This notion of becoming a "farmer" isn't something that came to me over night. I, along with my four other siblings grew up in an amazing place, in the foothills below the Sequoia National Forest in California. We had ten acres where we could literally run wild. I can't necessarily recall what my brother and sisters were up to most of the time, however I do clearly recall running into the woods barefoot,
climbing trees, and just loving the smell of the damp earth and wild grasses. I was always amazed at how the earth could naturally sustain so many beautiful specimens of life. Deciduous trees, evergreens, wild flowers in the spring, even those terrible round pickers that looked like sharpened little circular saws. I even marveled wondrously at the little creatures who called the land "home".
I am currently reading a book adequately named,
"Growing A Farmer: How I Learned To Live Off The Land" written by Kurt Timmermeister.
I find so many parallels in his desire to take a plot of land and not only transform it into a fertile piece of earth that can sustain him, but to also transform himself into the steward of that land, otherwise known as "a farmer". He owned a small bakery in Seattle but knew that another kind of life beaconed him. He also knew nothing about beekeeping, running a dairy farm, or even how to cut back blackberry brambles but he committed himself and his account is a wonderful testament to a movement in this country where people are longing for the simpler life. My journey is his journey in so many ways.
In high school when we moved away from our childhood home and the beauty and serenity of those foothills, I didn't quite realize how I would long for the woods, the damp earth and the smell of sweet grass on a warm afternoon breeze. Naturally, life takes it's course. I graduated high school, attended college for roughly 6.5 years preparing for an industry and career in Graphic Design that I was told I was perfect for ( yet always second guessed because I missed being outside and did not like the idea of sitting in a chair in front of a computer every day), graduated, worked, went back to college for another 1.5 years after the .com crash, graduated again to then become a elementary school teacher, and taught for about 3 years total.
You can see by this trend that I was searching for my place in the professional world. A place where I could use my skills and "my passions" to make a difference, a career where I could provide for our future family. The only problem was, the passion was about 75-80% perceived and not how I truly felt deep inside. I didn't recognize it then, but thank goodness I do now. I should have gone into forestry. I should have become a wildlife biologist. I should have been an ag. major. I could have joined FFA in high school yet we never raised animals in 4-H because my parents weren't interested in animals. None of these paths I took. However, life is about the journey and despite the revelation that I was on the wrong course, I have finally found the path I was meant to be on at this time in my life.
Today I sit here with my cup of coffee at an antique table we purchased to accommodate our new dining room. I sit looking out at a formal living room with high ceilings, still lacking furniture because when we purchased our home last June, we chose a much larger home and had a humble collection of furniture from the prior. The grand windows facing south frame a picture perfect sight. A thick blanket of snow, a noble maple tree decorated by winter finches darting about, and beyond that: Our apple orchard.
Memories are a treasure for me. For the 8 years prior to this, we lived in a neighborhood surrounded by town, people, traffic, commerce, cement, dust, sirens, and at night the near absent view of the stars due to "urban light pollution". During those 8 years, my husband and I became parents to our two very spirited daughters. Baby toys, play dates, preschool, sprinkler fun in the summer, baking every weekend in the kitchen.
Those memories I treasure. I also ran a successful business as a freelance graphic designer and wedding photographer. That decision allowed me to stay home and raise our girls - the best decision my husband and I ever made together. During this time, I begged for a garden and got one. With a beautiful cedar fence, complete with the ornate garden gate. I must tell you, I am beyond blessed to have a husband who would go to the ends of the earth to make me happy. In fact, he's done so for the past 20 years. He is part of a dwindling breed in these modern times. Through all the trials and going back to school, searching for my place in this life, he has been supportive, patient, and encouraging. To this day, he STILL opens the door for me everywhere we go.
And so, I learned how to garden. Really well! I will share those adventures in a later post. A year or so later came the custom built barn-style chicken coop with 8 Rhode Island Reds. We began selling our eggs and selling the extra tomatoes, corn, sunflowers and other veggies coming from our garden. I had finally found my medicine, my passion - and all of this, from our humble backyard in the middle of town. What a lesson for our girls to see food come from a seed, a little effort, and that dark, loamy earth. Despite all of this, I was not a farmer. I was a mommy, a wife, working from home, raising her girls and slowly learning how to use the earth - the same earth I ran barefoot on as a child - to grow food from nothing more than seeds.
Those 8 years led us here. We are home now. We chose a place to call home where people look you in the eyes and smile. Chatting with a stranger is still a welcomed concept. Life. Just. Moves. Gentler. Slower. The water runs crystal clear from ancient glacial mountains and there is a lot of it. Northern Idaho is home. We settled on property that has what I now refer to as our modern farmhouse. In years prior, there was a decent sized orchard put in to sustain a homestead. While the original homestead is long gone with barely a trace of it's existence, five of the original homestead trees still stand.
Our apple orchard is beyond that maple tree in my current view and it is our future and the basis for our family farm. From visiting small family owned apple orchards on Bear Creek Road as a child, the memories of those warm summer days and the flavor of an apple grown in the mountains still stays with me. The yearly celebration of those apples at the local Apple Festival was something to cherish year after year. My mom, despite any personal feelings she may have had on the matter, always made sure we attended every year. My mom is my hero by the way, a post reserved for another day. Apple burritos, apple beer, free fresh apples for eating straight off the truck that were picked up the mountain merely hours prior. I'll also never forget the afternoon showing of Disney's "Johnny Appleseed"; to this day, my absolute favorite childhood movie.
After months of trying to decide WHAT I wanted our family farm to grow for our local community, the memories once again settle in. Apples it would be. And not just any variety of apple you can find in a store. As a passionate collector of all things old and historic, our apples would harken to the days of Johnny Appleseed. Our apples would be a nod to the past, a gesture of thanks to the orchardists of the days gone by, and a longing of the simpler times. The earth of our humble orchard will nurture antique/heirloom varieties that were all but forgotten in a world of GMO, convenience, supply and demand and the bottom line. I want nothing more than to just grow a beautiful apple; natural, sweet, fit for ciders, baking or just eating as you go along on your daily journeys.
Last summer, just before we experienced our first Northern Idaho Autumn, my husband once again agreed to something that I'd only dreamt about. I told him if there was nothing else we could accomplish prior to the winter setting in, I wanted to get in the first trees of our orchard. We went to a local nursery, settled on a nice collection of apple trees at a discount since it was end of season, and brought them home. They sat in the pre-existing fenced garden while we got up the elk fencing. Our property sees the elk and deer migrating through on a nightly basis so this was an absolute necessary. In good old Northern Idaho fashion, we bartered services from our good neighbors and friends across the street. Two freshly baked pies at their choosing, in return for the holes being dug for the trees. We even got a massive bucketload of composted chicken poo thrown in.
Although we have been through quite the journey to get to where we are now, we already feel as though we've won the lottery. I could go on forever but my coffee has gone cold, and my rambunctious girls have gone missing from my sight. Athol Orchards will be a labor of love. A place where my girls can run barefoot on the damp earth and smell the sweet grass on the breeze. A place where they will learn the meaning of "earning your keep ". A place where they will continue learning where food really comes from. And finally, a place that will teach them what an honest day of work truly feels like- accomplishment and pride. In a world gone tech, there is still so much value in this kind of life. The journey ahead is not yet written, and I'd love for anyone who has managed to read to the bottom of this first blog post to continue with us as we grow our apple farm, our family, and our dreams.
*Footnote: This initial post was written on my laptop which is why no supporting images were included. My "big" computer is home to all of my wonderful garden images and images from my life so I promise to include more color in the future!