Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Planning Season, Revisited

This time last year I was busily putting together our Conditional Use Permit submittal. As long-time readers may don't recall because I never told you. Last year's efforts to be able to legally camp on our farm were brought to a stunned halt by heated opposition from a small but vocal group of neighbors. After that, I was simply too exhausted and too emotionally raw to write about the Public Hearings. And, without any housing options for volunteers after the new tenants moved into the farmhouse in May, I was simply way too busy farming solo to write about what had happened.

At the Public Hearings in April and May, we were utterly blind-sided by neighborhood opposition. We--lifetime outdoor livers that we are--were astounded to learn that some people consider anyone who sleeps in a tent or camper to be lawless, filthy, rabble-rousing hoodlums, undesirable in our nice suburban neighborhood..probably pedophiles, in fact. Really. The public record contains comments alleging that if the same people who were house guests under my roof were to take the tents out of their car trunks and set them up on the pasture at night and sleep there, they too would become vagabonds. Really. Canvas (or ripstop nylon, in this modern age of high-tech camping) apparently has that effect on people. My neighbors vouch for this. Who knew?

Very politely summarized minutes of the proceedings are at (pages 3-13) and (pages 37-42).

Maybe that gives you a little window into why (aside from a busy farm season and full-time job and nursing my beloved dying partner of 12 years (see "Losing Toss")) I didn't write much last summer and fall. Just...speechless.

Now it's 2011. A new year. A new farming season. New hordes of eager farm volunteers contacting me from all over the country seeking internships. And in late January I picked up the phone and asked my long-suffering planner to put the CUP back on the Planning Commission agenda on March 30, 2011.

I'm better prepared this time. I know what's coming...I think.

Most of my effort this time can be directed toward educating people about the project and gathering support, instead of the exhaustive policy and writing work of last year. I'm planning a community meeting--hopefully early March--to try to discuss the issues with concerned parties in a more informal setting than the public hearing. We'll have open houses at the farm for interested parties to actually see the farm from the inside, rather than the rather shaggy street view. I'll blog more, email more, etc. We'll actually get the farm web site up this year so we can make materials readily available online.

Over the intervening year, I have attempted other avenues towards legally being able to camp at the farm. Increasingly detailed study of the regulations have proved very, very interesting. Logical inconsistencies: Camping is allegedly illegal because it is not an explicitly permitted use in the zoning regulations. But, hunting is allegedly legal, and the regulations are just as silent about hunting as they are about camping. I guess it's easier to threaten to fine someone napping in a camper, than someone holding a deer rifle? It can't be that sanitation isn't a concern for me, they are out there for hours on end, and not a portapotty in sight.

The demand for opportunities to volunteer on the farm has been amazing. Between July and December, I had many inquiries from potential WWOOFers and Growing Grower apprentices that I had to turn down. Had all of these people come for the time periods they offered, it would have totaled about 3,000 hours of volunteer work on the farm.

I got to see what the farm looks like without volunteers this summer and fall. In the spring, we had a lot of WWOOFers and it was tremendously fun and productive. Then after May, we only had a few day volunteers, and things started to wind down. By late summer, it was pretty much just me and the tomatoes. Without very many volunteers, almost no landscaping or maintenance got done, since no one but me knew how to run the mower...and we had some mower malfunctions, which no one but me knew how to fix. And it was all I could do to keep up with sheep rotations and tomato picking and Farmer's Market. A very dry fall meant no fall greens to speak of...kind of a good thing, because I would not have had time to harvest them.

There have also been little bits of progress on a larger scale. The County is revising and clarifying some of its regulations, and camping will be much more explicitly addressed, with my experiences and the farm's needs being taken into consideration in the process. A group has been working diligently on developing new county policy supporting and guiding "agritourism", which would include the sort of camping/learning/volunteering experiences we are wanting to allow.

Please contact me if you want to be kept up-to-date on activities related to this effort. Look for Pinwheel Farm on FaceBook; email me at; or call 785-979-6786.

Thinking Towards Spring

Despite the weekly snows that keep never quite melt out on the farm, I can tell that spring is coming. The birds have it in their voices. I can see the cottonwood and silver maple buds swelling on the branches. I read it in the lines of wild geese at sunset, silhouetted against the sky.

I see it heralded in the mail, as well: seed catalogues, dairy and sheep supply catalogues, poultry catalogues.

I hear bits of talk among friends of seed starting, garden planning, CSA marketing. People ask, "Now, when does Farmer's Market start up again?" At Pinwheel, we start planting as soon as snow is off the ground, hopefully in early March. Looking out across white lawns and fields, it seems impossible. But each afternoon brings unexpected melting, even if the thermometer still reads below freezing.

I get a call from one of my fellow shepherds, confirming my flock size so she can make arrangements with the shearer. Sheep Shearing Day is set for March 19--only a little more than a month away! People I meet in the grocery store ask about it more and more. I get emails from people offering to come help.

Shearing heralds lambing: The beginning of April should bring lambs on the ground, as well as Farmer's Market Opening Day. People start enquiring about helping with lambing, volunteering in the garden, interning for the season.

The Planting Season is preceded by the Planning Season. To-do lists, lists of seeds to order, garden plans, talking with potential volunteers, planning, planning, planning.