Friday, January 20, 2012

Good Fences, Good Neighbors

Yesterday was the second installment of an ongoing fencing project at Red Tail Farm, intended to protect a blueberry patch from the marauding deer that snack on the bushes' tender, bright red bark. While Teresa and Brent have invested untold hours visiting other farms to inspect their fences, mapping out and designing something to suit their needs, and then digging holes for the corner posts, we just drop in as part of the brute force squad. (This is funnier if you've ever seen us: I'm a scant five feet tall and Dean disappears if he turns sideways.)

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.


  1. Are you thinking of the Robert Frost poem "Mending Wall"? ;^)

    I'm enjoying your adventure via this blog, and hope to labor swap with you guys some day. Dean I've met through Joey Gates, and I met both of you at that community wind group I was holding at the library. Pretty amazing how far that's come.

    We're starting a farm out in Danby, and I agree with your take on the value in swapping work/knowledge with the community around here. We've learned a lot helping others, and work parties at our home have been fun and helpful.

    I'd also like to start a Forest Farming Guild, are you guys interested? I hope to plan a meeting in Feb or March.

    Thanks for sharing your farm adventure, it's good reading!

  2. Indeed, I should have checked my facts -- thanks for the catch!

    Sounds like you're up to exciting adventures, yourself. Best wishes with your new enterprise. May you find friends and neighbors in Danby as supportive as we've found here on West Hill.