Farewell Mighty Ship
Written by Calliope Pappadakis   
Thursday, 14 February 2013 15:59

Tunnel First PlantingIf you would have asked me a year ago to imagine life without the high tunnel, I am not sure I could have done it. The 3,000 square feet of covered growing space visible from my kitchen window, the gift of fresh, organic food, the electricity of insect life, the magic of the soil, and the blessing of that kind of work on mind, body, and soul, had all become part of my identity and of my daily life and thoughts. Many people know me as a grower of food and a tender of the soil. I see myself as someone who is responsible for producing crops, managing a greenhouse, planning a sow and harvest schedule… I am proud of that!


So what changed?

Swallowtail CatNothing in terms of my passion. I could spend all day every day with my hands in the soil, planting, harvesting, weeding (well, maybe not all day), scheduling, irrigating, fertilizing, and planning. I adore gardening. Plain and simple. I found my niche. I discovered something I am good at, and I attribute my success to how much I love it and my enthusiasm for it. I like being physically active, I like being outdoors, I like getting dirty, I am organized and efficient, and I am a nurturer. It is a perfect fit.

I also feel and have felt for a long time, deeply connected to plants and insects and of course, we all are connected whether we realize it or not. We cannot exist outside of our ecosystems regardless of the strange distances modern life has put between us and them.

Nothing in terms of what we already knew: we live in a rented house on a rented piece of land. We want to buy our own land and build our own home, and to do this, I need time to devote to my professional career and moving forward with that path (the one with student loans).  I do want to own land and build a place to call my/our own. Maybe then we'll erect a smaller greenhouse that connects to the kitchen.

Snaps 2009“But can’t you turn the farming into a full-time business and make your money that way?”

I suppose we could, but we'd have to locate more land build more tunnels, and hire people if we wanted to make a living at it. Neither of us have any desire to make it our full-time gig. It was more of a small hobby that turned into a big hobby. It challenged me, grew me, nurtured me, fed me, and taught me life lessons; it etched them deeply into who I am. And I know in some way it will continue to be part of my path. Just not perhaps on this scale. I didn’t always know that. I wondered for a while if this might become a more permanent job path. However, professional opportunities have opened that offer me the chance to teach a larger variety of classes. And truth be told, I've grown fonder of my career in education and I'm excited about the new opportunities.

2011 after floodFor now I’m going to devote my efforts to teaching, saving, and planning. What’s fortuitous about the timing of things is that as I made the decision to part from my farming endeavor in December of 2012, I was offered new teaching opportunities. Suddenly, just when it would have been time to begin my farm planning for 2013, I had no time left in my new schedule to manage the high tunnel.  Things were aligning and I felt confirmed in my decision.

Let me say, it wasn’t a quick decision; Jim and I talked about it for months, and since she’s really my baby, I had to be sure myself and know it was right and feel ok about letting go. Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

Irrigation HubSo at the end of 2012, we put the tunnel on Craig’s List. As I sat looking through files of receipts, old emails, and lists of parts and purchases, trying to organize the items to sell, I was reminded of just how much Jim has put into this project. His hours of research to find the perfect pump, his DIY designs on the vents, the pump box, the misters, the raised beds, the greens table, those crazy end-wall footings composed of Simpson strong ties, bolts, screws, trex decking boards, rebar, and wood, his many trips to hardware stores in the area, his research and purchase of gardening books for me, and his months and months of labor to build me the structure.


2011 MagicI remember right around the time we first moved here was the same time a commercial farmer began growing in the fields around our house. One afternoon we watched a big tractor mow right over our future high tunnel spot in preparation to plant corn or soy there. Jim threw on his shoes and ran out and politely let the farmer know that he had promised to build his girl a greenhouse and that was our spot. (thank you very much)  The next day Jim mowed a neat rectangle and carved out an area around what would become the high tunnel's home. Perhaps in the rush of building, growing, selling, I had taken his efforts for granted, or simply failed to remember how much he had put into the project, and all for me. It was eye-opening and I think it was important to be reminded of the process that not just I have participated in, but that he has as well, both as a team and the components that were done on our own.


Adam Soon after we put the tunnel on Craig’s List, we made an offer to Joshua Farm. They had been on my heart as a place I’d like the tunnel to live in the future because: 1) they are urban and I immensely admire my urban counterparts, 2) they are woman-run (hell yeah!), 3) they are local (hooray!) and 4) I just really like Kirsten and all the people over there. Joshua Farm decided to purchase all of the interior components of the structure: irrigation, raised beds, soil, etc. Within a few days of that agreement, we received 5+ emails inquiring about selling just the structure, the frame… the only thing we had left! It was perfect. I decided to respond to an interested party because he determinedly pestered me with emails from his iPhone, “please let me know!” “I’m very interested!”.

Tunnel DownHe and his friend came out the following weekend, decided within 15 minutes that he wanted to buy the tunnel, and we made the sale. It was seamless and joyful, and the really moving part for me is that this guy is 20 years old, recently graduated with a horticulture degree, and grew up on a farm. Small farms in America are going away, they say, and isn’t that what historians think may be partially responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire? Yikes. (I had some feelings of guilt about this as I made the decision to end my farming hobby.) So this enthusiastic young kid bought our tunnel. He’s going to grow saplings and he’s excited about it. Of course being the nerd that I am, I went and found his address on Google Earth and our fair Gothic Plant Cathedral will be re-erected on a lovely farm outside of Hazelton, PA. I think she’ll be happy in her new home.

Tunnel DownIt’s really quite wild and oddly liberating and of course, a little emotional. We watched our tunnel roll away in 3 trucks and 1 trailer and the convoy turned right as it left the driveway. This was symbolic for us. Everyone goes left out of the driveway, out to the highway. The high tunnel came in from the left. And as though she were continuing some cycle of her journey, she exited to the right, to the east. The tunnel was taken down on the first day of the Chinese New Year… year of the water snake. A time of shedding? I’d say. Our final decision came around the end of the Mayan calendar, which promises change, enlightenment, and awakening. A shift in time. We are feeling that personally. And it’s not a bad feeling; there isn’t an empty void. Like any good Aquarius, I have faith in change. It’s one of life’s greatest gifts. As Kirsten from Joshua Farm put it, the view outside my window “is shockingly different!”

seedsThere are three things I've found that are the most difficult since all of this has happened. The first is telling people. Sharing my story and then trying to explain our decision. The second experience I had was just yesterday when I began sorting out seeds to give away. My seeds are kept in an over-the-door shoe hanger that Jim bought for seed packet organization. As I pulled them out and laid them in piles across the table ("for mom", "for dad", "for Tara", "for Kirsten"), I felt my eyes grow teary. "I'm really not growing this year," I thought to myself. 


Mantis on MarigoldThe last and most vexing part are those times, like when I'm watching TED Talk videos on "Beasts, Bugs, and Biowilderment", when I'm reminded of the connections I had to pollinating insects, hummingbirds, growth cycles, birth and death, and the biological activities of the soil and earth, through the high tunnel. I felt as though I were a tiny link, but a link nonetheless, in connecting one generation of monarch butterflies to the next, of helping protect a dozen or more cocoons of thousands of praying mantises, of being part of the biodiversity of 5 raised beds of loved soil. I have always wished I had studied science and botany in college. But, who knows what the future holds? The grass doesn't grow long under my feet. And opportunities will present themselves along the way. That, I am sure of.

Bees 2009What will I do with all my free time? Teach more, revamp my classes, learn how to use my new Nikon, blog more, maybe take piano lessons, perhaps take another beekeeping class and maybe have my own hives, and we’re thinking of hatching more chicks this spring so we can continue the line of our French Black Copper Marans chickens who produce those gorgeous dark chocolate, speckled eggs. Our rooster Don Juan will be 2 in June and while he’s still loving the girls relentlessly and we have fertile eggs, we want to hatch another batch. Stay tuned.



January 2013 EggDon Juan

Thanks for reading. 


The First Muse and Jim too! :)