Farmer John Writes: Portals

Harvest Week 12, September 8th – 14th, 2020

For those of you who have visited Angelic Organics, you probably associate it with a long driveway, or entrance. The driveway is 1/4 mile long (that’s 80 rods in farmer speak). I think the entrance to Angelic Organics Farm and Angelic Organics Learning Center should be special, that it should engage the other meaning of the word entrance, the verb, to fill one with wonder.

I was entranced by a plethora of magnificent entrances in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico in the winter of 1974. I resolved then to fashion entrances that elevate the transition from outer to inner, perhaps somewhat the way that meditation can serve as a portal, or how an introduction to another human being might serve the transition from stranger to friend.

The room through which one enters a home is often referred to as a foyer, which has its origins in Old French as the word for hearth, or warmth. Over the years, I have strived to enhance entrances so that human beings passing through them will feel special, elevated, wondrous–will feel warmed. (Always, of course, there are compromises; to achieve the ultimate portal can really only be a striving.)

I am including photos of some of the entrances on the farm that I have designed and through which my fellow human beings gain passage.

entrance to my wife Haidy’s and my home, added to original structure, one-room Bamlett Schoolhouse built in the 1840’s

foyer of Haidy’s and my home; limestone, marble, vintage carved door

neighbor’s rooster and our cat Peanut enjoy the entrance to our home’s terrace, deck of re-purposed marble enclosed by vintage wrought iron railing (farm driveway in background)

entrance to our home office

Let’s continue to some of the portals at the farm.

main barn at Angelic Organics

milkhouse entrance to barn

milkhouse entrance to main barn: oak staircase, uplit dormer windows, lazured ceiling

Back to the farm entrance. In the late 70’s, I lined it with poplar trees. Upon traversing the driveway back then, one experienced a corridor flanked by tall trees spiring towards the heavens. These trees graced the driveway for their normal life span of 15 to 20 years.

I do not have an actual photo of the driveway back then, but I am including a photo of a painting of the farmstead from the perspective of the poplar-lined driveway, to give you a feel for that era of the farm. (The painting is its own portal.)

painting of farmstead as viewed from driveway through poplar trees, Chuck Bowdish 1989

portal between Community Barn Loft and Loft Gallery (re-purposed Walnut Entrance Door from the old Freeport Courthouse)

old courthouse doors at night

entrance to the Granary

lazured, uplit archway over Granary entrance, warmed by coffee and cookies

Now that I have offered this introduction to entrances, I would like to share with you the current plan to entrance farm visitors as they traverse the entrance to the farm.

Angelic Organics Farm and Angelic Organics Learning Center are partnering on this project, as the long driveway serves as both an entrance to the farm and to the Learning Center.

Two swaths of land, each about 40 feet wide flanking the long driveway, will come alive with prairie forbs. Imagine a living entrance to the farm—a pollinator garden—vibrant with swaying grasses, blooming flowers, fluttering butterflies, bees, and birds. (Since there has been a plan at the farm for 25 years to establish a butterfly garden, which has yet to come to fruition, I lean towards the term butterfly garden for this glorious corridor we are fashioning.)

This summer, we have been steadfastly preparing the ground by continually eradicating the weeds that would otherwise hamper our chances to establish prairie along the corridor. We have been achieving this through shallow tillage with our rotavator, also known as stale seed-bedding. (A more contemporary and much more common method of weed eradication in preparation for prairie plantings is to spray with Roundup. Aren’t you glad you are a member of an organic farm?)

farm driveway flanked by soil tilled for upcoming butterfly garden

This fall, the Angelic Organics Learning Center, with the help of volunteers, will undertake the seeding of the prairie plants. Randy Mermel has been leading this initiative on behalf of the Learning Center, with assistance from Laura Sjoquist, On-Farm Program Director for the Learning Center, Jessie Mermel, and Jackie de Batista, Executive Director of the Learning Center. Details are not finalized as to how and when the seeding will take place. As the details emerge, I will share them with you and I am sure the Learning Center will also share these details. I simply wanted to introduce the concept, the overview, of our plan, since gracious entrances are dear to my heart and have been a preoccupation of mine for many decades.

Portal to the Future
We finished seeding all of our cover crops of clover, alfalfa and forage peas by August 31, a goal that is very challenging to achieve. Then it rained—perfect. We now have completed the most demanding part of our field preparations for 2021. One might consider that we have fashioned a promising portal into the future for our shareholders.

A Final Note on Portals
A childhood friend, Bill Olafsen, helped me design the renovation of the Bamlett Schoolhouse into my home in the 70’s. Bill felt that any window or door that served as a visual portal to the interior of the home should offer an uplifting experience to the viewer. At night, he would sometimes stand in the gravel road that runs by the house and imagine a curious traveler driving slowly by the house, gazing through the glass front doors. He wanted to assure that this traveler would be inspired by the sight of the home’s interior.

Likewise, he walked around the home’s circular driveway, gazing through the windows, for he realized that a traveler might be intrigued by this stone structure built in the 1840’s and might circle it out of curiosity. Bill wanted to ensure that this inquisitive traveler would be uplifted by myriad views of the interior of the home from the outside. I marveled at this most generous concern for the well-being of humanity–to warm the stranger’s mood with a portal to loveliness.

our living room at night, former Bamlett Schoolhouse

Warmly,
Farmer John

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Showing 12 comments
  • Mary Jane Lewis
    Reply

    This was the most wonderful newsletter, and I enjoyed it so much because you, Carol, and I walked down that 80 rod lane to catch the bus for 12 years–160 rods each day we went to school. I wonder how many rods we walked from the time we started first grade until we graduated from high school. Not only did we walk down the lane to meet the bus, but I started walking down the lane and up the road to Grandma and Grandpa Peterson’s house before I was three (Mother wrote that in my baby book.) We also walked to the end of the lane to get the mail in the summertime and to go fishing in the creek. When we were kids, there was barbed wire fence on each side, and once when Mother and Carol were riding double on the horse, it reared up and both of them slid off its back. Carol was okay, but Mother had a big gash on her leg from that fence. They got back on the horse and rode home afterwards.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Yes, Mary Jane, the long driveway played a role in our childhoods. I remember the horseback incident well. Our driveway was actually once a part of a township road. Maybe you know that it appeared in a platt book many years back. It went 160 rods south from Rockton Road, then 160 rods west to Free Church Road, meeting at McCurry Road. That’s why there are still a few traces of homesteads along that path.

  • Barb
    Reply

    Very nice! Love how you wrote it too. am inspired to consider the portals I create as well. Thanks you! Peace

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thanks, Barb. You seem like a portal-producing sort of person.

  • Catherine Bryla
    Reply

    Hello farmer John.

    I was interested to read about the butterfly garden you are starting. It got me wondering how you attract pollinators to your crops. Do you plant native pollinator plants to attract native bees? Do you use an apiarist to bring honey bees to the farm?

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Our cover crops, which are growing on about half of our acreage in any given year as a central component of our fertility program, attract pollinators. There are a few bee hives nearby, which also contribute to pollination.

  • Barb Cathey
    Reply

    This is my first year as a shareholder. I’ve come to enjoy the newsletters for all the ways they make the farm come alive for someone who has never been there. This newsletter about portals is deeply spiritual. Every one of your portals carries an invitation, as do most of the portals in our lives if we have eyes to see them. everything is thought-filled and beautiful and will be even more so as you develop the prairie, butterfly and pollinator garden.
    Thank you so much for nurturing us so holistically.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thank you for your lovely acknowledgment, Barb. I love, “Every one of your portals carries an invitation, as do most of the portals in our lives if we have eyes to see them…{“–most beautiful and insightful.

  • Roque Moreno
    Reply

    Siempre adelante construyendo un mundo mejor

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Yes, let’s all make the world a better place.

  • Ken Brautigam
    Reply

    John — Do you still have the long, colorful, woven hanging that I think used to adorn the indoor/upstairs entrance to the Milk House? I believe you spotted it in a Mexican shop, where it was displaying samples of what rugs/colors one could purchase — and you just had to have it. Maybe I have that all wrong — but I do remember how beautiful it was, hanging over that arched entrance….

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      That long strip of multi-colored wool succumbed to roof leakage. The barn roof cascades water onto the milkhouse, and that seam is prone to leakage. Many years ago, you applied a coat of finish to the schoolhouse door featured in this newsletter. I think about you often when I pass through that portal. Missing you, my friend.

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