This is a story of the power of a wish and how once it was released into the universe created its own magic. After my sister and I moved from our hobby farm back to suburbia I pined for my large vegetable and flower gardens. I did what I could with the backyard space available, creating a tiny veggie patch by the garden shed and adding to the flowers in the existing perennial borders. But after two seasons of gardening in this small plot my gardener’s soul yearned for more space and bigger challenges.
The previous summer, Cari and I ventured down to the local farmers’ market. The first stall we happened upon was Stack Family Farm. The owner/farmer Jenn Stack was selling her organic, ethically raised beef, pork, lamb and chicken along with fresh eggs. The three of us started talking and found out she’d just moved to the area so she was a newbie too. We looked over her pictures of her farm, becoming more misty-eyed and homesick for our own little acreage in the woods.
She had a Facebook page for her business and so we promptly started
stalking following her online. And last winter I saw a posting on her page that made me stop breathing. She was looking for help with her vegetable garden. She said she wasn’t much of a gardener and desperately needed someone who was willing to share their experience and the work for half of the produce. There were several other replies to her call for help and as I put in my reply I whispered under my breath, pick me, pick me. And she did.
We arranged to meet on a cold February morning to check out the garden and to see if we would be a good fit for what she was looking for. As Cari and I drove up a very narrow winding road and over a little trestle bridge I knew where I was going, because I’d been there before.
A year before we moved to Mission, I had come down to visit our other sister, Amy whom we would eventually move in with. During that visit, my nieces and I went for a country drive. We ended up on that windy narrow road and drove past a beautiful farm that happened to be for sale. I did spend a few days daydreaming about what it would be like to own such a picturesque property and then forgot about the experience until that day we drove up to Stack Family Farms.
When Jenn showed us the large empty plot surrounded by a snow fence, choked by weeds, the only things planted a few sickly blueberry bushes and straggly raspberry canes I felt a bubble of excitement. This was going to be a challenge. The plot hadn’t been gardened in two years and all that she’d managed to do the previous year was rototill half of the soil until the rototiller gave up.
It wasn’t until we had started gardening that Jenn admitted she was terrified that we would look at the overgrown weed infested area and tell her thanks but no thanks. I laughed when she told me this because when I saw the area I was thrilled at the possibilities I was just nervous she wouldn’t say yes to our help.
And so began our adventure. We spent the rainy month of March hand-digging the plot, removing endless wheelbarrows of weeds and laying out the beds. The great thing about gardening on a working farm is there are an abundance of soil amendments at your fingertips. With the help of Jenn’s son who drove the tractor, we incorporated bucket loads of well-rotted manure in the raised beds and used animal bedding and old hay for the walkways to suppress the weeds.
We also had other help as we began to turn the soil and mix in the manure. The laying hens would come as soon as they heard us arrive. We invited them in to help us turn the soil and they were paid handsomely in grubs and cut-worms and the occasional earthworm if they worked extra hard.
The garden was located in the ideal location, close to the house at the front of the property with a water spigot right next to the snow fence that surrounded the garden. The previous owners had moved an old outhouse to the back of the garden and although no longer functioning as a privy became the ideal place to store garden tools and extra bamboo stakes and pots.
Then came the planting. It is no secret that I’m a planner especially gardens. On the first day of planting I showed up with my plant lists and a detailed (and yes it was a scaled drawing) of the veggie beds, showing what plants were to go where based on companion and succession planting and how I needed the beds to rotate for the coming year. I showed Cari and Jenn where things should go but when my back was turned the two of them would plunk things in willy-nilly. Cari’s thoughts were, well there is a little bit of space here and she had just a few more seeds so why not put them in the ground. Jenn wanted strawberries and more raspberry canes. I showed her the areas and how much of each plant we would need and then I would get an email saying she’d gotten a great deal or extra plants for free. So instead of 30 strawberry plants we ended up with 70 and triple the number of raspberry canes I had planned. So despite my careful planning change agents named Cari and Jenn kept adding new challenges in the mix and reminding me that sometimes I just needed to loosen up and go with the flow.
Once the tender plants began to send up shoots, the chickens were banned from the garden but would patrol the fence line knowing they would get an occasional morsel from us grateful gardeners. The plastic fence worked most of the time, but when a resident mole decided the fluffy turned soil rich in insect life was a better hunting ground than the acres of pasture surrounding it we were constantly at war with the little guy. After chasing it out with a water hose and putting windmills in the ground, we declared a truce.
Sometimes the invaders were even larger. In late June; I received a frantic and very apologetic email from Jenn. Turns out that her son’s 4H steer had gotten out of the pasture and into the garden. From her email it sounded as if he had decimated the plants. With heavy hearts, Cari and I showed up at the farm for our scheduled work in the garden fully expecting to see churned up soil and no plants. But it wasn’t as bad as Jenn said. Yes the fence needed repairs and there were some rather large hoof prints in the beds and a few plants had been nibbled but all in all nothing the garden couldn’t recover from. The blueberry bushes had received the brunt of the devastation just as the shrubs were loaded with berries ready to pick.
Leaving the noise and rush of the city and heading out to the farm was like shedding layers of stress and tension. The moment we stepped out of the vehicle to be greeted by the five farm dogs both Cari and I could feel something shift. Even if the days chores included heavy hauling and digging our spirits would lift, our heart rates drop and a sense of ease and peace would surround us. Farms are not quiet places of solitude, they are noisy but it is a different kind of sound, I think one that instinctively feels like home. The sound of the animals calling to each other, the cluck and coo of the chickens, the sigh of the wind through the trees is more like a symphony than the cacophony that surrounds the city dweller.
Being out on the farm meant Cari could get her animal fix be it dogs or farm animals. We were there when the goats had their babies and Jenn brought out a newborn just hours old for us to hold, Cari took a turn at milking the cow and the goats something she really enjoyed doing and I became the go-to-girl when it came to wrangling the odd chicken that escaped the property and decided to check out what really was across the road. We were reminded too about the natural cycle of life and death. From the farm animals being sent to slaughter so that we can have meat on our table to witnessing a mother bobcat providing for her offspring by snatching one of the chickens out of the garden.
Over the summer, we fell into a routine where we would arrive in the morning and be greeted by the dogs and the chickens. Jenn would be off in the barn dealing with the cows, sheep, goats, horses and chickens. If she had time she would help in the garden and by two in the afternoon we would finish for the day. The three of us and Jenn’s two son’s would gather under the cherry tree just outside the garden or more often than not, we each would plunk ourselves down on a patch of hay in between the garden beds and spend the rest of the afternoon talking and enjoying the fine weather. Even the dogs would come and join us and on occasion when Jenn’s husband was home he too would wander out as if drawn my some magic and pull up a patch of ground to join the group.
So as I write this I do so with a bit of sadness that all gardeners feel at this time of year. The garden has been largely put to bed for the winter and just two beds have been planted with winter crops and the kale is the only thing still thriving. Our regular trips out to the centre of our soul will be coming to an end soon, at least for the winter. And like any fanatical gardener I have already spent time drawing up new plans for the coming spring and pouring over catalogues deciding what new experiments in gardening we should try.
A wish made in earnest, coincidences and synchronicities came together to grant my heart’s desire. And although our garden was a success and gave us beautiful vegetables that fed two families over the season it also provided something I hadn’t anticipated, something more precious than any plant we cared for; a new friendship that will continue to grow and flourish even in the dark days of winter.