Weather is notorious for messing with farmers, but 2013 was particularly bad. We finally got winter in late March in the form of snow that continued into early April, turning April into March, and May into what would pass for a particularly cold and rainy April on a normal year. By June, it was finally starting to feel like spring, just in time for an incredibly wet summer, a sunless summer, a summer in which Alston’s swim practice was canceled every day for three straight weeks because central Virginia was suddenly South Florida and liked to have a thunderstorm each day around 4 PM. The ground was sodden, roots were choked and plants starved for the whole light part of the light reaction that kicks off photosynthesis. All of which is the say, it was a particularly hard year to be a vegetable farmer.
Ben made some heroic efforts to cox some fruit out of the season, but by September we all knew this year was a loss. For Will and me, it was particularly hard to see all the work Ben had put into this place be rewarded by nothing but mosquito bites. For Ben, it was time to move on to a new project. First, head home to Idaho for his parent’s tree farm and soon back to Virginia to help an old friend start up a brand new farm. Because while Ben is a good farmer, Ben is fantastic at creating something bigger. I credit his love of permaculture and his boy scout leave-the-place-better-than-you-found-it work ethic, but I know establishing something new will be a perfect venue for his talents.
Ben left in mid October, nearly a year after joining us here on Red Row Farm, and I want to thank him publicly for all the everything he’s done for this place, and for us in particular. In the vain of that scouts ethos, here are some of the lasting impacts that will remind us of Ben for years to come.
What’s the saying, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is today? Ben replanted the apple orchard the sheep decimated. In five years we should first taste the fruits of this labor.
He filled in the terraces and planted blueberry bushes and strawberries that will fill my larder as jam every year.
He created raised beds for perennials around the pond plot, including a mint bed and an herb garden, something we’d gone without since moving to the country. This work goes into nearly every meal on the farm in the form of thyme, rosemary, you get the idea.
He built a vertical garden out of gutters in the greenhouse so we can harvest lettuces and arugula in the dead of winter. Until the polar vortex killed off what we hadn’t eaten, it was the only green I saw each morning while doing the farm chores.
Now we skip to the big ones. He played with my son. Not just tolerated him, but meaningfully played and taught Alston. The kid can be pretty intense, and Ben sat through countless dinners while the boy talked his ear off or subjected him to the many other wonders that make up a loud four year old boy. And Ben treated him like family.
Not only did Ben grow the very first foods Marie ever ate, he was there from the very beginning. As in he arrived at Red Row Farm three days before she was born. He would bounce her in her chair when I needed to get Alston to bed on nights when Will worked late at The Jar, he’d load up the firewood on the front porch since it was just more than I could handle with a newborn and a preschooler. He kept me company, sat and watched tv with me, never complained that he was surrounded by breastfeeding and diapers and the general mayhem that is living with a newborn. To say he was indispensable to my surviving the transition from one kid to two while Will was still in the throes of The Whiskey Jar’s first year doesn’t touch my gratitude. Ben was part of our family, and because of that, he will always be a part of our family, even if he’s in Idaho.
So yes, this was a super sappy post. But cheers to Ben, and all the new adventures he has in front of him. And thank you for the legacy you’ve left us here on the farm.