Why We Farm: Building a Greenhouse
Two years ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.
Originally Posted on Dissertation to Dirt, February 2011
Travis had a meltdown, I renounced farming, and we almost got divorced … but our greenhouse is DONE! And for a first greenhouse for the both of us, I think it looks pretty sweet.
Okay so the door doesn’t sit exactly right, and in the back the plastic has this odd sort of pleat thing, but to me it’s beautiful. And objectively, with white rocks against white plastic and pale wood, the inside is quite pretty. We finished on Sunday evening. Fortunately, neither Travis nor I care about football, so we chose to forego watching the Super Bowl and finish our greenhouse by attaching the plastic and mounting the door. This last leg of construction was the most difficult by far.
The land we farm is so flat and windy, trying to affix a 20×25 foot sheet of plastic to a few hooped PVC pipes was not as easy as we thought it would be. It took all our strength and patience just keeping the whole thing from blowing away. When we finally got the plastic secured to the frame and realized we had it on the wrong way, we almost gave up. I can’t really explain the noise the plastic made as it was whipping wildly in the wind. Try to picture a tropical storm in the middle of the ocean. And we had an open sail. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t fit the plastic on completely straight. We had to make do with a slight angle. Hence the pleat thing.
After struggling with plastic for an hour and securing it down with lath, it was time to mount the door. I was holding it from the inside while Travis drilled in the hinges outside. He finished and called for me to come out. I pushed, but the door wouldn’t budge. I pushed harder. Nothing. I was trapped. Travis had to use his pocket knife and create a little groove in the frame, to whittle me out. The final thirty minutes of our work on the greenhouse were fueled by little more than caffeine and collective rage.
Around 5:30pm, the sun was just beginning to go down. As I watched Travis drilling in the final screws, I was incredibly proud of him. Because that day Travis, always so precise and meticulous in everything he does, let go and just made the greenhouse work. Travis’ precision carried the day in the early stages of our greenhouse construction. We made a dozen trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot, searching for just the right wood and just the right plastic. Our screws were perfectly screwed, our lines perfectly measured.
When he realized our plastic didn’t snugly fit and our door was a little askew, Travis could have easily dug in his heels and delayed the greenhouse another few weeks, but instead, he steeled himself and helped me make it work with what we had. If Travis is a precisionist, I’m an improviser. I have a constant, burning impulse to get things done. Because I hate to leave a task until it’s finished, I’ve developed a talent for problem solving, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to complete a job. Travis spent weeks researching designs, ordering supplies, and creating the foundation for our greenhouse. During that time, I had to be patient with delays, adjustments, and revisions. But at some point, Travis had to let go of all of his planning and just get the job done. That’s where I came in.
Now, because of Travis’ meticulousness, we have a better greenhouse than anything I would have slapped together. And because of my bullish push to finish, the greenhouse is done in time for our big round of spring seeding. That greenhouse, with its finished cedar wood, semi-perfect lines, and slapdashed plastic, is a giant, unwieldy metaphor for Travis’ and my different styles of working, and our ability to work together. Managing a business together is something we’re just beginning to navigate, and completing our first big structure on our farm serves as a standing illustration of our dynamic as business partners: a combination of efficiency and quality, spontaneity and organization, design and detail, form and function. Although it means we’re often pushing against each other, if the end product is a good-looking greenhouse, I can handle it.
After we completed our greenhouse, we had about 30 minutes of sunlight left. We still had some field and seeding work to do. Travis jumped on the tractor to till 6 beds in. Simultaneously, I ran to seed Swiss chard. It was 6:00 pm. We were starving, yelling at each other over the noise of the tractor, and trying to get everything done before dark. As Travis hopped off the tractor and I came over, clapping potting soil off my hands, we congratulated each other while the sun disappeared behind the distant trees.
Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit www.dissertationtodirt.com or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa