The story in the soil

It was a spectacle.

No, I mean a miracle.

Life for most folks during the past six weeks or so of COVID-19 quarantine probably feels like it’s going in slo-mo. Many are reading books, taking walks, cooking at home, watching (finally) “The Wire,” learning the guitar, making bread, and pulling off the sticky notes covering their webcams, all with the common goal of just trying not to freak the hell out.

In contrast, it’s turned into the busiest time yet for me and for Jenn at our fledgling Dew Point Farm. As a husband-and-wife operation, we’ve not been sidelined. And thank the heavenly stars that shine on us all for that, as our window to put plants in the ground in time for summer crops was fast closing.

So, yeah. We got stuff done.

Stuff like: There was empty ground and a 61-yard pile of compost on it. And we spread that compost, by hand, and turned that land into a large, fertile field. And then we got an irrigation line installed. And we got a man with a tractor to break up the hard ground on the front half of the lot. And I tilled that ground (on a day that I hoped I could call “Till Tuesday,” but rain double-crossed me forcing a “Till Wednesday,” which is just not as musical, damn it). And then we furrowed both the back field, with the new compost, and the front field, with the newly turned formerly hard earth to make actual beds to plant in.

Sharp eyes will see a few bricks in that turned soil, representing .00003 percent of the total we uncovered.

That spate happened in about 10 days, and where once there was a grassy lot, now there were defined planting fields with mounded beds in them and water lines feeding them agua.

And then we planted. We directly sowed beans into the front field. We transplanted plants that we grew in a tiny greenhouse at our home along with a bunch we bought from Jenny Jack Farm. We’ve since added a PVC hoop structure covering three rows and hung shade cloth on it to protect the tomatoes from the blistering sun to come. I don’t know if Omar’s comin’, yo, but summer is.

And now — boom! — we have a farm.

And on that farm we had a…

There are rows of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, green beans, about five varieties of bush beans, and, as of one week ago, okra — all in the ground. Some of it is flowering, some is fruiting, some is just popping out of the ground, but all of it is growing.

Kebarika beans soaking up some water from the drip lines.

We chose to put in a drip irrigation system with lines running down the middle of all the beds, so we can water efficiently direct to the plant roots and turn individual rows on or off as we need to.

While we’re watering, we’re tackling other chores. There’s always weeding; the privet we tried to smother in the back field is always staging an insurgence. But if we’re caught up on that, we’re spreading mulch as a weed suppressant on the borders of the two fields (which is labor intensive but essentially free, as the city of Columbus offers free mulched wood chips from one of its landfills). Or we’re sorting and moving the — exact count here — 7-billion-quadrillion-cotillion bricks that the tractorman turned up with the soil on the front field. That would be the remnants of the old duplex that used to sit on the land. (As Bright Eyes said, the story is in the soil.1)

What we don’t know, yet, or rather, anymore, is what we’re going to do with those vegetables. The pandemic has thrown a lot of stuff up in the air (ooh, bad choice of phrasing) for everyone, so we’re not complaining. We’re gentleperson-farmers and have the luxury of not relying on a market to sell our goods at, even if we really hoped to. Our hearts go out to those who count on money earned from farmers markets to make a living right now. And we’re so grateful that the weather and our plumber’s schedule conspired to delay us so long that we couldn’t plant spring crops that we might not have been able to find homes for.

That’s Farmer Jenn, tending to the newly planted pepper plants.

For the stuff on the vine that will be popping out soon, we were planning on selling at the MercyMed Farmers Market, for a few reasons.

  • One is sentimental: Jenn actually established that market with MercyMed’s help and a Georgia Organics grant two years ago.
  • Another was important to us: We want to sell our vegetables at a lower price to those who need it the most, and their market offered to double the buying power for SNAP (or food stamp) shoppers.
  • The third reason was contractual: We promised the city when they sold us the land that we’d offer our food at a low-income market.

Now, the future of the MercyMed market is still in flux. They’ve just been giving away their food to the needy for the past month and there’s no official word on when — or if — they’ll reopen the market. If it does, that’s still our first choice, as it pays farmers full-price for vegetables that the most needy folks can buy at half-price.

But if that doesn’t work out, we’ll either pop up another market close to the farm itself or look to another market in an impoverished area. Restaurants have already expressed an interest in our overage, so nobody worry about us.

Right now we’re happy to have a place to go to work that’s not just outside the confines of our home, but outside.

Here’s the story so far — the ten-month evolution of Dew Point Farm.

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1Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground” was Bright Eyes’ first charting album, back in 2002. I owned it on CD, which had a book of liner notes so pretentiously thick that it would never fit back into the case (which maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the assuming length of the album title). Still, it’s good album. And that quote in the top photo of this post comes from one of its songs, “From a Balance Beam”:

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