* * * * *Hi all! The following post is a very special entry! For some time now I've been interested in living with more self-reliance and have been studying people who are doing this. My dear friend, Christine, is one of these people, and she inspires me deeply. Christine has long dreamed of owning her own farm, and earlier this year she finally saw her opportunity, bought 9 acres of untouched land and went for it. Last May she cleared land for Big Belly Farm. In late October my husband Colin, Veda and I spent the day at Christine's farm, and I asked Colin to do a little write up about it for this here blog (thanks, C!). Following his article is a little Q&A with Christine, and after that are my thoughts on the logo I designed for her farm.
Yes, it's a long post, but I do hope you'll enjoy! :)
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"You Can't Boss the Sun: Wisdom of a newbie farmer" by Colin Dullaghan
"I worked in a garden center for a little while, and customers would come in wanting to grow shade plants in the sun or sun plants in the shade. And I'm like, 'You can't boss the sun. You can buy that if you want to… If you want to buy it, go ahead, and I hope it does well, but… it's a plant that likes shade. You have to work with what you've got."
Like some of her former customers, Christine Adair learns stuff the hard way. It's partially by choice -- technically, she didn't *have* to build a farm from scratch in rural South Carolina, or at all. But learning stuff the hard way is also largely by necessity. With a degree in biology, she knows the difference between a sun plant and a shade plant, sure, but… she'd be the first to tell you there are some things you just can't know until you've gotten out there and done the work.
Which is most likely what Christine or her invaluable co-farmer Boyd, or both, are out there doing right now. Getting it done. Figuring stuff out. Taking care of whatever needs attention. Big Belly Farm (the name is meant to evoke fullness and fertility, and she hastens to point out that it has nothing to do with the physique of either of its proprietors) is very much an ongoing effort. A work in progress, you might say.
But what progress! From an undifferentiated stretch of forest last Spring to several acres of ever-ripening pasture, this intrepid former pharmaceutical sales rep and her stalwart cohort have pulled off an amazing transformation. And on a recent fine Fall morning we -- my farm-fascinated wife, animal-fascinated two-year-old, ever-adventurous dog and I -- got to come out and see it for ourselves.
As we walked out into the sunny clearing on the hillside by her house for the first time, Christine waved her arm toward the expanse of reedy grasses. "Cover crops," she explained. "Rye, fescue, that kind of thing. Puts nitrogen in the soil to get it ready for growing food next year." But the pained look on her face belied her simple explanation. Does it bother her, I wondered, that the farm field looks more like a football field for now, and she can't quite plant veggies yet? "It *kills* me," she admitted.
So we headed to the chicken yard, pulling the big gate closed behind us for no reason. (Three friendly white goats seem to follow Christine wherever she goes, including into the chicken area, and in fact all the animals seem to roam free at Big Belly Farm.)
Predictably, we asked about the shiny metal disks twirling in the trees. "Pie pans," Christine predictably explained. They deter the hawks that prowl the skies above her tasty-looking flock, and add a faint clanging chime as the wind pushes through the surrounding forest.
Prowling Hawks, like Cover Crops, are just another thing to discover and deal with when you start your own farm, and Christine and Boyd have devised, revised, avoided or otherwise fashioned solutions to lots of these little problems so far, including Cranky Neighbors (easily placated with free eggs), Waterlogged Drills, Incompatible Manure, Larcenous Hens, Confederate Ghosts and the dreaded Vine Borer. As the saying goes, it's always something. Even the local Food Lion grocery store is enough to get on Christine's nerves, since making a trip there represents some imagined shortfall on her part. Don't get her started.
Not all two-word factors are bad, though. Some, like Heirloom Plants, as Christine will tell you, are downright fantastic, contributing to the biodiversity of our food supply *and* tasting amazing. Tractor Joyrides are another treat. And "Submariner Father" is an unlikely pair of words that has come in handy for Christine. During the five months she and Boyd lived in a 20-foot trailer as the farm got started, she must have thought to herself, "Hey, compared to being underwater in a metal tube like Dad, this is pretty roomy!"
Walking a trail through the woods beyond the chicken yard, the idea of spaciousness takes on new meaning. No building or manmade anything is visible in any direction, and the trees, just beginning to change colors for the season, reach high into the sky. "The stars at night out here must be amazing," you can't help but think, and Christine will assure you that they are.
Space is all around you at Big Belly Farms, along with a curious combination of connected complexity and stunning simplicity. On the one hand, there's a lot to explain: In just one example, the goats make the milk by nibbling on the grasses, and the grasses nourish the soil while restoring nitrogen and controlling erosion, and the grasses grow tall because they face the sun that shines during the right part of the day, and they're enriched by the droppings from the goats, whose milk provides the beverages and the income… and so on and so forth, in a carefully crafted, ingeniously sustainable cycle.
But at the same time, there's nothing to it: An afternoon and some help is all it takes to build a fence, a pie pan is all it takes to deter birds of prey, a hen will always find the nest and do what she was born to do, and when you look down at your side there will usually be the kind, curious eyes of a Swiss goat looking up at you. The orchestra plays itself, as Christine says. She doesn't even have to conduct it. All she has to do is what she's in love with doing anyway -- keeping busy, playing her small part, and working with the land.
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Q&A with Christine:
1. What did you do before you switched to farming? Before switching to farming, I taught high school biology for five years and worked in sales and marketing for twelve years. I call farming my "mid-life epiphany."
2. How did you begin the process of gathering info for this undertaking? (Apprenticeships, classes, etc). I read a ton of books and blogs, volunteered at a local farm, went to some small farm conferences, talked to farmers at farmers' markets, and did some farming experiments in my back yard. I also took a few classes at our local small business association and worked on my farm plan with a career counselor.
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Logo Work - Big Belly Farm
As Christine was starting Big Belly Farm, she asked me to help out with her logo, which I gladly did! What a fun project! After tons of idea doodling, note jotting and full blown sketches, this is where I landed:
The logo shows a radish growing up between the type as if it's growing out of the ground. The radish itself is a variation on the Zen Enso symbol that's used to depict enlightenment, strength, elegance, the Universe, and the void. The symbol is also an "expression of the moment", which I liked a lot as it relates to the farm -- can't help being in the moment when you're dealing with farm life! I should also mention that Christine is a yoga teacher and a lover of eastern philosophy, so I thought it was a great connection.