A couple years ago, I spent a warm fall day photographing ducks, pigs and blueberry bushes at Finnriver farm. At the end of that day, as I stood among the blueberry bushes gazing in the direction of the Olympic mountains, camera hanging loosely at my side, I caught myself thinking, “I don’t want to go home…” Then, “What? That’s completely unreasonable.” Then, “What if…?”
At that point, my youngest daughter was just beginning her junior year of high school in Seattle, so there was no way the idea of living on a farm somewhere on the Olympic peninsula was even remotely imaginable and I dismissed it. It kept coming back.
Fast-forward two years… In the second week of August this year, I bought 11 acres of almost raw land about four miles up the hill and around the corner from where I was standing that day at Finnriver. I signed the final set of documents ending a 29-year marriage and I accompanied my youngest daughter to her college orientation for freshman year. It was a big week.
I have no idea how I’m going to do this thing, but Farm Imaginings roots lie in my curiosity about people’s creative farming and food production ideas, both personal and commercial, and I’m about to try to become one of those people. I have an empty page on which to write my own rural agricultural story, so I guess I finally have something of my own to contribute to this collection of stories.
When I was a little girl, I loved reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories and I loved reading them to my own children. Standing on my land a few weeks ago, I thought about Ma and Pa and their lean-tos and dugouts. I thought about the book The Long Winter and what it must have taken to get a roof over their heads before the blizzards flew and then actually survive those endless blizzards. Burned into my mind are images from the books, like Pa teaching Laura how to twist hay into sticks for fuel to keep the stove burning. Their family had run out of wood, coal and kerosene. Hay was all they had left so they spent their days switching off between grinding wheat berries and twisting hay until their hands were numb and bleeding.
While I might unwittingly have thrown my hat into the ring of modern day homesteaders, I have a long ways to go before I have a clue how the Ingalls family did it. Fortunately I don’t live miles from my nearest neighbors, I’ll never run out of trees and in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t have to worry about blizzards.
Like Harold with his purple crayon, I’m imagining this and learning as I go.
Right now, I have two smallish clearings, a well, a septic tank and a shed slated to be a pump house.
But before I get out my crayon and start drawing fields or barns, or invite any animals other than my two dogs into my story, I need a house. Before I can build a house, I need plans, permits, power, and a builder. My purple crayon can only go so far.
I’m lucky because I have a good friend whose brother agreed to build for me and has the equipment to dig the trenches for power. Once I have plans, permits and power, the house building can begin, the well can have a pump, and the shed can grow into its role as a pump house.
I’ve spent a lot of time on rural land and in the wilderness, but that’s a vastly different thing than starting from scratch with a piece of land. Like anything else that may seem familiar and alluring from a distance, actually participating requires a whole new vocabulary. I still don’t know that language, so even looking at the new address application form provoked tears as I tried to decipher what information the Jefferson County department of Community Development actually wants.
When I started writing this blog, I thought that perhaps my curiosity about all things “local food” might inspire others who were curious and wanted to see how people were making it work. Now I get to be the guinea pig. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this project, only that I want to grow much of my own food, live closer to that process, and to be part of a community of people who care deeply about the land they steward. Perhaps my learning will inspire someone else if I share it – or convince him or her that they want to stay in the city! I’m not sure, but it looks as though I’ll be at this for a while.
As I go, I hope to get back to writing about my neighbor’s efforts at growing food and making various artisan food products, so stay tuned for more stories…