A Year in Review – the good, the bad, & the scary

It only seems fitting that on the first day of the new year I look back and review the previous year and share it with you. Because, although I share a lot, I haven’t shared it all. And 2018 was a year that emotionally and mentally brought me to my knees in despair, elevated my joy in earnest, and all but eliminated my pride.
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Taking a walk in our greenhouse

Joy. Courage. Faith.

Never one for New Year’s resolutions, a few years ago I adopted a bit of a new tradition, inspired I believe, by Brene Brown (check her out; she’s amazeballs). Instead of overwhelming myself with all the ways and things I should do to become a better person, I instead adopted a word to guide and direct my actions and decisions for that year.

My word for 2017 was “joy,” and consequently the year Nick and I decided to make a major change based solely on what brought us joy. Not what was financially the smartest or most secure, otherwise we would have stayed put in our home and in our jobs, which you know by now, we didn’t do.

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Townes and Ryker exuding sheer joy at the Mall of America this Christmas season visiting Santa

Then in 2018, my word became “courage.” Courage in all things big and small. Courage to start over in a new state. Courage to leave the city and all we had ever known for a life in the country. Courage to build a business. Courage to trust ourselves. Courage to live daily in the unknown. Courage to ask for help. And courage to leave my job and forgo the security and stability it offered.

 

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Our woods

Now, in 2019, my word is “faith.” Faith in myself, in my abilities and my dreams. Faith in the unknown, believing that it’ll all be okay. Faith in our farm and our business, that we’ll be able to make a living. Faith in God, and, in the words of the Alchemist, “the universe [that] will conspire to help us.” Faith in my family and children. Faith in my decisions, values, gifts, talents, and purpose. Faith in humanity. Faith, that no matter what, I can claim the sky.

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Hanging in the rain by our pond

 

The “Good”

All-in-all, 2018 was a good year. I met amazing people here in Cumberland, made new friends, and started to immerse myself in this wonderful community.

I exerted courage doing many new things.

  • I took country line dancing lessons.
  • I raised ducklings successfully into adulthood.
  • I got a part-time (two Saturdays/month) job at a local boutique outfitters, Idlewild Outfitters, to meet people and learn sales.
  • I chased a lifelong dream of being a Cub Scout and became the den leader of my boys’ Tiger den.
  • I volunteered for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Barron County.
  • I commissioned my first independent consulting gig.
  • I started this blog.
  • I helped build a yurt!

And many wonderful things happened on the farm.

  • Though we didn’t get as far as we would have liked, we made loads of progress on the farm.
  • An adorable stray kitty, now named Turnip, showed up out of the blue this summer and has chosen to let us adopt him.
  • We ate so much wonderful fruit we discovered growing on our property: plums, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and black raspberries. Plus deliciously huge asparagus.
  • We witnessed the most beautiful sunsets.
  • Our home was almost always filled with loved ones.
  • We adopted chickens, and they lay the most beautiful eggs and are hilarious to have around.

Then there were the moments of quiet joy that would break through my angst and depression with realization of the life I’m so lucky to live. Surrounded by beauty and nature. Taking care of animals. Working from home. Being part of a community. Loved by my family.

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Walking in our field of Goldenrod

The “Bad” and the “Scary”

I’m a bit hesitant to call what I’m about to say, “bad” simply because it’s what brought me to my most courageous moments.

For the last couple of years I had been dealing with an intense lack of purpose. My values were evolving and my life and career were beginning to feel out of alignment with them.

I was loathing a job I once loved and felt trapped in what was beginning to feel like purposeless work. Then I began to fear I’d lose the job I once loved, and fear I’d keep the job I now loathed. I felt useless, purposeless, and stuck.

Then, last summer, it all came to a head and I found myself for the first time experiencing self-loathing and crippling anxiety. I sought help and started seeing a therapist and was put on Zoloft.

As I started feeling better I began having productive conversations with my boss. Nearly nine years I had been on his team, and I was attached, but it was time for me to move on. And so, I did the scariest thing that I’ve ever done in my life. November 2, 2018, I left a job with fantastic benefits, a 401K, a pension, flexible hours, and amazing people for the unknown. I honestly don’t know what’s in store for me next and it scares the crap out of me. But for the first time in a couple of years, I’m positively excited about all the possibility that exists ahead of me. I’m still afraid, but this fear feels right and good.

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Christmas time with my handsome hubs

So, onto 2019 with new and wonderful possibility.

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A walk in the butterfly garden last summer

 

Becoming a market garden

Wowza has it been awhile since I last wrote. I’ve started and stopped many times. The last few months have been a fury of emotions as I come to the tail end (hopefully) of my 2-year existential crisis (What am I doing? Why? Is it enough? Does it matter? And does it align with my evolving values?). Now I’m ready to rock and roll. Let the pendulum swing baby because this life that I want to live is about to take shape.

First things first — what have we been doing on the farm this summer?

Ready for it? Drum roll please….(dum-dum-dum)…we’ve been building a market garden!  Man oh man has it been a lot of work. I’m super pumped to share with you what we’ve done so far, what we’re learning, and why we’re doing it.

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“So…for a friend who’s asking, what is a market garden?”

I’m super glad your “friend” asked because I’m dying to tell you them.

Now, it’s possible that if your “friend” googled “market garden” they may get a slightly different answer, but in a nutshell, this is how I understand the term (remember, I’m learning too). A market garden can vary in size, many being anywhere from an 1/8 of an acre to 7 acres or larger. The crops are typically a variety of veggies (or flowers) and sold direct to consumers through a farmer’s market, farm stand, CSA, and even restaurants.

Apparently more goes into a market garden than meets the eye, which is why we’re a bit behind schedule and why Nick’s tanned and toned bod is looking so good — but I digress. You’ll just have to see it for yourself ;). Anyway, keeping it as brief as possible (sort of), here are the steps, with photos, we’ve taken so far in building our market garden.

Step 1: Preparing the land — tree roots and bulldozers

As you may remember from a previous post, our property isn’t ideal for farming, even on a small scale. It’s heavily wooded and very hilly. So, before we could get started with the garden, we had to cut down about 40 trees, pull the roots and level the ground. Nick cut the trees then once the ground thawed we hired people with big equipment to pull out the roots and start leveling.

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Starting the leveling

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Almost done!

Step 2: Picking rock — dollars and buckets

Oh the amount of rock that had to be picked out of the 1/2 acre dirt pit that would soon become a garden. And it just keeps coming up! Nick got creative and started paying the boys $1 for every 5-gallon bucket they filled with rock (not worth it in my opinion, but the kids took to it like a fly to poop).

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Rock pile from picking rock

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Rock pile from picking rock

Step 3: Testing the soil — calf poop and compost

This is something we should have done prior to buying the property, but alas we didn’t. Live and learn I guess. And that’s what we’re doing — learning by living. We don’t really know what we’re doing. In theory, yes, but in practice it’s a whole different ball game.

The soil test consisted of filling a few containers with dirt and sending them out to get tested by experts. Based on the results we needed to add a dash of this and a dollop of that to create the perfect recipe for growing nutrient rich veggies. So we add crushed limestone and compost to start.

Some day we hope to make our own organic compost, but in the meantime, we’re dependent on others. Turns out compost is hard to find around here — especially the amount we needed to get started (24 yards). In the end we purchased calf poop from a nearby farmer. Zero waste and supporting local. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Step 4: Making the beds — playtime and tractors

Now, this is the step that got Nick all sorts of jacked. He finally got to play with his own big equipment (Ew gross! Not that!), a walk-behind tractor.

For our market garden we’re using a no-till permanent bed system. This is because we have a large amount of clay in our soil which can water log the crops if there’s nowhere for the water to flow. So, using a permanent bed system allows the rainwater to run off the beds in small trenches that runs down into the pond or slowly gets absorbed into the ground. There’s more to it than that, but I usually tune Nick out at that point. It is interesting though — REALLY!

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Nick playing with his big equipment (AKA walk-behind tractor)

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After all the beds were made

Step 5: Covering the beds — weeds and waiting

We’ve decided that it’s important for us to be responsible and respectable stewards of the land and all living things, which is why we’re choosing not to use chemicals, and also why there’s clover all over our yard. For that reason, instead of spraying to kill our weeds, we covered the beds with a black tarp. Without sunlight and with the intense heat, over time, the weeds and grass all die off. We’ve had our garden beds tarped for the last couple of months (minus two beds for test crops). And it appears to be working!

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The garden beds covered in black tarp to kill the weeds and grass underneath

Step 5: Building a greenhouse — sledge hammers and metal posts

This isn’t done yet, but we (Nick) did get the frame of the greenhouse up. And let me tell you, watching Nick work that sledge hammer has done wonders for our marriage. I’m telling you, that I just can’t tell you what that does to me.

Moving on…

We bought the frame of the greenhouse from a friend of a friend. The next steps, so Nick tells me, are to level the inside of the greenhouse, put the ends on, and then cover it all in plastic walls. There’s a few other things that’ll go into it too, like a fan, possibly insulation, etc. The greenhouse will be used in addition to the outdoor garden beds.

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Greenhouse skeleton. This will be used to grow cucumbers and tomatoes.

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Evening close-up of the greenhouse

Step 6: Growing test crops — baby roots and lettuces

We’ve reluctantly come to terms that we won’t get to a point of selling veggies this year. Everything is taking longer and has a bigger learning curve than we anticipated. That being said, we’re using this year as one of learning and are taking the opportunity to grow a few test crops, including carrots, radishes, beets and three different types of greens. They were planted about two weeks ago. Now we wait and watch and learn.

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Seeding the garden beds for our test crops

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Greens mix

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Radishes nearly two weeks in

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Radishes a few days in

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Rows of tomatoes

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Tomato

Step 7: Finding our market — farmers markets and co-ops

Deciding to wait a year to start selling our veggies has allowed us the opportunity and time we need to find our customers, know our competitors, and determine our niche. We’re doing that by traveling to farmers markets, finding co-ops, and talking to people. This is where I get to shine. Nick shines everywhere else.

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I don’t have any pictures of the markets so this raspberry from our apple orchard will have to suffice

As in life, nothing is going quite as expected. Sometimes it’s better or easier and sometimes it’s worse or harder. That’s when we tell each other and ourselves, that this, the painful learning and growing and joy of going after a dream, is the adventure we’re after.

“What have you done so far?”

Asked the host at a local happy hour event I was attending. This question was enough to send me into a mini tailspin of panic. What have we done so far? And has it been enough?

As I share this adventure we’re on with others, I get all sorts of questions. Some, like the question above, are out of excitement and genuine interest. While other questions are asked with an undertone of “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” which in response I assure them, “I have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.”

In either case, I appreciate the interest and the opportunity to tell people about this adventure. But holy crap am I scared.

Paralyzed by indecision – what we haven’t done so far

  • A name – we still haven’t picked a name. Turns out it’s super hard. Plus, pretty much this whole shebang hinges on a name. You know, important stuff like a website, an LLC, a business checking account, marketing, and this very important thing called branding.
  • Tools – a UTV, ATV, walk-behind tractor, truck, plow, riding lawn mower. Do we need it all?
  • Infrastructure – a hoop house, green house, wash house, propagation house, chicken house, walk-in cooler, fencing, water, garden plot. What do we start with and where do we put it?

Seriously! How’s a person supposed to know which to get, how much to spend, and when to get it? That’s the thing. We don’t know. And we don’t know anyone who can tell us. So, at some point very soon, we’re just going to have to take a leap and make a decision.

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Building momentum – what we have done so far

  • Bought seeds – see the complete seed list here: Seed plots & schedule – Seed order
  • Got nearly all of our smaller garden tools
  • Started four flats of micro greens
  • Cleaned out our entire back shed to be used as either a propagation house or wash house or both
  • Measured and remeasured and then measured again about two more times where the garden will go (the sun is our biggest determinant and as the days get longer it keeps changing direction, meaning what once had sun has shade and vice versa)
  • Started lots of spreadsheets for seed plots and harvest time tables, etc.
  • Research, lots of research

So, have we done enough at this point? Probably not, but we’re learning. And through that, we’re also learning to have patience with ourselves and to not be afraid to fail, which clearly we are since we can’t make a frick’n decision.

But we’re getting really close to jumping – or at the least, pushing each other off the edge into the unknown and the scary world of decision making.

 

 

 

Moving day – a time for tantrums

November 3, 2018

Closing was in Cumberland at 11 am. The final walk-through was at 10:30. All we had to do was get the cashier’s check for the 20% closing costs and then make the 1.5 hour drive to our new home. We were so close!

Nick, driving my dad’s truck towing a borrowed trailer and me in the van filled to the brim with all the stuff from the house that wasn’t in storage and didn’t fit in the trailer. Plus, two kids and a dog, who had to squeeze between the kids’ seats and all the stuff. We left our house in St. Paul at 8:30 am and headed to the bank. I had slight anxiety, but nothing too obnoxious. I was pretty darn confident that things would run as smoothly as could be. Boy was I wrong.

“Sorry, we can’t accept this check”

8: 40 am

We arrived at the bank. It was closed. I thought banks opened at 8 am during the week. Guess not. So we sat in the parking lot waiting. I texted my mortgage broker, “who do I make the cashier’s check out to?” “Yourself” she said. “Weird,” I thought. But she’s the expert.

9 am

I considered having the teller leave the cashier’s check blank in the “to” section, but didn’t. Mistake. Always go with your gut.

11:15 am

After a couple of detours and 15 minutes late, I met Nick at RE/MAX in Cumberland for our closing. He’d gone ahead for the final walk through.

12 pm

“Can we get your cash to close before we get started?”

“Yep! Here you go. The mortgage broker had me make it out to myself. Hope that’s okay.”

It wasn’t.

There weren’t any TCF banks in Wisconsin either. We called some local banks to see if they’d be willing to cash my check and reissue a new one.

They weren’t.

We called TCF to see if they could wire the money instead.

The couldn’t – at least not without me there in person.

12:15 pm

I loaded the kids back up in the car to make the 1.5 hour drive to the nearest TCF Bank in Stillwater, MN. Ryker (my 5-year-old son), at this point, was in tantrum mode. He’d already been in the car since 8:30 and the prospect of spending another 3 hours in the car sent him over the edge. I couldn’t blame him. I wasn’t far from a tantrum myself.

“The sellers aren’t moved out yet”

Right after arriving at the closing, Nick quietly informed me that the sellers, an 80-something-year-old couple, still had “a ton, and I mean a ton” of stuff at the house. What! What does that mean? Were we going to have to push off closing? Where would we go? We were already moved out of our old house.

While I headed back to the twin cities, Nick headed back to “our new” house and helped the sellers pack up and move out the rest of their stuff – sort of. They had to come back the next day for a few remaining things.

Thankfully, Ryker fell asleep almost immediately after leaving RE/MAX. I did throw my tantrum. It lasted about 10 minutes on the road on the phone with my parents.

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The third time’s a charm. Or is it the fourth?

2 pm

We arrived at TCF Bank at the Cub Foods in Stillwater. I woke up Ryker and hurried the boys out of the van and through the busy parking lot, rushed them inside (the closer needed us back around 3), got up to the teller – I forgot the slip of paper in the van that had the name I was supposed to make it out to. You’ve got to be kidding me!

I rushed back out with the kids and back through the busy parking lot, grabbed the slip of paper and ran, dragging Townes and Ryker behind me.

Back at the teller window I slipped the teller the slip of paper and he proceeded to create the cashier’s check.

1st attempt – he printed on the back of the cashier’s check.

2nd attempt – he spelled the name of the recipient wrong.

3rd attempt (and by now my fourth issued cashier’s check) – he got it right.

7 hours in the car

I sped through the winding roads to get back to REMAX before they closed.

3:30 pm

Arrived. We closed without anymore hitches.

4 pm

The sellers were all moved out. After spending 7 hours in the car that day going back and forth, we only had a 5-minute drive to our new home.

The rest is history, or I guess the future.

Looking back, perhaps it really wasn’t all that bad, but in the moment, it was a time for tantrums.

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