforming the garage into a goat barn seemed a natural and logical thing to do.
Now, three and a half years after bringing home a box full of fluffy egg-sized gateway farm animals, we have lost all sense of being city dwellers and became what folks might call urban farmers, or urban homesteaders.
I, for one, have no regrets. I adore what we have created here. I love coming out and milking goats at the frigid crack of dawn. I love all the growing things. I even love this old house. But my soul hungers for more. More land to work, more space to grow, more animals, more useful structures built from the Earth herself. More farm. All we’ve created here, we’ve created so we can walk away from it, pass it on to another aspiring urban farmer, and go out to the “Big Farm” where we can start the whole process all over again. I’ll be a few years from forty when we go, but the thought of taking it all to the next level invigorates my soul and gives me new life. We welcome the opportunity with open arms.
We’ve failed plenty here, but the experiments have taught us much, reconnected us with the natural cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and given us hope and longing to experiment more and fail again on a grander scale. It seems to me that a life without failure indicates a failure to take a chance at life. Let us fail, let us live, for all the while, things are growing.