Buying the Farm

If you read our post last month, buried somewhere beneath all the poetic waxing, you may have figured out that we purchased a piece of property that we’re going to turn into a little farm.

I thought maybe you guys would want to know the nuts and bolts — or roots and stems — of what we’re hoping to build and eventually grow there. So here goes. This is the plan for Dew Point Farm, as it stands. It’s a work in progress, and it will likely change as we get to work.

Let’s do it Q&A style, because if you’ve already parsed some of this out you can skip over what you know.

How big is the farm?

Not big at all. It’s little. It’s a microfarm or a pocket farm, or, if you prefer, a farmlet. Some might argue it’s actually just a big garden. We’re not too concerned with semantics, which sounds funny coming from a couple of writery types. The lot itself is about 40 feet wide by 150 feet deep. With setbacks and room for a shed and such, we’re hoping for a planting field of about 30-by-100, or maybe a little more. That’s about .07 acres, woot-woot.

Where is it?

In Columbus, Georgia’s MidTown area. Specifically, it’s in the East Highland neighborhood, just outside of the Weracoba-St. Elmo historic district. For locals trying to place it, we’re a few blocks from Hannan Elementary and Buck Ice & Coal Co.1

Being as there used to be a house there and all, is the soil OK?

That’s actually beside the point, as we’ll be trucking in eight inches of topsoil for weed suppression. But if you’re curious, the soil tests were surprisingly good. The only worrisome metal to even register was lead, in the area of the old house, and even those numbers came in well below concern, with the highest sample registering less than a third of the limit for safe planting directly in the soil. In terms of nutrients, with a smidge of potassium and phosphorous added the nutrient mix would be good for planting right now, if that’s the way we wanted to go.

What will you grow?

That’s still largely TBD, but staple crops will be potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables, for the reasons I’ve talked about before and will go into a bit below. I know we’ll do some peppers and tomatoes. And we’re looking for a few surprises, too.

Why that stuff?

Aside from liking the idea of farming, Jenn and I are creating Dew Point for two reasons: First, we need more growers in this area. Even farmers will tell you that.2 Second, we are trying to combat food insecurity in various pockets of Columbus. Among the people we hope will buy our produce are folks who may not have consistent access to refrigerators. For them to consider buying fresh food, that food must be shelf-stable. It’s got to be able to sit at room temperature for a while, until they have a chance to cook it.

So, when’s the first harvest?

The plan is to bring in the soil and build the irrigation system and a shed over the winter so that we can get the first crops in the ground for a late spring or early summer harvest.

Can I buy the food you grow?

Oh my god, please do. The plans are to sell primarily at MercyMed’s farmers market which is open to everyone, but also allows SNAP or food-stamp customers to double their dollars. Depending on the frequency of MercyMed’s market next season and how sales go there, we may pop up a second market, too. If that happens, we’d like to do it near the farm, perhaps right off of the nearby Fall Line Trace.

Will it be an organic farm?

Dew Point will be a Certified Naturally Grown farm, which is, in essence, organically grown food without an expensive and laborious USDA organic certification. But, as we’ve had to spot treat privet and kudzu with chemicals,3 we will be considered a “transitional” CNG farm for three years.

What will the farm look like?

For starters, it’ll be a field and a shed with a small wash station. We’re hoping to squeeze in a couple of fruit trees and a greenhouse, but space will be tight.

Will I be able to take a tour?

Eventually, sure. We’ll probably do annual open-house “farm days” for the neighborhood, with a cookout or somesuch. We hope to work out field trips for small classes with area schools, but a lack of both parking and bathrooms are two big challenges there. But either Jenn or me, or both, will be there most days and want everyone to feel welcome for a drop-in. We’ll keep spare gloves on hand if you want to get dirty.

Will you have goats and pigs and chickens and junk?

LetmethinkaboutthatNO! It’s just too small a space. Also, animals require a level of attention that’s over and above what even finicky crops will demand. They’re also troublemakers that, rightly, don’t like being penned in and inevitably find a way out. The farm’s neighbors have chickens, though, so it sounds like a farm. They’re also beekeepers who we hope will keep a hive or two on our land.

Do you need help?

We could use it at some point. I’m hoping to recruit a few able bodies for some of the infrastructure build-out — for setting fence posts and the like. We’ll probably ply folks with a cooler of beer to help spread that 8 inches of topsoil when we get it delivered.

Wait, is this related to that community orchard you built?

Totally different project. The community orchard is a piece of public land where we planted a bunch of fruit for anyone to eat. It’s a park. This is a private farm. We discourage you from harvesting the food from Dew Point Farm.

So this isn’t a community garden?

No. Here’s the deal: We don’t expect to make a full-time wage doing this. But we sure hope to avoid losing money doing it. We’re hoping to earn enough to pay the bills and then maybe a bit more to compensate us for our time. But we haven’t run the numbers, because we’re determined to try this no matter what those numbers might tell us. We may lose money here, but we feel operating it as a private farm will give us more incentive to make it successful and to push our yields. Community gardens often wither because there is no financial incentive to keep their organizers motivated.

Why the name Dew Point Farm?

Because Jenn’s nuts about science. Just look at that picture over there.

I found this when we were cleaning out some of her papers from when she got her master’s in environmental science. Also, I like Dew Point Farm because I’m fond of puns and double-meanings. And, since we’re both cheap-ass bastards thrifty, keeping the farm name tied to The Dew Abides lets us maintain a single website for both the farm and our ramblings.

Seriously, no goats?

No, Jenn. No goats.

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1 Buck Ice’s slogan, “Never touched by human hands,” is pretty much the opposite of our philosophy at the farm, by the way.

2 Think about how amazing this truism is. My dad used to run a TV shop, where he repaired TVs (back when people repaired TVs) and sold new ones. It would be unfathomable to hear him say, “What we really need in this town is more people selling TVs.” In fact, he closed up shop when big chain stores did so. Circuit City and Rex Radio and Television started selling them to the public for less than his cost.

3 A farmer friend told us she tried to remove kudzu “mechanically,” which is to say naturally, by hand. It was so persistent that she lost 5 years of crops before she conquered it. So I did a lot of research on what was safe and least damaging to the ground. I ended up using triclopyr, which has a short half-life and some 40 years of use without any documented side effects like, you know, cancer. For the privet that couldn’t be pulled by hand, I surrendered to the ghastly glyphosate, but used cut-stump treatment to minimize the use and potential spread.

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