9Apr2011

Inspiring Group Effort, Always

There are many things I love about farming in the Intervale, and the most poignant reason was made undeniably clear to me on March 7th.  That was the day our cooperatively owned greenhouses were under stress of the last huge snowstorm we had this winter.  They were all in danger of collapsing, and we received a mass text from one of our fellow farmers that we all needed to get down there ASAP to shovel off the remaining houses.  Well, we had to first shovel 4′ of snow off our driveway and car, and then we headed down there to find that one house did indeed collapse under the weight of all the snow.  Instead of forlorn farmers burdened with the sorrow of losing one of our most useful structures, we found a happy gang of swift shovelers who arrived ready to tackle the problem, and accomplish it beautifully – we saved all the other greenhouses with smiles on our faces, enjoying the camaraderie of it all.

Once all danger was past, we assessed the damaged house, took a quick vote to decide what would be best to do next, and agreed that cutting the $1100 worth of plastic to take the stress off of the rest of the house would be the right thing to do.  We set about that challenge, and heard the house groan and shift a bit, as it released some of the pressure.  Presented with the daunting task of rebuilding in Spring – a time when all farmers are feverishly busy, each farm took it upon themselves to help in some way to get this house re-built in time for planting.  With 6′ snow drifts surrounding the house, we couldn’t do much but wait for it to melt.  During that time we had meetings to discuss the dismantling, ordering, and rebuilding of the greenhouse, and, of course, how to pay for it.

I am always so impressed to have meetings with my fellow Intervale farmers – I am reminded that I am surrounded by extremely thoughtful, knowledgeable, educated group-minded individuals that have all of our best interests at heart.  It is quite humbling, especially when you consider that even though we all cooperatively own the big-ticket items of farming (greenhouses, tractors, implements, etc.), and cooperatively maintain all their parts, are responsible for coming to group decisions about repairs, and billing, it is easy to forget that we are also individual for-profit businesses in direct competition with each other.  It is an inspiring model to be a part of, especially when we have the meeting to figure out how to pay for the rebuilding of the damaged greenhouse.

That meeting was not depressing in the least, as one might imagine it could be.  When the farmers originally bought the greenhouses from the Intervale Center, we set up a replacement reserve in the event of any kind of catastrophe or major repair.  With the complicated fee structures we have set up for ourselves to rent space in the greenhouses over the years, we have amassed more than enough in that account to cover the repairs that are needed for this project.  In an industry that is so rife with examples of operations that are hand-to-mouth and finding it hard to make ends meet, not to mention have a savings account to contribute to the ongoing success of your business in the event of unforseeable disaster, it is refreshing to realize that we are a part of a model of farming that plans for success and support at all times of each business that participates in it.

The big day came when the parts all arrived, and we set a group work date to finish dismantling and start putting it together.  Every farm that uses the greenhouses participated in some way, and we were able to get it entirely rebuilt (excepting plastic and rewiring of electrical) in one day, and in the next day, we re-hung electrical conduit, and put the plastic on in another group effort that leaves me a little misty and swelled up with pride!

Spencer and I moved to Vermont because of two things: The Intervale and all the intrinsic opportunities therein, and the Vermont Fresh Network, that is committed to the farmer-chef partnership.  We are so proud to be a part of two fantastic organizations, that make agriculture a priority, and enjoying the fruits of our labor the main attraction.  Because of the cooperative mentality amongst the farmers we share our infrastructure with, we were able to take a potentially paralyzing disaster and turn it into an opportunity to get to know each other better spending a couple of days doing what we do best – working hard.  The greenhouse should be online next week – just in time for the potting up of our plants for market in 3 weeks!  Happy Spring!!

Continuing to dismantle and sort pipes.

Putting it back together!

Frame is reconstructed.

Purlins and crossbeams in!

Unrolling the 2 layers of plastic.

Plastic being pulled over.

Plastic on and secured!

Look at that!  Looking like it’s old self again.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

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