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Updates from Purgatory

19 Jan

Time is such a weird thing- how it is so fast and so slow and it is sometimes both. Occasionally it seems like you are trying to shove a minute that feels like an hour into a day that flies by in a second… if that makes any sense.

Either way, after the initial buzz and excitement of the launch of our indiegogo fundraiser (which is working tremendously, mostly because I didn’t realize what a wonderful support system we have), Victoria and I find ourselves back at our day jobs. It’s a tough thing. I spend almost all of my days off working on farm business, and my days at work have felt out-of-body. I am still the same woman who works there, but  part of me feels like I am already in my boots knee-deep in manure with a stirrup hoe in hand. For a week or so, I self-created the scenario that everyone at work was mad at me for my pending exodus. For a couple days, I screwed up a ton of stuff at work that I would never normally let slip, which just compounded the story in my head that everyone hated me. Sometimes I am such a silly girl.

What I’m trying to say is that I am learning patience and the virtue of being where I truly am. Soon, I will no longer see my very best friends (that happen to be my coworkers) every day, I won’t know or be a part of the ins and outs of a business that I have dedicated my life to for 3 1/2 years, and I am having to face up to the fact that I will no longer be integral in its strong culture that has become very much like a family. These are hard realizations. I am truly taking a leap of faith, a gamble, a large jump into a canyon of which I do not know its depth, and when I really think of those things, I want to savor and enjoy this part of my life that is going to be over soon. I am going to be a business owner. There will be no “days off” for many, many years. My only “coworkers” will be Victoria, my rat terrier Poppy, and our (kind of dumb, but adorable) Newfoundland Jasmine. There will be no going to see my friend’s band last minute at Herman’s Hideaway, no after-work beers at Illegal Pete’s, no traffic (not so bad), and no hustle and bustle of Denver city life. I’m okay with that, but I know I will be mad at myself someday if I don’t take these last few months of my young life and simmer in them.

On the business side of things, I am surprised at how, with time, things get less jumbly (technical term) in my head. For awhile, I was like “Ah!” and then I was like “Ugh!” and then like, “Noo!” at all of the things I had to do, had to know, had to prepare for the farm. But really, I was getting ahead of myself. The lists thin out, they tend to prioritize themselves every day, and I can always trust myself to do what I think is right and never to slack off. I just know myself– I don’t do that.

And about the fun- we did go to the National Western Stock Show. We realized it’s really not our thing (although the animals were  a lovely sight!) and that we are glad there’s a large faction of farmers that are more along the line of laid-back hippie-types than the rhinestones-on-the-back-pockets-of-your-Levi’s type. Not like there’s anything wrong with either one of those, but there is definitely one group we fit in more with than the other. We felt quite like black sheep at the Stock Show (and were occasionally stared at like we may, in fact, be black sheep and up for auction), but we know from the other wonderful organic farms that we’ve visited that we aren’t total weirdos and we will be fine.

So I’m going to post our indiegogo fundraiser on this blog (in case anyone who reads it isn’t my facebook friend) so you can see our sweet faces and maybe share it with a friend or two. We have 29 days left of our fundraiser and only $400 some dollars left to go! It is a pretty exciting venture. It has been humbling to the point where there are no words to see my friends, family, acquaintances, and sometimes complete strangers supporting us. Here is the link:
http://www.indiegogo.com/connollyanddaughtersfarm

And that’s all for today! Until next time,

Claire

This is real life!

7 Jan

Now that we’ve finally moved, it seems like everything is a. real, and b. moving at super-speed time warp. It is finally January, the month I had labeled in my head as “Action Month,” and I am having to face up to all of the to-do lists I’ve created for getting this darn farm up and running. Not only that, but, like I mentioned, it seems like every day carries it’s own idea on how long a minute or an hour is, and every day wants to shorten. I’m certain this has less to do with what we call “winter” and more to do with my own experience of things right now.

One thing I have had to learn, rather importantly, is to only try and deal with one thing at a time- whatever is most imminent at any given point. If I think about ALL of the things I have to do, NOTHING gets done. It’s this crazy life-thing I have been observing my whole life; the burden of choice. If there are too many options or too many challenges, I am positive that humans face a particular kind of paralysis.

So first on my agenda is setting up our bank account. It is the last step in the long process of setting up our indiegogo account in order to crowdsource some funds. In case anyone reading this doesn’t know (or anyone is reading this at all), sites like kickstarter/indiegogo/etc. are websites that act as platforms for projects to receive donations online. There are a lot of different versions of this, but essentially you ask for your friends and family to donate to you in order to reach a certain dollar amount, and in return you offer them “perks” for joining your cause. It requires a lot of time and effort to be successful, but the main thing is that it can be successful.

Once we link up our bank account to the site, we can launch our fundraiser and begin taking donations. It is super exciting, and I think with the perks we have laid out, as well as our plan, passion, and a pretty cute little video, we will really reach some people who may want to support some small farmers just starting off.

Other things on my list include ordering seeds (which I’ve already picked out- yay!), contacting farmer’s markets, locating some good manure, building a greenhouse & Quonset  hut & chicken coop, and, you know, nothing that’s any big deal. Nothing that should’ve just made me PANIC. 🙂 Either way, I can’t think about all those things right now.

It’s all about taking one step at a time.

Our visit to Stonebridge Farm near Lyons, CO

18 Nov

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Well, if there were ever a more pristine farm in the world, I would have to see it to believe it. Stonebridge is nestled comfortably in the foothills about 30 minutes outside of Boulder, CO, and their operation is 20-some years in the making. I didn’t know how important it was for us to go and meet them (although I was well aware how generous it was of them to invite us), but it turns out that it was essential.

I hate to sound repetitive about people in the organic farming community, but John and Kayann were extremely helpful, kind, and welcoming. If they were cautious or judgmental with us at all, I didn’t sense it. We invited our parents along to see their CSA (since my parents didn’t have a whole grasp on exactly what Community Supported Agriculture was) and, even though it shouldn’t have, it made me a little nervous. I was afraid that the dynamic would shift- that Victoria and I would be seen as extremely young and treated like children. I also had the fear that every teenager knows all to well; I didn’t want my parents to say anything embarrassing. In case you didn’t already know, they didn’t.

We headed out to Stonebridge quite late. I got off work at 1pm and forgot to bring home any coffee for us, my parents, or Stonebridge. Anyone who roasts good coffee for a living knows that this is a CARDINAL sin. Typically nice family members and friends turn into violent, raging animals spiraling out of control if they wake up one day and you forgot to bring them their coffee. So, on top of normal things you do when you get off work, I had to go back to work to get coffee that I had roasted thirty minutes earlier. I was pissed at myself.

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I only tell you that we were late because, when I called Kayann to let her know, she seemed disappointed that we wouldn’t have as much time to talk! I mean, if this isn’t a switch from the city to farming life, I don’t know what is. I made the presumption that we were probably a huge burden on any farmers that gave us a tour. They made us feel like welcome guests.

One of the biggest things I learned from them is to start small. I’ve been slowly learning this on my own when I wanted to start with 7 acres (go ahead and laugh, I can’t beat you up through the internet), then it went down to 2, now I’m pretty sure we’re starting with ½ to 1 acre. Us city folk have no idea what an acre means, but now that I am transitioning, I understand that it is A LOT. Like, a lot a lot (to help my city friends with translation). They have slowly but surely grown to 4 acres over their 20 years, and their operation is much more in-depth, organized, and essentially bigger than we can be in our first years. I was extremely impressed that they had built a community rather than customers, and even then, those are one and the same. I love that they have parties for their shareholders and how intricately they involve them with the produce- their shareholders come to the farm and pick out their own baskets, wash their produce, etc. It saves them money and brings in the type of people they want to be around. So. Cool.

Also, there is no way I could’ve understood sowing green manure or the equipment needs without seeing it. I’ve read (and re-read) The New Organic Grower where these things are outlined, but squiggly drawings and lists don’t always cut it for real learning. I saw a walking hoe, and a rototiller, and I saw oats growing over as a winter crop.

There is way too much for me to completely include here, and I am still mulling all of it over in my head as I write. I think, however, the lesson in this blog post is not to relay all of the information I learned from the lovely people at Stonebridge directly to you, but rather, to impart that visiting other farms is absolutely essential. There is only so much your brain can read and truly, truly understand. But talking to people doing what you dream to do is an unbelievable resource. Tour other farms, talk about successes and failures, laugh about accepting an organic grower’s relationship to weeds, and smile over coffee. There is no replacement for this.

I also wanted to include Stonebridge Farm’s contact information here. I would encourage anyone in the Denver/Boulder area looking for a quality CSA to inquire about their shares and support a wonderful, local organic grower that has been thriving for over 20 years. If you want to know how it’s done, they’re doing it! They also offer classes for writing, farming, anything. Check it out.

http://www.stonebridgefarmcsa.com/
And their blog:

pearlmoonplenty.wordpress.com

Crop yields, Fundraising, and our visit to the Chatfield CSA

3 Nov

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After my week-long stint with discouragement, I am back on my feet again. Talking to my Mom the other day really helped, and today I got my first email from my Dad that oozed with plans and excitement. Watch out world- I wasn’t gone for long.

The last few days, I had been taking baby steps in preparation for getting back into real work today. This was mostly done inside my head, mulling this and that over, but I don’t think this thought process should be denied it’s importance. It is always the first step towards achievement.

So today, I woke my butt up and drew a hardly-to-scale map of the two acres of farm we are planning on turning into beautiful rows of veggies and separated it into 8 equal sections for our crop rotation. Two acres is approximately 87,120 square feet. Divided into 8, it gives us around 10,000 some square feet per section. After accounting for walkways and our 45 inch rows and taking some square roots here and there, I discovered that just one row of tomatoes could contain a huge amount of plants.

I guess I didn’t realize how big an acre really was.

After that, I got on my phone to deal with some financial matters. I called my sister, Andee, because she is the goddess of all things fundraising (and all things in general). She has four kids and still manages to organize a 5k for her son’s hockey program every year, be on the PTA, have a job as an executive assistant, and keep her house clean. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know when she brushes her teeth, but I’m sure she does. I wanted to see if we could hire her to organize a benefit to raise money for startup for this year, and as I expected, she’s brimming with ideas already and we are meeting next Friday to get started. We are considering a wine tasting/art auction with CSA memberships for those who donate over $300 and perhaps having a kickstarter or indie-gogo for our out-of-town friends and family. Friends, keep this in mind- what a great Christmas present… fresh, local veggies from a startup family farm for an entire season! (Oh no, I’ve already begun advertising and we don’t even have a date yet.)

After that, we weren’t done. I had called the Chatfield CSA outside Denver to see if we could come check out their operation, but no one answered. We decided to take a chance and head down there anyway, and were we glad we did! The Chatfield CSA has about an acre of veggies growing there, and their one acre feeds 55 families for the year. It absolutely amazes me. Why are we shipping in produce from anywhere again? Imagine the Colorado economy if we only bought produce from local farmers. I’m getting off topic, but we found out a lot of other important things too. Like drip irrigation; they use it everywhere, just as we suspected. They also have a great herb garden on the side for their CSA members since herbs grow so well in Colorado. What a great idea; send them some oregano to go in their veggie stews!

After a quick tour of the old homestead there, we decided to hit the road back home. We were tired, but we are re-energized and more ready than ever to start up next spring. We have emailed several other Colorado CSA’s back and forth as well, and for the most part, they have all been extremely welcoming and informative. We have plans to visit two of them, and one nice lady who lives deep in the mountains promised me a long phone call soon while her son is taking a nap.

One thing I have really learned from all this is to REACH OUT. Most people think I’m pretty outgoing, but inside I feel so shy and anxious all the time. But I wouldn’t have come nearly as far without the support from my family, friends, and strangers. And I would never have gotten the help I have gotten if I didn’t ask for it. There are so many resources in the world, and I haven’t even begun to touch them all. If I succeed, I will never be able to say I did it alone.

And I would never want to.

Notes on Discouragement and Debt

28 Oct

I have been walking around feeling a heavy burden the past week or so. The dream of the farm is a logistical and financial nightmare now, and the disappointment I have experienced in this has filtered into the rest of my life- I am finding no enjoyment in little things like breakfast with my lady, waking up, taking naps, petting my dog, or anything, really, because I have met a roadblock on the way towards, I am now realizing, an unrealistic goal.

Everything was beautiful and pumped full of adrenaline at the onset of our journey to taking over the farm, but now the burdens seem too much to overcome. I am learning that you can do anything you want in the world if you have money. If you don’t have money, they say there are people who will loan you money. But they will only loan you money if you prove you don’t really need the money. So the only people getting loans are people who have enough to do it without the loans. What’s strange to me is how readily everybody gave me credit cards and student loans with 20% interest rates when I was too young to know what any of that means, but now everyone is backing away screaming when I actually want to do something with myself.

I guess I wanted a fast track to a new life. I thought I had hit the lottery with my parent’s land. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a real lottery, and I don’t have enough money or good enough credit to get a new life. I have to keep living this one until the day I die, unless I do something about this now.

So tonight, since I can’t sleep, I am trying to come up with a new plan that is not dripping in pessimism. It is hard to not feel hardened. I feel resentful of the many creditors and school loan programs that took advantage of me when I was young and now expect me to pay them back tenfold when I barely make enough money to survive each month. I feel angry at myself for being so stupid when I was younger. I feel as if I was duped into believing that an “education” in “liberal arts” would make any difference in getting a job at age 23. All it did was leave me thousands of dollars in debt and working in the service industry- unable to repay the loans and, in turn, absolutely stuck. There is no dream worth having in this situation. It is all impossible.

But I dream still the same. I will run a farm with my wonderful woman. I will make enough money to someday have kids, own a house, and buy a new pair of jeans when I need them. These things will just have to come after I pay my debts. I will take the next two years or so living even further below the poverty line so that someday I can be the person I want to be. I have done this to myself, knowingly or not, and I can un-dig this grave.

I consider this my penance- I will pay off my debts for forgiveness and do my duty, but this God will never hear another prayer escape my lips henceforth until the day that I die. I will owe nothing to anything but my own bare hands. They will never beat me again, and money will never stop me in the pursuit of something I really want.

Don’t get me wrong, I do owe them. But they have it set up so that, eventually, they aren’t just taking your money. They call your phone seven times a day from six different phone numbers asking you for money. They drop your credit score so low that it would take ten years of monthly payments to qualify for a loan. They take your tax returns without your permission. They slowly take your future.

My future is something I never promised them. They are stealing.

And I am going to take it back.

Soil Sampling

22 Oct

So, the first thing you want to do when farming a new piece of land is find out what you’re working with. We do this with everything; from buying a new car to having a first date at a hot wing joint. You want to see what’s under the hood (and in the case of dates, whether or not someone will still look you in the eye with orange sauce surrounding their entire mouths). In the case of farming, you want to do a soil sample.

Now, lucky for us laymen, you don’t have to be much of a scientist these days to do this. Any Extension program will give you instructions on gathering soil, take your samples, and tell you what to do with the information they pump out of their scientist-brain-machines. We use CSU Extension here in Colorado, and they are a well of other information, too. I would recommend any beginner farmer to check out what Extensions have to offer.

Anyways, today we went to do our soil sampling thang. I know, in my heart of hearts, that CSU must fundamentally believe that their instructions for collecting samples make sense, but really, I read it seventeen different times and could’ve translated it into about that same amount of ways to go about collecting. But on time 18 of reading it, I decided I was a logical enough human being to infer what they wanted and follow the few basic rules and get it done. These rules are as follows:

1. Don’t use a rusty spoon… I mean, shovel. Or augur. Or anything that gets dirt from out of the ground. It will add iron to your test results and you don’t want that.
2. Take 20-30 samples from the field/fields you are going to be farming. If there are creek beds, strange areas where nothing seems to grow, or changes in landscape and you want to get a sample from them for whatever odd reason, keep them separate.
3. Dig at least 8-12” deep. You want to get all parts of the soil and you want to see the nitrogen you’ve got way down there in case you ever need to tap into it.
4. Mix the 20-30 samples together to form a composite of your field.
5. Do not put a lid on whatever you’re storing the soil in. They recommend a plastic Homer bucket (the orange ones you find at home depot). A lid can change the environment around the soil and then change the soil.
6. Allow the soil to dry before you put it in a little plastic baggie (you can use a Ziploc, but often your Extension Program can provide you with something less homey. Our EP is in Fort Collins and we said, “Nay, we aint drivin’ all that way for a damn plastic baggie.”)

So I followed all those rules, using the mile markers and telephone poles as the digging guide so we were sure to be as thorough as possible. After painfully digging with our sorry excuse for a shovel 25 times in a field that was hard as rock and full of goatheads (read: super pokey things that make you bleed and send razor sharp splinters into your hands that break into tiny pieces and make you wish you were a kid again so you could cry at that sort of stuff), and after we did our fair share of exploring and feeding other people’s horses and goats while they were at church, we started to head home.

But curiosity got the best of us. We had a bucket of soil in the back seat of the car that could tell us how easy our lives would be in a few months. That, and we live in Colorado where it’s cool for people to grow marijuana, so there are little shops everywhere that sell stuff for growing, and we wanted to do our own soil sample test, too! This is America and we wanted to know NOW! So we stopped at a classy place called Way To Grow and picked up a home soil testing kit for $16.50.

These things are rad. They test for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous, and something else I forgot (I haven’t done that test yet). They have little chemical pills in different colors that you add to soil and water and they tell you the future! But in all seriousness, you add a little soil, add a little water, add a chemical pill, and wait for it to change colors. It comes with several little pills for each test so you can do it over and over in the course of a year (or month if you’re a masochist). I will be buying these a lot.

I also really wanted to check the amount of clay, sand, and silt in the soil. You don’t need a fancy kit to do this: just a clear jar with a lid, water, and your soil sample. Fill the jar with one part soil to three parts water, give it a good shake, then let the formula settle out for a few minutes. Once it’s all settled, you’ll see that it has separated. The clay will be at the top, silt will be in the middle, and sand will settle to the bottom. There you have it.

Needless to say, we will still be absolutely using CSU for a more thorough test. You get averages with these home tests and if you don’t have filtered water at home, it can effect your results a bit. CSU will also provide us with recommendations and plans based on our results that will be very beneficial. But we got a general idea of what problems we will and will not be having; our nitrogen is depleted so we will have to compost this year, our pH is a magnificent neutral (if not a tiny bit acidic), and we’ve got a really good combination of clay, sand, and silt on the land. This tells us what we can grow, how we should prepare the soil, what we should do to help next year’s crops, etc. It is indispensable information.

If you’re getting ready to start up farming next year and need to gather a soil sample, here is my advice: put on good pair of boots, make sure you’ve got a whole day to get it done, bring gloves, make sure that your tools for digging aren’t rusted or pieces of crap (trust me), and if you get a little antsy to know what you’re looking at, grab a home soil testing kit and check it out yourself. Don’t skip out on your Extension program’s testing, however. You’ll need that scientific data- and home kits don’t check for metals, and in places like Colorado, you need to know about it.

That’s all for today! My fingers are full of splinters and I have to go back to my day job tomorrow morning. Until then.

Unicorns and Fairy Dust and Loan Applications

16 Oct

Today, we visited the most magical universe in the whole galaxy. Okay, so maybe not for everyone, but I swear the flourescent-lit, retro-carpeted FSA building full of women with big hairstyles and men in overalls is a farmer‘s/information whore’s wet dream. There are booklets, and packets, and worksheets, and CLASSES, AND LOANS, AND GRANTS, AND SOIL SAMPLING KITS AND AND AND!!!!

We walked in and I was immediately terribly shy. But my mother has 40 years of being a strong, independent woman on me, so I forgive myself for letting her do most of the talking at first. We were there to ask about loans for small growers, and after Janice (the woman who helped us) sized me up and got a good look at my tattoos, she seemed surprisingly okay with what she saw and kindly escorted us back to a meeting area.

Side note: I don’t care when Janice in the FSA office in Brighton, CO looks at me like I may or may not be a dangerous weirdo at first glance of my urban look. Janice probably never has had a young twenty-something with tattoos and short bangs walk into her office asking about green much. What really gets me are people in downtown Denver who stare at me for 5 minutes and look like they’ve already seen my future where I am nothing but an old, saggy, wrinkly lady that does nothing but sit in a rocking chair regretting the pretty pictures I put on my skin. Anyways.

She went over all types of loans, we asked her a bunch of questions, and my parents, Victoria, and I left with a huge loan application and a little more excited (if that’s even possible!). Janice appeared to love us and our ideas. She seemed to genuinely love helping people and I really think she liked to see young women looking to be organic growers. I felt oddly surprised at her reaction. Having been into music recently, I expected it to be like walking into a Folklore shop knowing nothing about acoustic guitars: you are demeaned if not ignored and it is generally an unpleasant experience. Maybe farming is the heart of America. Based on my family members that are farmers and the people I’ve met so far in agriculture, it seems like there are many, many good hearts.

We had a good talk with my parents on the way back home. We talked about living arrangements, Victoria and I settling our debts and taking tons of classes before turning in our application, and got some ice cream. My parents are really wonderful people. It’s amazing how you don’t know this until you’re old and have really screwed up and treated them like trolls for years, but I guess that is the human condition. I just feel blessed to know this and have them now. I plan on being the best daughter forever and as possible. It’s the very least they deserve.

So, after all this mushy-talk, there is much business to do. I mean, this loan application is BIZNIZ. We need to calculate crop yeilds before we have even farmed a piece of land, meet with several other CSA/Farmer’s Market growers, gain some sort of experience and education, take 20 some odd soil samples to CSU Extension, and come up with a complete financial evaluation of our first year. All that and we still may not get the loan. But that just takes me right to what my mom said to us as we were sitting watching the Bronco’s game tonight,

“If you really have a dream, and it burns you to not have it yet, you have to keep going. There are no setbacks if it is something you really want. This is coming from someone who was once a single mother. There are no setbacks. You just keep going. You find a way.”