We went into it with a plan to establish a “pedestrian orchard”. By this, we mean an orchard of semi-dwarf fruit trees pruned in such a way that ladders are not required for a harvest (the pruning is already a departure from One Straw, but what we spend in labor on pruning, we save at harvest time from not needing ladders). Trees are the longest lived of perennials so it seemed like the best place to start for establishing the largest yield for the least day to day effort.
Through a local farm-to-table dinner event, we met an orchardist named Terence Welch, and we laid out a wild vision for him of an orchard of many mixed varieties. To our pleasant surprise he didn’t tell us we were crazy (much) and sat down to figure out with us the best way to lay out our orchard in order to emphasize diversity without compromising maintainability. We made a plan for planting that would put things that would need similar care near each other.
As we started to build out the irrigation (installing the underground 4" mainlines) the folks who were doing that encouraged us to have a closer look at our well pump. We had a typical housing inspection done on the well when we bought the place, and part of this was a well inspection, but we weren’t looking at it with a specific amount of psi to be pushed several hundred feet away, up a gentle but steady slope. When we pulled the well pump to inspect it, we found it to be underpowered for our purposes.
We ended up digging a new well. Turned out the first year on the farm was more concerned with plumbing than planting.
While we waited on the infrastructure that would make our perennial trees possible, we decided to dabble in an annual crop and grew tomatoes for a couple of years. We got heirloom seeds from Love Apple Farms, who once famously was the sole grower of produce for the Michelin starred restaurant Manresa. 300 tomato plants across 100 varieties. It was a bit crazy for a first try, but local chefs told us we had the best tomatoes in the county (and continuously ask us when we’re going to do tomatoes again. Maybe never! Not at that scale, it was a lot of work!)
Eventually the well and irrigation were done and we ended up planting several hundred fruit trees. 175 varieties and counting!
More recently we turned an acre of pasture into rows of perennial cut flowers. Roses, dahlias, peonies, and others. Cut flowers are one of the most lucrative crops you can bring to a farmer’s market, per cultivated acre.
We also in those early years built a large hoop house for the purpose of plant starting and propagation. We didn’t end up using this so much, but we recently leased it out to a botanist who is now using the space to breed marigolds in search of interesting new and patentable varieties.
We got the goats in our third year. Goat milk and chevre, mmmmm. The llamas came in the fifth year to keep the goats (and us) company and guard them.
I don’t think we’d have been capable of arriving at where we are if we didn’t have a vision of where we’d take it when we started. This is the fourth house Nadine and I have lived in together. We’d been a couple for over 15 years before we bought a farm together. By the time we did it, we had had plenty of time to talk and think through what it might be like to grow things, maybe enough things to make a living from it. I can’t say all those conversations were very serious throughout the entire 15 years. Often it was more of the form of pipe dreaming. We indulged in a lot of that over the years: fantasizing about what might be, what could be. Always spinning new scenarios of what our lives could be like in the future. Some much crazier than others. But it turns out that sometimes dreams do come true, and all that talk was not for nothing. If you start taking some part of it seriously, it can be surprising how quickly things can start to come together, when the stars align.
And the other funny thing about dreams coming true: you do find yourself fantasizing about alternative realities less and less, and finally not at all. Real life becomes so all-consuming. The thing you always wanted is all around you and demanding your attention. Things narrow down and come into focus. The challenge now is maintaining health and energy to keep it all going!