Farming Without A Farm

ps-wk2-“Are you effing kidding me?!!”

Dina’s voice leapt the ten inches from the phone’s speaker and pierced my dazed brain.

“A car ran into our tractor?” 

“Something like that.” I blinked at the car parts strewn about Route 2A and our yellow Farmall Cub tractor perched oddly atop a trailer bed. Emergency workers gathered near a red Honda Fit resting on a guardrail.

“Find a babysitter. I may be here a while.”

The last time we wrote, our greenhouse had just succumbed to a wintry death. Then our tractor took a hit. But it seems that in our case, disaster strikes in threes . . .

But lets start with some good news.  Last month our high tunnel was crushed by an avalanche of snow from the roof of an adjacent greenhouse. With mere days before our first seeding date, we scrambled to find a new one. Miraculously, Dina found one while out on a run – a disused yet perfectly serviceable greenhouse at an out-of-business floral shop. The owner, a deceivingly folksy 80-year-old named Jack, said sure, we could use it – for $500 a month. Considering that $500 is more than we hope to earn in any given month this growing season, we said thanks, but no thanks, and went back to the drawing board.

ps-wk2-1707The drawing board involved begging the management of a nearby Whole Foods to let us erect a greenhouse in their parking lot.  To our amazement, they were all for it and Jack welcomed us to take his greenhouse – if we could relocate it somehow. So on a balmy 5-degree day in late February, Dina and I ate our Wheaties, gathered our shovels and started to pick away at the blanket of ice that encased the 50-foot-long structure. Twenty minutes later we were near tears. Our shovels bounced – they bounced! – off of the frozen ground, which made digging out the foundation impossible.

Suddenly, $500 a month seemed like a bargain.

The greenhouse currently has no running water, which means we have to truck in every drop.  And the first delivery of heating oil cost a cool $600.  But two weeks ago we planted our first seed and finally we’re in business.

ps-wk2-1728Onto the next crisis.

Our tractor arrived on a large flatbed truck in early March and was greeted by sodden, mucky fields. As the nice deliveryman puzzled out how to navigate the driveway without parking permanently in the muck, an explosion of red metal erupted to my left. The trailer came to rest in a snowdrift,  the tractor rocked violently back and forth on the open bed and I scrambled to find a very confused, but intact, driver inside a totaled Honda.

If you ever get to choose a person to run into your tractor, I recommend this lady. She was inexplicably polite, calm – funny even.

“Bummer. I was just admiring your beautiful tractor and I ran into your trailer. I’m sorry.”

ps-wk2-2The cops showed up, followed by firemen and park rangers. Then our generous farmer friend whose land we are using this summer drove by and stopped to see what the fuss was about.  And to deliver some ‘news.’

“We have to talk,” he began…

To summarize what is an ongoing conversation, we are now landless again. Or at least land insecure. We have about a month to figure things out. Meanwhile, thousands of onions, kale, leeks and broccoli are sprouting from their seed trays with the jubilant blind faith of babes. Dina and I have been trekking to the greenhouse three times a day to minister to countless tiny lives.  All the while we shake our heads at the stunningly obvious realization: it’s hard to farm without a farm.

“We will find you land,” we whisper as we turn up the heat and mist the seedlings with water. “Soon, this temporary home will be a distant memory.”



  • March 20, 2014 at 9:55 pm // Reply

    My heart goes out to you and hope to hear some good news and that you were able to find some land to plant your crop of veggies. Your saga continues and we are keeping our fingers crossed that life will be much better now that Spring as arrived. Keep on trucking ….as they use to say but in your case… keep on tractoring. We send you a smile and a hug to let you know that we are pulling for you both. Wendy and Max

  • March 20, 2014 at 11:59 pm // Reply

    Oh my oh my! Such travails and such sad set-backs! I am crushed ( like the new shiny yellow tractor) to hear about all these latest events. BOO! I am right here if you need me for ANYTHING AT ALL ! However, I have seen you guys in action and I know how incredibly resourceful you are and if any couple in the world can make a farm happen with success, it will surely be you two plus Wendell. I have faith in you and I will support you just like the universe will support you as you are on an authentic mission. Middleton and Topsfield seem to be areas with lots of farmland on the North Shore but I know that is too far away from your home in Medford to make sense but just brainstorming on where we could find some fertile land for sale for your farm…… I love you three and am sending lots of prayers and positive dreams your way daily. Hang in there and call me anytime you need me.

    • March 22, 2014 at 10:03 am // Reply

      Thanks for the thoughts Lynne! You’re right, anything further than about 20 minutes away will be tough unless we can live on the property. But we have a couple leads on land a bit closer to home which seem promising.

  • March 21, 2014 at 12:49 am // Reply

    Wow!! Maybe this is part of the character building process for you guys, but I can’t say honestly that you two need much improvement in your characters. I’m sure things will work out eventually even without Wendell’s help, because the harder you work, the luckier you get. Love, Grandpa. p.s. I told Grandma not to worry.

  • March 21, 2014 at 8:15 am // Reply

    Oy. Too too unfair! A farming saga worthy of your storytelling and artist skills – I do not doubt for a minute the two of you will prevail.

  • March 21, 2014 at 8:16 am // Reply

    Very sorry to hear about this. People outside of the Northeast Corridor don’t appreciate how hard farmable land is to find here. We’re taking a year (or more) off from farming, for various reasons, but partly because there’s no land close to where we live (we were commuting to Dracut from Brookline to farm). Good luck finding a new spot. You’ve got a lot of people pulling for you–I’m hopeful you’ll get something soon.

  • March 21, 2014 at 8:47 am // Reply

    well. I guess grandma dorsey superman lady,.
    has to go into action now
    on the hunt now for a farm!!!!

  • March 21, 2014 at 9:20 am // Reply

    If you get a lead on farmland and need an emergency babysitter so you can go to look at it, you know where to find me!

  • March 21, 2014 at 11:49 am // Reply

    first sorry for all the crap that’s happening …as I see it now our first need is for acreage to plant that I hope you will find then to get the tractor fixed or replaced maybe your shareholders might help with that. Before anything though I think you have to find land to farm; if you can’t it seems that that would mean the end of our CSA project for this season? Let us know more.

    • March 21, 2014 at 12:19 pm // Reply

      Have no fear Michael and lovely CSA members. Mark my words, THERE WILL BE VEGETABLES!!! If I have to farm 30 backyards between here and Concord, we’re going to see this thing through. Just a slight hiccup along the way.

  • March 21, 2014 at 4:34 pm // Reply

    Erik and Dina: you are most admirable, taking on the farm experience like you are. A real shining light on handling the ups and downs of it all!

    The seeds look terrific and so do all of you. Kim enjoyed her visit there with Erik and Wendell.

    our best – Polly and Rob

  • March 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm // Reply


  • March 22, 2014 at 7:13 pm // Reply

    Despite the set-backs, your vision and determination is still such an inspiration – even to us beginning farmers here in Australia. All the very best in finding a fertile home for your crop of seedlings! As we’re discovering, farming is all about managing complexity!

  • March 22, 2014 at 7:15 pm // Reply

    *clears throat*

    Erik Jacobs, if you ever put a picture of a car wreck as the first picture on your blog again, I will come down there and pay you a little visit myself! (Okay, honestly, when I saw the picture, the first thing that crossed my mind was that Dina and/or Wendell were hurt and it scared me to death! [But maybe that’s because an accident a few days ago in Wyoming sent two of my professor’s three young daughters to Heaven which is making me fear icy roads more than usual these days. :(])

    I am so sorry to hear about all the setbacks you’re experiencing right now. Just like others have posted above, I know you, Dina, and Wendell will pull through this and and enjoy your growing vegetables with smiles on your faces in just a few months! You guys are super smart and resourceful; I have no doubt that you’ll “get ‘her done.” Remember all those times at the Farm School when we thought things wouldn’t turn out the way we wanted them to? They always did. You know why? Because you (and everyone else at Maggie’s) powered through and made things happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll do it again. And again. And again…to great success. 🙂 You guys are in my thoughts!

  • March 24, 2014 at 11:30 am // Reply

    Maybe this will help………..
    “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
    ― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

    Best of LUCK,
    North Carolina

  • March 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm // Reply

    Thank god you weren’t ON the tractor, when I read your tractor was hit, my heart skipped a beat, I hate tractor accident stories more then anything.
    starting is so stressful, but it gets better, try our mantra from our first year “The only way out is through”
    from a fellow farmer in the trenches

  • March 29, 2014 at 7:39 pm // Reply

    Erik – “Have no fear Michael and lovely CSA members. Mark my words, THERE WILL BE VEGETABLES!!! If I have to farm 30 backyards between here and Concord, we’re going to see this thing through. Just a slight hiccup along the way.”

    Will Rogers – “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”

    I think you’ve certainly earned your farmin’ stripes.

  • April 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm // Reply

    Medford’s Mayor McGlynn was just asking about your venture. If there is some way he can help – and he can be very creative – please give my office a call. I’m hopeful that you haven’t posted recently because you’re just too busy farming. You can reach the Energy & Environment Office at 781-393-2137.

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