Transitions

We have several transitions going on here.  Seasonal and weather transition; infrastructure and physical layout transition; activity, responsibility, and ownership transition.  More on each of those, but first let me expound on transition in general.

  Transition is almost synonymous with change.  And for most people change is not easy nor enjoyed.  We all yearn for stability, and yet other than death and taxes, per Benjamin Franklin's famous quote, change is on the short list of things that are certain.  Nothing stays the same for very long.  But still we fight it, instead of embracing it.  It just seems to be human nature.  On  the human level, entropy seems to rule.  But on the spiritual level, order governs all creation.  In the midst of any change or chaos, there is always an underlying force for good.

As I've written about before, weather is probably the biggest variable for farmers.  Not only is it always changing (at least here in New England, a la the old joke: "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute."), the changes seldom seem for the better.  After enduring several weeks of brutal arctic weather around the turn of the year, we had a very warm February with multiple "mud seasons", followed by an usually cold March with four nor'easter blizzards.  The transition from winter to summer seemed to miss a normal spring.  Recently, we've gone a fairly extended time (for this area) without meaningful rain.  Last year we had so much rain in the spring that we had the best celery crop by far that I've ever grown.  This year we're irrigating heavily already, to offset the lack of rain.  Nevertheless, it feels very good to be out of "heating season".  And although we love the four seasons that New England has, work-wise, we tend to break our year into two seasons:  heating season and non-heating season.  And besides for all the regular work that needs to be done, a lot of the non-heating season's work is focused on preparing for the next heating season.  That's because once the snow covers the ground and things ice over, it's too late.  You've either done what you needed to do, or you wait until spring/summer.  So we've learned to deal with always-changing weather around here by developing as much resiliency as we can.  We have greenhouses to mitigate the cold weather.  We have several methods of heating for when one breaks down.   We have a rainwater harvesting and storage system to mitigate for lack of groundwater for irrigation.  We have a pond to back up the rainwater harvesting system when we have a lack of rain.  We have a drainage system for when we have rainfall deluges.  All because we know that we can have any kind of weather at any time.  And, it's always changing.

During the six years that SCSA has been in existence, our infrastructure has constantly been changing.  We keep trying to improve on what we have, to improve on what we can provide to our customers, clients, and the public.  Our second rolling greenhouse is nearly complete.  It's covered over, and 98% closed in.  It's wired up--- the inflation blower has "poofed" the top, and the vents are thermostatically controlled.  Laurel has several rows of quick greens nearly ready to harvest, with the summer crops going in after.  With two rolling greenhouses now, she has doubled the size of our tomato crop, and this year we'll have a couple new additions: cantaloupes grown vertically (like we do cucumbers) and okra.  We also have done some major landscaping work, including putting in a spillway for our pond, reclaiming a rather large compost pile that had become inaccessible, putting in a new road for easier access to our farm stand, and grading out a large area of piles of soil from previous projects (the seedling greenhouse excavation and pond excavation) that we affectionately named our "moonscape."  So far, with regard to our physical layout, nothing stays the same for very long.  Change is constant.

The biggest transition I've saved for last.  And that has to do with our organization.  A little over a year ago I wrote about Rich, Carol, and I taking on junior partners.  They are Laurel and Micah Witri.  We've been in the process of a year-long transition for them to take over the running of the farm.  That transition has been both challenging and rewarding for all of us, and it is nearly complete.  And although the initial, formal transition is nearly complete, our goal is that this is just the beginning of a long-term transition that provides long-term continuity to the mission that we established six years ago.

After our employee and good friend Ron Tinker died in 2015, we spent a year or so adjusting and trying to figure out the direction we wanted to go.  Should we scale back?  Should we hire new employee(s)?  Should we quit altogether?   We didn't know.  We had been reading about all the interest in farming by young people that just didn't have the capital to get started.  We had invested considerable capital into our unique farm infrastructure and had the beginnings of a viable business, but we were in our mid-to-late sixties and were looking to scale back.  So we started to put out flyers for "junior partners."  I had researched a considerable number of potential candidate sources, such as ag schools, NOFA, etc.  I was ready to start mailing paper flyers and posting on-line flyers to advertise our new position, when I talked with my good friend and chiropractor Dr. Jeb Thurmond, who told me about a young couple he thought might be interested.  That turned out to be Laurel and Micah.  He passed on a flyer to them; they called us and came out for a tour.  We give lots of tours here, and we approached it as just another one.  That was because one of the requirements of the offering was to live here on site, and Jeb told me they owned their own house, and probably wouldn't be interested in living here.  So we gave the tour, because you never know where things will lead.  Maybe they wouldn't be interested, but they might know somebody who would.  Although they liked what they saw here, Laurel's initial inclination was to stay where she was, managing a different farm in the area. With all the late winter/early spring planning and preparation she was doing for that farm, and also all the preparation for their upcoming wedding, she wasn't thinking about any more change.   But after Micah suggested she reconsider, they called back for another meeting, where we talked more in depth about the "partnership."  After a lot of "feeling each other out", we all decided to give it a go.  During a follow-up meeting, Laurel and Micah paid us the ultimate compliment by saying that if they started a farm, they would want it to be exactly like ours after 20 years.  I never did mail out any flyers or interview any other prospects.  My son Sean suggested I write a book: "How to Find Farm Partners Without Even Trying."

We drafted a "Working Agreement" in April of last year that was rather nebulous from a legal standpoint, but it stated our intentions and the memes which we wanted to work within, and layed out the various items we had agreed to.  The three memes that we agreed to follow are:

     "1.  All aspects of the agreement will be based on a 'win-win' philosophy for all parties.                              

      2.  Open communication is the underlying basis on making this agreement succeed.  We all agree to follow the motto: 'Communication is the key.'

      3.  A high level of ethics and morality, which incorporates pursuing the needs and desires of the other party, not merely our own."

Shortly thereafter, Laurel suggested we undertake mediation through the auspices of "Land For Good."  We all agreed to undertake an experimental program with Land For Good, which would  work with us to help construct a legal agreement that would define legally the arrangement we were entering into.  Land For Good works with both farmers looking for land, and landowners looking for farmers.  Cara Cargill became our mediator, and we have been impressed, to say the least.  Cara has the knowledge, communication skills, and demeanor to be able to help work through any differences between parties.  She is really good.  She told us that usually their mediation process is undertaken after an arrangement has turned sour, which then becomes a harder job to turn around.  The "experimental" program we are in involves working with lessors and lessees at the outset, to set up an arrangement which hopefully precludes misunderstandings, to create a mutually beneficial arrangement for keeping farmland in production.  Our final meeting with her is a little over a month away, and our initial transition should then be complete.  

Because Laurel and Micah are leasing the farm from us, for differentiation, they've changed the name of their business from Angelwing Farm to Borealis Farm, which we think is very appropriate.  Even though we were inspired to change the name of this farm (which was only a horse barn and pasture when we bought it) from "Wind and Sky Farm" (which was also very appropriate, i.e. lots of wind and lots of sky) to "Angel Wing Farm" after we bought it, we feel the new name is very apropos, as we are continually dealing with the challenges and benefits of "The North."    They have established their own website at www.borealisfarm.com.  Please check it out.  Even though Laurel and Micah are taking over running the farm, Carol, Rich, and I will still be here.  We all have a special  relationship here and will each continue to be a piece of the puzzle.

---Steve

   

grapefruit.jpeg

We recently had a "second" harvest of citrus this year about as large as our initial one in Jan./Feb.  Unexpected, but wonderful.  Here I am holding a tree branch with grapefruit.  Grapefruit got its name from the fruit growing in clusters like grapes on a vine.