Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A vision well worth the challenge

Nearly two years ago, I walked for the first time the two acres of pasture that is now part of M R Gardens. I have lived and gardened next to it since 2009, but had never climbed the modest hill in the back of the property to see the surprisingly good view of the surrounding mountains. At that time I was still deciding if I was going to take the leap to find a loan to purchase the property, which also involved a house in major need of renovations that seemed way out of my league at the time. 

View of farm, July 2015. An old poultry barn was behind invasive vegetation on the right.
Farm on October 2016, with new hoophouse and greenhouse. Photo by William Bamberger.
What swayed me was the vision. I pictured the property benefiting all sorts of people—whether they visit to attend homesteading classes, or to garden as part of an agritourism experience, or to start their own small farm venture. Or to simply relax and heal at the farm. While I would continue to focus on edible and naturalized landscaping, I could also imagine the land would one day be home to beehives, poultry and maybe even sheep. Not to mention wetlands, ponds and a natural swimming pool (a recreation pond with a plant-based filtration system).

I put the vision on hold, and dove into the loan process, house renovations, greenhouse construction, renter search, and, eventually, house sale. I was tackling big projects that I had little experience with and even less interest in, but I knew they needed to be done to realize the vision, so I pushed on.

Former poultry barn removal for greenhouse site.

Of course much more came up than expected. For instance, after removing a 2,240-square-foot dilapidated 1950s poultry barn to make room for the greenhouses, the graders reshaped the dirt into steep exposed slopes. This was during the torrential rains of Fall 2015. It took several months to rework the grade so that water flowing off the hill could be collected in catchment ponds and be useful rather than cause erosion. Meanwhile, my helpers and I continuously seeded the hillside with clover and installed plugs of erosion-control plants. By that time, the rain had turned off. A drought is not the ideal time to be re-vegetating slopes, but with sprinklers, we managed.

This challenge was just one of many, and relatively easy to stomach compared to the rest. Yet in the midst of it all, many blessings propelled me forward. I was finally growing plants in an ideal environment, after five years of making do with grow lights in my basement and sub-par shade structures in my backyard. The unique passive solar greenhouse, which I'd researched and thought about for more than a decade, worked just about perfectly.

Passive solar greenhouse at M R Gardens. Photo by William Bamberger.  
I also realized that some of the handy person tasks that I had been avoiding for years actually turned out to be just the type of work that was best for me at the moment. After the carpenters left and the dust settled, I had several odds and ends to finish on my own. I mustered the patience and focus needed to use a drill, and the confidence to keep pressing on when I made mistakes. Over the years, I've been astounded at the variety of skills needed to be a small farm and business owner. Yet each time I leave my comfort zone to learn something new, I realize how I am just one more step closer to being as well-rounded as possible.

Caulking the greenhouse, Fall 2015
The biggest reward was Saturdays when the greenhouse was open to the public. Customers and volunteers with a wide variety of backgrounds are drawn to the farm and so it feels like a community gathering place. Neighbors whose families have lived in the area for decades; couchsurfers from Europe passing through Asheville and offering a helping hand; a car packed full with multiple generations from Shiloh, including the grandma who knows all about the medicinal uses of the plants in my pasture, and the teenagers who are slightly bored but slightly intrigued. But more than anything respectful of their grandma and mom's time at the plant sale.

I feel synergy with the people I am similar to, and expansive around the people who are different—both connections are very fulfilling and bring richness to my life, and to the lives of my volunteers and customers. This feeling of openness, acceptance, and understanding of the importance of diversity—not only between people but also in gardens and natural systems—is exactly my intention for this place.
April 2016. Photo by Vickie Burick
April 2016
So, overall, the last two years have been very beneficial. After realizing that keeping the house as a long-term rental was not the best plan for me or the farm, I sold the house to two fellow gardeners who I'm sure will contribute to the community. This sale ensured the protection of the rest of the property, forever to remain green space, which is quickly diminishing in our neighborhood. I've almost recovered from the bumpy two years, and am now getting back to my routines, tidying up old projects and beginning to embark on new ones. And I'm reminded of the vision that propelled me to make that leap.

My first step in achieving it is to offer a group garden coaching program on site, in which I walk participants through each step in creating a Microbe Rich vegetable garden, holistically maintained orchard and beneficial flower beds. (Stay tuned for more details, but if this year-long program interests you, please contact me to set up a meeting at the farm). I'd eventually like to have a wider array of workshops, co-led by other specialists such as sustainable builders, herbalists and other healers.
Spring at M R Gardens. Photo by Vickie Burick.
 I also hope to one day be able to offer scholarships so that all in the community who want to can participate. Just as every layer of the soil plays a vital role in plant health, each layer of the community is crucial in societal health. This mission has been important to me since the start of the business.

What I don't have at the moment is a good sense of when all the farm projects will be underway. But I am certain we can get there more quickly if I have participation from you. Whether you are volunteering at the farm, becoming a client, ordering your plants ahead of the season, or simply offering your insight and connections, you are helping to achieve this vision. I hope to see more of you.