Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Harvest Party & the Story of Lulu's New Home

Join us for a season celebration Sunday, October 12th from 2 to 4 pm!  Event Link.

We are looking forward to a truly promising future here in our new little "urban" location in scenic Baldwin City, Kansas.  As many of you know, it's been a difficult and challenging time of late for the farm.  But, as always, being the ever positive and hopeful spirit, I can feel the tides are turning, as we come in line with our true mission & vision.

 Last year, in our previous location, grasshoppers made their home in the vegetative growth surrounding the garden.  Subsequently, they chose the basil (our cash crop) as their favorite yummy buffet, consuming thousands of dollars in profit.  It would have been very easy to stop them with chemicals, but I just couldn't do it.  My dedication to growing sustain ably was genuinely put to the test.  I tried organically approved inputs, but it was too little, too late.  I remember having my finger on the button to order the evil alternative and save myself thousands in losses, but I just couldn't do it.

I wish I could say the challenges stopped there.  Our joint high tunnel venture took a turn for the worse with tempers running high and, without casting blame I was sadly forced to move my perennial plants elsewhere for the winter.  Through the loving graciousness of the owners of our new farm, we were able to find a home for them in the barn and basement there.  Sadly, the winter was extremely rough and cold.  We lost nearly 300 of our 325 perennial herb inventory.  At an average cost of $30 to replace... well you can imagine.

I am happy to say that from there things began looking up - way up.  And I'm certain that all of the challenges I faced as a tenant farmer were simple driving me to begin to search for a farm of my own. I was looking for something manageable in size for a single woman farmer, but everything out there was a minimum 5 - 10 acres, or just too much for me to manage.  I was starting to get discouraged when a friend here in Baldwin mentioned a little place just down the street from him downtown. I had driven by the place often, seeing the foxes playing by the creek alongside the property.  It was a sleepy little white house with a perfect little porch and a three bay garage.  I had not realized there were several additional lots behind.  I remember saying to myself every time I drove by "that place wants something."  I didn't realize what it wanted was me.

The property was owned by a loving family, whose mother had been the local Baldwin public school nurse.  They had owned the property since 1964 (my birth year) and the mother had taken ill and been moved from there in 2008.  It had sat empty since then, although lovingly cared for over the years.  The family obviously had an emotional attachment.  They returned to the home each year in October for the local Maple Leaf Festival, and kept the family trailer/float for the parade parked in the barn.  They had finally decided to list the property when my friend interceded on my behalf.

On meeting these lovely people, I was informed that I was the person they had been waiting for.  We agreed it had been no accident our meeting and that the home had been waiting for me, and the property for Lulu's Garden.  We agreed on a very fair price for the property, signed a 30 day contract to close by November.  And I completed final paperwork for my loan through the Farm Service Agency, a division of the USDA.  I won't bore you with all the details, but there were issues of converting residential property to cropland, which was designated as highly erodible, so a conservation plan was put into place.  There were issues with the creek surrounding the property and flood plain, city approvals and much more.  Each time there was another delay, I would call the owners (sometimes in tears, ready to give up) and they would talk me down off the ledge, assuring me that the property was mine and there were many people praying that it should be so.  I am still floored by their graciousness.  With their continued patience, my loan manager, transaction broker and all those involved, we finally closed on April 1 this year, and hit the ground running.

I'm amazed what we have been able to accomplish since then.  If you visit our Facebook page, you will see the hard work of many wonderful WWOOF interns and volunteers for which I am soooo grateful!  Again, this year there have been many challenges.  My consulting job (I always have a side job to support my farm habit) to help a Baldwin group develop a small COOP grocery featuring only local products was delayed several times, then fell through mid-project with new ownership.

The marketing plan for the farm was to expand to KC restaurants for sales I had lain the groundwork for the previous years.  Unfortunately, I discovered that market has changed substantially, as competition has moved in selling herbs for $2 - 5 less per pound than ours, and I was unable to break into that market.  It was pretty demoralizing looking out at the basil, knowing I could be harvesting 60 - 70 pounds of our a week, and only having 20 lbs in orders (i think i cursed a little).  Then the fungus came.

Really, I'm not making this up -  I will never curse my basil again.  The extreme moisture brought in a spore that infected our basil and we haven't been able to harvest even 5 pounds a week since then.  All I could really do is laugh, as the expenses kept going and the income kept dwindling.  We had some very interesting brainstorm sessions, and the wwoofers and staff got very creative. I was fortunate enough to have one of my local restaurants hire me and accommodate my farm schedule.  So the bills are getting paid, but the mortgage still...not quite.

The best idea of all was to have a big party with a cover/donation.  I was not on board until I realized it might really be of value to people.  We had a couple wonderful bands volunteer to play and people donating their time and resources.  And, I think we've come up with a fun concept that people will really enjoy!

Moreover, all the challenges have given me pause to reevaluate what I really want for Lulu's, and what my true passions and gifts are.  This has proven to be a very rewarding process, and I am confident that there are a myriad of ways for this new property to provide abundance and sustain itself.  Take an opportunity when you can to visit our updated Mission and Vision in the "ABOUT" tab, and we hope that you can join us to help celebrate what has been a very challenging, and yet enlightening couple of seasons for Lulu's Garden!  In much Love, Pam

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