Raven Flight Part 3: If You Build It They Will Come
by Anna Maunz of Worthington, MA
They arrived the week before Christmas. Coming in the late afternoon, bringing with them encouragement and faith in a project that was still barely begun. We sat around the kitchen table surrounding a freshly brewed pot of tea, and were refreshed by their presence there. Chris, myself, my sister Katie, her partner Than, and Caleb, our two year old son, gathered. And how good it felt to be simply in their company.
Katie and I had farmed a small vegetable CSA together two seasons before. We had been wildly successful from the perspective of our members, but had – in the process- dug and furrowed a large divide between the two sister-farmers. Katie and I set out trying to prove that farming with a sister can be done with joy and vivacity and were met with a season of bitter tears and ruin. By the end of the season we parted ways quickly, anxious to be done with one another. The year that followed was spent delicately trying to heal a relationship that was once a best friendship and reclaiming and regaining the trust that was abandoned in one long season. Soon thereafter, she moved to Kenya and then Montana to be with her partner Nathaniel (Than). I now missed her desperately in my daily life.
It had been almost a year since we had last seen each other. She was now sitting at our long wooden kitchen table six months pregnant and on her own journey of figuring out the farmlands of Montana. Than sat beside her- her perfect balance. Kate is wholly thoughtful in all things. She asks good questions, loves thoughtful conversation and breathes intention. She knows both Chris and I, as well as is possible to know another person. In contrast, Than is quick to actfearless and sporadic; always eager towards any sign of adventure, and extraordinarily strong. They were the exact two people we needed at the table. We needed intention and movement all in one bundle- together they provided.
We were scheduled the next day to journey up to the farm where Katie learned her trade; a small farm in Northwestern Massachusetts called Caretaker. We spent – what should have been a miserably rainy solstice- walking their beautiful land and sharing fears and memories, learning experiences and visions. It was so good to again be reminded that there are people out there who do make it work. And no matter how a situation may look from the outside it is never easy. I’m not quite sure why this always feels like such a revelation. Perhaps because as farmers, at times our community can feel so distant and scattered it can be hard to recollect that we are far from alone in it. I always feel a bit side-blasted hearing the stories of those who have gone before us. There is always doubt and always fear. This is our own road- but it is far from the hardest one we could be walking. And with Kate and Than by our side it felt as though we were no longer walking alone. It was an ideal way to celebrate the transition of the darkening days into light.
The next day, as the sun rose, she brought with it a balmy 60 degrees of warmth. Nathaniel, practically sitting on his hands, declared this was the day to get the greenhouse up. And with that we all sprung into action. Chris spent the morning gathering tools and supplies. Everything had been laid out before the snow. Now it lay in the ground waiting to be put up right where it stood. By the afternoon our new friends Hillary, Lincoln, and their friend David were at the farm ready to help with extra drills and wrenches. They arrived at two. As the last light waned at five o’clock the greenhouse was erected. We all took a step back amazed at the looming structure that had seemingly arisen up out of the earth itself. The amount of man and woman energy that had just compounded to create this dream was astounding. I’ve never worked with so many capable people in one place. One moment I was on my knees in a puddle of mud drilling through four layers of steel, and by the time I was on my feet there was a greenhouse surrounding me.
When the five of us left to head down to Pennsylvania for the holidays it was with a confidence that we had not yet experienced in our farming venture. When we would return it would be to a farm that had a greenhouse standing. The heavy steel beams had now been lifted into the air. The impossible had made itself possible by the sheer presence of hands.
January arrived with her own trials and doubts. My eldest sister told me once that there are three things that become the root of most arguments in relationships: money, sex, and in-laws. While the first two had never played much a role in our tension (the third definitely had)- money was now gaining ground and continuing to be the bane of both of our existences. It was the beginning and end to all of our arguments – and where the stress of all things stemmed and went towards.
Enter Nicole and Evan, dear friends of ours who had recently moved to Pittsburgh and were working towards finding their niche there. They arrived on January 3rd- in a week that was the complete opposite to when Kate and Than had been visiting. They almost couldn’t reach the farm due to the ice-slicked roads and hills that barred our home from the outside world. They entered directly in the midst of these bitter monetary arguments. I wasn’t sleeping, and I was constantly anxious about all the money we were spending with none coming in. Nicole, who can be just about the most practical person I’ve ever met laughed at me. “Anna, it’s just money. It comes and goes, sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t. You’ll figure out a way to make it work.”
Her faith in us came at the moment when our lives were completely eluding us in terms of practicalities. Nicole and Evan came with a parallel energy that Kate and Than had- again at just the moment we needed it. They believed 100% that we could make this farm work, and they were going to help.
Nicole- like Than before her- was determined on making a contribution to the greenhouse project. Chris and I had dug two 100’ ditches paralleling the base of the house in the days before their arrival. It was now time to get the baseboards on. On Thursday we had a reprieve from the 1 degree highs, and the temperature jumped to a windy 20. Nicole was out there in the frigid cold tightening bolts and securing our baseboards onto the greenhouse. When they left, it was with the promise of building us a website and coming back in the summer to be extra hands in the time of harvest. It was life-giving to have them here.
We have come to learn that Ireland Street Orchards was a jewel in the Chesterfield community. Each time we have come across a new face and mentioned that we are trying to revive the old orchard that exists there, we are met only with beaming encouragement. It has been impossible to ignore the vibrant impact this small family business had on its’ local community. People talk about the orchard as a frequent and fond destination from their pasts- all saddened at the state of its current disrepair. It was a place to gather, to have horse wagon rides through apple trees, and taste cider doughnuts for the first time. It was a place for those in the city to travel to, and for those in the country to claim as their own. The magic of this place extends far beyond my own imaginary world. It existed. And we have now been entrusted to find a way to move forward with it and for it. The honor of that task feels solidly good and enticing.
I awoke one morning from our first full night of sleep as parents. The apple orchard was sitting in the front of both our minds, but we were unsure how to move forward with it. The trees were overwhelming in their need. I came up with what I believed to be the answer to all of our problems: a pruning workshop. I was sure that this was the ticket to our success as a business. Our workshop was to be held on February 1st. We got our fliers up and about. I imagined droves of responses pouring in- even having to turn people away. I checked our business email account about six times a day waiting for the piles of enthusiastic young interest pouring in. In the end we had four phone calls. One which turned into a part-time job opportunity for Chris- rather than a workshop attendee (which was fine by us both). I worked for two days straight washing windows, scouring floors, cooking chili and cornbread, cookies and apple cake. We wrote large chalkboard signs saying “Free Refreshments All Welcome”.
The week before our workshop Chris’s parents came to visit. Chris and I hadn’t left the family farm on the best of terms. It was much more a parting of ways than a cordial moving forward. At the time we left we were all rather happy to be rid of one another. We tentatively introduced his parents to the apple trees and blueberry fields. Chris’s dad- who has farmed an orchard for over 30 years was only supportive of the decisions we had made. He gave us his professional confidence that the blueberries could be redeemed and that a large swath of the apple orchard could -with a lot of hard work- be restored. He and Chris worked together getting a whole block of McIntosh pruned in an afternoon. It was so good to see them working side by side again. Their visit brought healing and confidence at a time, when again, it was deeply needed.
In the end we had 7 people attend the workshop. Aside from my chili and cornbread a plate of freshly baked strawberry muffins appeared from Ricki- the owner of the orchard. We were all in this together. Chris and I were noticeably awkward and uncomfortable in our own skins – but once we were out in the trees everyone seemed to be breathing easier and even learning a bit. It was wonderful to be able to open the doors to an orchard farm stand that had been closed for five years. And begin to make it a little bit of our own.
My Dad’s best friend Barry recently passed away. Caleb and I went to my parents’ house for a few days to be immersed with family. From the moment this farm dream of ours was shared with him, Barry had only been supportive. Any time I have seen him in the last year- he was always first to ask how the farm was progressing- with words of encouragement close behind. It was he and his wife who brought me a book one day, which inspired me to begin writing this series for the Small Farmers Journal. He had faith in us, in what it is we are trying to do.
There has been faith- not only in the community which immediately surrounds us- but also in the one that surrounds those who love us. This has consistently astonished me. I keep thinking of the phrase ‘It takes a village’. We made this move, partly in the pursuit of self-sufficiency; an element in the draw of moving into the country far away from anyone we have ever known. But it does take a village, to raise a child, to build a business. How thankful I am that we are finding one. And the village itself no longer seems to be limited to a geographical area. It has extended and is extending into the crevices of our pasts and lives that we never thought we would meet again. People keep saying ‘We would love to come and help you on the farm!’ And they keep coming and keep helping, and we keep hoping that their good will shall last. And that one day we will be able to repay each of them with bounties of fruit and love.
This is what it means, I think, “If you build it they will come.” There have been so many people who have come physically, and there have been so many more who have been guiding us emotionally along the way. Moral support can sometimes change an entire week in effectiveness. If other people believe in usthen perhaps what we are doing is worth believing in ourselves. On the good days I know this. It is good on the bad days to be reminded of it.
As we were leaving Barry’s ‘Celebration of Life’ a face from my past appeared out of the crowd. He is a man who knew me well as a child, and whom I have not known as an adult at all. “Anna, I’ve been so excited to hear that you are farming. I’ve been so struck how you are still doing exactly what you loved to do as a child.” All these little affirmations along the way that remind us why we are doing what we do. And he is right. Right now I am doing all the things I loved to do as a child; I am out in the woods, I am in the fields. I am exploring the birds and the ponds and the freshly pruned canes. I am building spaces for people to come and gather. They are no longer forts under staircases, but apple stands with the possibility of community gathering spaces. When I was in high school and college I felt so far away from the little girl that I once was. Of course she had her faults, ones that I don’t wish to return to- but I also had liked her, had liked myself much more as that little girl than as the woman I was becoming in the cities that I kept inhabiting. I feel like we are meeting again- her and me- we are finding in this entrance of true adulthood our common ground. The snow melts, the sun arises. The days- oh joy!- are growing longer in our midst. And the taste of spring seems almost on the tip of our tongues.
Last Wednesday morning Hillary arrived with six friends at our doorstep. Three were faces we had never met before. Ricki came over from the orchard and with nine brains and 22 hands including Vera- the six week old baby and Calebour greenhouse was covered by noon. Sacks of rocks were thrown, ropes were tied, and nine able bodies pulled the plastic up over the greenhouse. When we first moved here- I constantly said to Chris “how will we ever cover this greenhouse?” He had the faith to keep moving forward into the unknown. How they came- I still feel utterly perplexed by- but they came, they shared the hours of their day with us, they shared their strength- they gifted to us more then they can ever know. And I now feel we have the responsibility to build a business worth all the work and hands, the love and faith that all of these people have given us.
In one of my art classes in college, I remember a professor that said to us “within all art there is arrogance;” in creating you must believe that what you are creating is worth seeing, worth reading, worth listening to. In reading Madeline L’Engle a few months ago I remember her talking about the realization that her initial shyness as a person and a writer came out of arrogance more than anything else. I have seen both sides of this arrogance- something I have struggled with greatly in life. Something I have been deeply struggling with in writing these pieces. Who cares about this one very small act of farming amidst the millions who have chosen this life? Why is our story at all worth repeating? There is a part of me that despises myself for even the attempt at writing it.
Four years ago I was walking down a street in Corvallis, Oregon and popped my head into a bookshop. Chris and I had just moved there from the east coast and were hoping to attend Oregon State University. I was hoping to finally finish my bachelors degree with yet another different concentration (this time in Horticulture), while Chris was pursuing a masters in Viniculture. We had heard through the grape vine that it was possible to establish residence in Oregon after 6 months and then get in-state tuition. (A rumor that neither of us felt was overly important researching – and turned out to be completely bogus). Thus we were in the middle of Oregon with suddenly no earthly reason to be there. We began perusing farm apprenticeships- but had a few months to lay low and figure out which direction we wanted our lives to head into next.
I remember walking into this book shop and seeing the Small Farmers Journal on the shelf. I was immediately struck by its aesthetic. The brown large paper packaging – I felt like I had taken a step back into time. I remember opening it and being exhilarated by the possibilities within those pages. I couldn’t believe that such a periodical existed – let alone that I was standing there with it in my hands. I remember walking up to the register and saying to the woman on the other side ‘What is this? – Its beautiful!’ She politely agreed and said she loved the journal as well. I became completely obsessed with the articles and pictures, the tips and trades. I remember loving all the stories of people who were making it work. It led me in a direction I didn’t know I wanted to travel in.
I am writing this series for myself. For that girl or boy, man or woman who walks into a bookshop, sees the journal and is captivated for weeks by its’ pages. I can honestly tell you that if we can do this – you can to. We are only ordinary. And although I’m still not certain that we will succeed- I do know that every step of this journey has been worth living. “If you build it they will come”. We have been surrounded in droves. We have gone from being two young anti-socialites to a part of something much larger than ourselves. And for the moment, I do not think there is anything more I could ask for than that.