On January 1, the sky was blue, the sun shone, and we pounded fence posts. Metal struck metal as we rung in the new year and hoped the neighbors' recovery from the previous night's celebrations wouldn't be compromised by our clamor. Yesterday, despite the chill -- temperatures never did rise above freezing -- we sped through the task of reinforcing the corner posts with angled bracing and strung the top wire, then shared a hearty lunch in their cozy, strawbale farmhouse.
Beyond mustering Robert Frost's chestnut about their value for preserving neighborly relations, I didn't know the first thing about fences before we started farming. But since our orchard came with one in serious need of maintenance to keep the deer from transforming our dwarf apple trees into fodder, we started learning fast. A tip from my uncle, an old hand at stretching the fences that contain his beef cattle, transformed the labor-intensive project and a dear friend became our go-to third set of hands (see the results of our labor this summer, above). Now in a pinch, Dean and I can tidy up a 100-foot span by ourselves in just an hour or two.
When you're committed to a loan-free farm business model, there's a lot you learn to do yourself. In Ithaca, we've basked in the warm embrace of knowledgable and generous farmers with expertise that vastly exceeds ours. Not only have they invited us to learn by doing at their places, they've welcomed our participation in cut-rate collective orders for seed and supplies and even swapped their own labor in lieu of cash. Around here, Frost's take on fences deserves a twist: good neighbors make good fences -- and farms.