NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Your Farm, (out there somewhere)

Flying the coop
Chickens, cats, dogs and plants follow our intrepid farmer in her continued quest for a place to land…and plant a seed.

By Mele Anderson
Posted August 16, 2005

Farm-At-A-Glance

Your Farm
???, CA

Farmers: Mele Anderson and Alec Benz

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables

Marketing strategies: Farmers’ market

August, 2005. This journal entry comes at the end of moving out of our farm and finds me in an accordingly good mood (kidding). Moving is a major undertaking anyway you slice it, but moving out of a farm is a gargantuan task—especially when you don’t have a new farm to move into.

As of August 1, Alec is living with a friend of ours in Modesto who fortunately has a very large backyard. The majority of our plants are there, living in the suburbs now. A few plants have made their way to my parents’ farm, where I’m living for the time being with my two dogs and cat in the middle room of my parents’ tank house. The dogs seem to love the tight quarters and being able to climb in bed with me. The cat has claimed the top level of the tank house as her safe haven away from my parents’ two dogs. And I’m feeling more than a little cramped while I anxiously await my next move at the end of this month.

I’ve landed a teaching job at a charter school in Modesto and will be teaching a 4th/5th-grade combo class there. My plants will be making their way to the school soon, and I’ll be getting my hands into our little school garden shortly thereafter. Despite the lack of space at my school—we have ten classrooms and more 200 students on about an acre—there is a fair bit of space dedicated to its current dilapidated garden and more adjacent space. The adjacent space wraps around the back of my classroom and leads to a spot where the sidewalks ends—a nice synergy with one of my favorite kids’ books and one idea for a catchy garden name.

I’ll be searching for grants for our school garden, so if anyone has any leads, ideas, or stories to share about their school gardens, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at melelea@yahoo.com. I’ve been dreaming for a long while of helping to connect a school garden with the students’ lunch program, but we don’t have a cafeteria at our school. Our food is prepared offsite and then delivered a la Meals on Wheels. Connecting those dots will take a bit more legwork than will getting the garden back into operation.

We still have a few things remaining at the farm. The chickens and rabbits are still there. The chickens have future homes, but we need to find a place for the rabbits. My new home will likely be an apartment with a patio where I’ll be lucky to have my dog and cat. I think taking the rabbits might be pushing it. I’m hoping Alec’s roommate might just fall in love with the compost Alec brought to his place and decide he needs rabbit droppings to perfect his own compost. And yes, Alec took two truckloads of compost to his new home in Modesto. Plus all of the plants we pulled out of the ground. Plus tools. Plus chickens…and then there’s the work to build them a new coop for their new home. I think you get the idea of how this move has gone.

I thought I’d worked through the emotional part of having to leave our farm but found the first visit from my cousin’s realtor and her clients was enough to level the foundation of calm I thought I’d built. I pulled into my driveway to find them there with their big truck and their “W” sticker and just felt it was so unfair. They were perfectly nice people, but the politics and the truck symbolized to me everything that’s wrong with the status quo in farming around here. I’m afraid my grandpa’s organic farm will be lost to a dairy industry farmer who will pull out the trees, replant the land with GM corn for silage, tear down the old 1,000-square-foot house and build a 2,500-square-foot custom home, and work the soil to death with an endless cycle of tractor cultivation, planting of mutant corn pumped with anhydrous nitrogen, and harvesting by a monstrous machine that tosses it into diesel trucks to be taken to the dairy.

If you’re interested in seeing the listing for our farm, it’s listed with Coldwell Banker. You can get to it on their website by searching “Hilmar, CA.” It’s the one listed for $650,000 though the last I heard my cousin had upped it to $700,000. Interestingly, the 20-acre farm next door went on the market at about the same time, supposedly for over $900,000. These are fascinating times.