Twelve Months of Farming

While racking my brain, trying to figure out how to do a succinct wrap-up of such an eventful year, the worst song ever written popped in my head. And now it’s going to be in your head. You’re welcome.

In the first month of farming, my true love gave to me….a piece of land in the city

The forward-thinking folks at the Columbus Land Bank Authority suggested we take a peek at this potential farm site, one-sixth of an overgrown, blighted acre. It might not’ve looked like much to anyone else, but Brad and I stared at each other in wide-eyed disbelief and said, “It’s perfect.”

In the second month of farming, my true love gave to me…two fields of weeds

OK, so maybe “perfect” isn’t the right word. The lot was covered in neck-high weeds and privet with trunks as big as your fist. And as a surprise bonus, once the city bushhogged the weeds to a manageable knee-high level, we discovered (after closing on the property) that the ground was smothered in kudzu vines.

Not exactly ideal farming conditions. But in for a penny, in for a pound.

It took a month of backbreaking work — which mostly fell on Brad, since I was still working at Jenny Jack Farm three days a week — but the invasive species choking the land were chopped, pulled, cursed upon, and removed. As an added precaution, we decided to invest more than three times the cost of the property in a thick, smothering layer of compost to protect the back field from resurfacing privet.

In the third month of farming, my true love gave to me…three weeks of mulching

Which brings us to that tractor-trailer full of black gold. Sixty. Thousand. Pounds. Of organic compost. It took both of us three weeks and a bottle of Tylenol to spread it, but the addition paid for itself and then some, as we were able to plant our cash crops directly into that nutrient-rich magic.

In the fourth month of farming, my true love gave to me…four thousand feet of dripline

Crowns in heaven await our plumber Bruce, who trenched the irrigation line and helped us with two exhausting days of turning the rock-hard front field (which had been compacted under the weight of a house for a hundred years). Yet another added bonus: whilst turning the field, we discovered that when the house was demolished, the brick pilings underneath were left behind, hidden in the soil. No choice but to dig up and move 800 bricks, which we hope to reuse as the floor of a wash station.

Now that the fields were clear, we used our mid-tine Honda tiller to create twenty 30-inch-wide planting beds, each approximately 70-feet long. We laid out the drip irrigation, planted seedlings and sowed beans, and looked forward to a beautiful, first year of farming, with markets bustling with customers and quarterly open houses, socializing with the neighbors!

In the fifth month of farming, my true love gave to me….Coooooovid nineteeeen

So, yeah, that happened.

In the sixth month of farming, my true love gave to me…six kinds of bush beans

Determined to persevere in a time when people needed food more than ever, we kept working as if none of our plans had changed. Six days a week, one or both of us weeded, trellised, or harvested everything from tomatoes to the aforementioned bush beans (six varieties of lima, snap, and drying), which we sold three times a week — to The Food Mill, at our on-farm market, and at MercyMed’s Farmstand Fridays — to grateful people who gave us more in encouragement and support than they ever took from us in veg. The produce was abundant, and we were pleasantly surprised to have made it through the summer with no crop failures.

In the seventh month of farming, my true love gave to me…seven pints of okra

Which is about all we harvested before the nematode infestation destroyed 140 feet of okra. <insert multiple, profane, sweat-drenched outbursts here>

In the eighth month of farming, my true love gave to me…eight years of dreaming

As August drew to a close, most of the crops succumbed to the Georgia heat, which was expected. The summer often felt like surfing a wave at Pipeline, balancing atop a force of nature that threatens to pull you under, but in the end, we landed safely back on the beach, exhilarated and ready for more.

Eight years ago, we began learning how to grow food and searching for affordable land, but it was worth every long minute of hope and disappointment. Because now we appreciate, at the deepest level, the loud hum of bees drinking nectar from our basil flowers in the early morning sun; every customer who couldn’t wait to tell us what they cooked that week with our food; every neighbor who stopped their car to shout greetings and buy a bag of green tomatoes. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Morning glow at Dew Point Farm

In the ninth month of farming, my true love gave to me…nine rows of clover

It was a bittersweet time — time to cut the plants, smother the weeds in the back field with tarps, and let the farm rest. We had only planned to grow one season this first year while working out logistics, but now we feel a little more confident about trying three seasons, starting in the spring.

As for that front field of original soil, we sowed five pounds of crimson clover seed as a cover crop to naturally replenish nitrogen, prevent erosion, and hold moisture in the soil. Also, it’s pretty.

In the tenth month of farming my true love gave to me…ten months of planning

So now comes the fun part. Poring over seed catalogs, creating spreadsheets to calculate profit per plant, drawing out crop rotations in a sketchbook, and generally figuring out how in the world to keep a steady stream of plants alive for ten months next year.

In the eleventh month of farming, my true love gave to me…eleven lifelong friends

And now comes the sad part. By November, it became clear that three-seasons of farming in town wouldn’t leave any time for me to continue working at Jenny Jack, with the dear friends who taught me everything I know about farming and whose laughter and thoughtfulness kept me going on many a day stooped over a bed of strawberries or mouth-breathing in the greenhouse.

For the first time, both Brad and I will be completely self-employed and dependent on our own business to survive. Which isn’t terrifying at all.

In the twelfth month of farming, my true love gave to me…one twelve-inch farm dog

As many of you know, we lost our beloved Seamus the Wonder Dog in April and thought it would be a long time before we’d be ready for another canine companion. But a few weeks ago, folks at the East Alabama Humane Society introduced us to a three-year-old ragamuffin, a 30-pound German-shepherd-mixed-with-something-blonde-and-improbably-small, who had been abused and traumatized. They adored her but had tried unsuccessfully to place her for two years because she lived in a heightened state of fear and distrust whenever introduced to new people, snapping at strangers and children; but they saw her sweetness and intelligence and told us, “If she feels safe, she’ll give you her heart.”

We fell for her hard.

Lula and Brad settle down for a long winter’s nap

It was a difficult first few days, but Lula’s gone from hiding under the hydrangea to sleeping with her head nestled on our shoulders, heeling our ankles when it’s time for a walk, and bouncing straight up and down through the clover like Pepé Le Pew. A tiny farm dog for a tiny farm. What a joyful, unexpected way to close out a year that none of us will ever forget.

Thank you to everyone who cheered us on and honored us by serving our food to your families. Please stay healthy, eat well, and take care of each other this winter. Spring is coming.

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