Saturday, March 15, 2008

One Farm's Invasive Exotic Is Another Farm's Bamboo Hoophouse

I may be biased, or perhaps just new to farming, but I think that our little 5 acre plot is the most gorgeous piece of earth that I have ever walked. From the cover-cropped fields of brilliantly green rye grass to the pert rows of garlic, from the henpecked dirt of our chicken pen to the neat stacks of shitake logs, I love it, red clay dirt and all. To be fair, I was probably bound to fall hard and fast for my first farm. Dirt is my current drug of choice, so it is not surprising that I am hooked on Serenbe soil, despite and possibly because of the quirks that make it "less than ideal." Hills, for example: Serenbe has a rolling backbone that flows from field to field, turns linear rows into sinuous curves, and stubbornly resists square plotting. Or consider our current greenhouse, nestled low in a fold of land with less than optimal sunlight and an annoying, top-hinged door--despite poor functionality, I could gaze on it contentedly for hours, especially when the door is open and the trays and trays of green stand smartly at attention.

Serenbe, in short, is authentic. The tractor implements resting on blocks were not left there either from neglect or for a rustic look, but because we use them frequently and need to access them quickly. The farm looks as it does because we are working with what the land has given us. As a result, I have found all of the fuss over our new greenhouse a bit silly, really. On Monday a flatbed truck delivered the parts of our new greenhouse IKEA style and we warmed ourselves in the cold morning by unloading steel girders, insulated plastic roofing, and aluminum poles. The chosen site sits atop our biggest hill, where the greenhouse will receive copious sunlight. As the contractors set about connecting posts and poles, we went about the day's chores--seeding flowers and lettuces and potting up transplants that had outgrown their current cells--all the while watching and admiring as the new building took shape. Whereas the low hoop frame of our current greenhouse makes it seem to sit snug and low to the ground, the new greenhouse can only be described as perching atop its hill.

This cocky pose was exactly the problem. Our farm is part of a much larger community constructed in hamlets around variously themed principles. Grange, the name for the settlement of homes that abuts the farm, is intended to be a farm community. Apparently, at least one prospective buyer became skittish at the sight of our new greenhouse rising in the distance. Roosters crowing he thought he could handle, tractors perhaps added a taste of quaint country life, but a big plastic greenhouse did not jive, so we were informed, with his and various others' aesthetic of a farm community. Could we move it? (The contractors, good 'ol Southern boys from south Georgia raised their eyebrows at this suggestion) Reside it with something more appealing than plastic? Paige, my boss, frantically explained exactly why this location was indeed the best and even only reasonable site and why glass would raise the price exponentially. Eventually an agreement was reached, with the contractors lopping off about ten feet from the full length. Even in its abbreviated form, the greenhouse still looks palatial to me, and I have greedy visions of potted avocado trees and a miniature citrus grove within its capacious walls.

The irony of this small drama came into relief after a visit to a nearby farm in Fairburn. Tony, the farmer, gladly toured us around, all the while sketching his quirky vision in the air above discarded diving boards-turned-bridges, a small mountain of mulch, and an asparagus field where glass jam jars marked the tender crowns. There were orderly rows and clearly defined crops as well--every square foot was either in production, cover-cropping, or used to store something--but this was a farm built catch as catch can over many years. Tony's farm is a poster child for experimentation, salvage, and the sort of rural resistance that commandeers abandoned lots to make them bud and flower. It also houses more junk than many flea markets twice its size.

So what makes for a beautiful farm? Tony, talking faster than any Southern I have ever met, clearly considers his homestead an oasis and a triumph. While I personally would not build my hoophouse (that's a type of greenhouse) from bamboo, or store slabs of concrete for the occasional farm building project, I'm not going to argue. His farm gives him joy and sustenance, as does mine me.

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