Ghostwood Farm


All I ever wanted was to be your spine.
February 27, 2018, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Kids, Music

IMGP9525.JPGI travel for my job. Not a lot, but maybe six weeks a year, I am gone. This puts a strain on my wife, especially in the winter–dealing with chicken water, freezing eggs, two kids, three dogs…it’s a pain.

I am grateful to her for taking that on for me, because the part of my job where I travel is the most important part of my job (and my favorite part, too). I get to collaborate with colleagues from all over North America in fun places. If you’re one of the three people that regularly reads this, you will know that I travel and that I tend to meet new and interesting people.

That’s not what this post is about.

Ten years ago tomorrow, I missed one of only two meetings I’ve missed in my 13 year career. I missed it because my son was likely to be born that week. He was due February 28th, and he showed up that day.

As I write this, I am in Orange Beach, Alabama. I just got back from a long walk to get oysters. My hotel room’s patio door is open, and the Gulf of Mexico is pounding right outside my oceanview room. When I am done writing this, I will take my new guitar down to the beach and play Eric Bachmann songs in the dark. It’s a beautiful night and being here is a pure pleasure.

But The Boy turns double-digits tomorrow, and for the second year in a row, I am missing it. And I’d rather be in cold southern Indiana tonight so I could be there when he wakes up.

Did I ever tell you this story?

We had a summer meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in July 2010. The Boy was 2 1/2. I was eating breakfast in the Admiral Semmes Hotel with my colleagues when Melissa called me. She said that The Boy had something to tell me. He got on the phone, and sang me “Web In Front” by Archers of Loaf. Now, I will be the first to tell you that one shouldn’t have a favorite song, but that’s mine. I had to get up quickly from breakfast and leave the room because I was bawling like a baby. It is one of my fondest memories.

I am so proud of the young man he is becoming. I am proud of his voracious hunger for learning. I am proud that he is learning self-control. I am proud that he is athletic and fearless and outspoken. I am even proud that he’s pigheaded and stubborn. I can’t remember what my life was like before he showed up ten years ago, but I know he made it better. Happy birthday, Boyo. Make it a great one and I’ll see you Friday.

 

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The lowest part is free.
February 2, 2018, 9:29 am
Filed under: Farming

The following statement will be delivered to Hodge Patel, a member of Senator Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN) staff, on my behalf.

My name is Adam Phelps, and 2018 will be my seventh season growing vegetables, fruit, eggs, and poultry at Ghostwood Farm, in northern Lawrence County. I apologize for not being able to speak with you in person, but unfortunately, I, like more than half of the farmers in the US, work a job in addition to farming.

I began the farm with the following ideals:

That a Small Farm Renaissance could provide people with locally grown, high-quality food, thereby improving local economies, local health, and reducing the pollution that comes along with long-distance shipping.

That my children should know that food does not come from a grocery store, but is grown in soil by real people, who work hard to feed the world.

That quality food should be available to everyone, regardless of income.

And that I could help those things happen while making a living doing it.

Like most small farmers, I have learned that is not the case. Last year, we nearly broke even for the first time. I recognize that there are startup costs to any business, and a farm, even a small one, requires sizable initial investments. But please keep in mind that when I say we nearly broke even, that only includes covering our costs: It does not include any compensation, any wages, for the time we spend farming. We give our time away to grow food.

I find myself in a classic catch-22 situation: I think I could make a living at farming if I could work at it full-time. However, I can’t afford to quit my job to farm full-time without already making money at the farm. So I’m stuck in between.

Most weekdays, mid-April through mid-September, I go to work at my main job, pick up our two kids, and feed them dinner. Then I work on the farm–planting, weeding, harvesting–until dark. Luckily, I am able to work all my hours at my other job in four days, so I have Fridays off to work on the farm. I take two weeks of vacation every May to do the main planting. And I farm on Saturdays and Sundays, too, taking valuable time away from my family. My kids, 7 and 9, are already starting to talk about how I am about to become too busy to play with them because farm season is coming.

One way to break out of this cycle that we have been exploring is to seek 501c(3) nonprofit status. We have, over the past three years, shifted our focus from growing to sell to growing to donate. We have donated thousands of plant starts to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and hundreds of pounds of produce to Hoosier Hills Food Bank, and we work with those organizations to intentionally provide the kinds of plants and produce their clients most need. With nonprofit status, we would be eligible for grants, and people could write off donations to us. This could be the source of the relatively small influx of cash we need to make the infrastructure improvements  our farm needs to be more productive with less work, but that we cannot afford when we are just breaking even.

Then, the 2017 tax bill came along. With the rise in the standard deduction being likely to cause far fewer people to itemize, charitable donations will drop nationwide. We have had to re-think our calculus regarding nonprofit status, because that world, always uncertain, was just rendered even more challenging by this devastating legislation.

I do not like to complain, and I am not a greedy person. I love being able to grow what people need and give it to them. I choose to do this. But there is something wrong with a system in which commodity crops are heavily subsidized and farmers growing actual food struggle, a system in which people struggling with poverty also have to struggle with nutrition because quality food is out of their reach. This is an unjust system that doesn’t make sense on its face.

But it is within your power to affect some change. The 2017 Farm Bill can include grants, cost shares, and low-interest loans for small farmers, beginning farmers, minority farmers. Money that is desperately needed for equipment, infrastructure, and conservation practices. Incentives to grow food for people, rather than commodities for markets. Incentives to farm sustainably, without chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Incentives to prioritize local food over industrial “organic.” Local food connects neighbors and builds economies while helping people make healthy food choices. In all of the tremendous budget in this bill, surely this must be a priority.

We, the small farmers of this country, we can help save the world. Really. Please help us do it. Nutritious food should not be a luxury, and those who grow it should not have to choose between growing food and making a living.

Thank you for your time.



January 12, 2018, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized



George and Frank. And George again.
July 23, 2017, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

One

Not long after we moved to Bloomington, the Monroe County Library put on a program about Iwo Jima. Being extremely interested in military history (especially the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my grandfather served throughout the war), we attended.

The program consisted of two veterans of the battle (Frank and George), talking about their experiences. It was, as you might expect, harrowing and powerful to listen to these two gentlemen discuss their experiences.

At the end of the program, Frank said something I hope I never forget (I have to paraphrase, of course). He was crying as he told the crowd that he was afraid to face God, because the Bible clearly says “Thou shalt not kill,” and he had killed a lot of men.

I was so angry, even as I cried for him. Here was a man who was nearly 90, afraid to die because he thought God would be disappointed in him or angry with him. This is the power of religion, folks. But I digress.

Two

When I was in college (in the early 1990s, so forever ago, now), I knew a guy (Ben) who had been in rabbinical school in Israel. We had a class together (plant taxonomy, I think). He told me once, as he described how he realized he didn’t believe in God, that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a mistranslation. Anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that the Hebrew God wasn’t exactly pro-life. Ben told me that the correct translation is “Thou shalt not murder.”

Murdering is obviously a subset of killing (all murders are killings but not all killings are murders).  But a prohibition against murder is not a prohibition against killing.

As I sat in the library that day, watching Frank talk, I just wanted to tell him what Ben had told me eleven years earlier, abut murder and killing. Because most likely what Frank did on Iwo Jima was not murder. Not that it isn’t possible, I suppose, but killing in battle to save your life and the lives of your comrades? That is not murder.

But I didn’t tell him that. Who was I to do so? Why would he have believed me? I have always regretted not talking to him, just on the off chance that I could have eased his mind.

Three

Fast forward a few years. When Melissa was pregnant with Iain, we took a birth class at a local organization called Bloomington Area Birth Services (BABS). After the first class, I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into–buncha damn hippies! But by the end of the series, we learned a tremendous amount, made some friends, and came to see just how important the organization was to the community.

The founder and executive director of BABS came to be a great friend of ours. Georg’ann is passionate about helping families have the healthiest babies possible and giving mothers a voice in their own healthcare–rather, ensuring that they know how powerful their voices are. She is fierce in her advocacy. She is also kind and remarkably generous. Funny. Sarcastic. Tremendous fun to be around. Long story short, she has become one of my favorite people in the world, and I don’t say that lightly.

Four

A few years after our second, Alexandra, was born, Georg’ann and I were chatting. I can’t remember how it came up (probably something historical I posted on Facebook), but she mentioned that her dad was at Iwo Jima. I was dumbfounded.

“Your dad was in the Fifth Marine Division at Iwo Jima.”

“Yep. He lives in North Carolina. He gives talks about his experiences there with his friend Frank. They gave a talk here a few years ago.”

Ever the slow one, I finally put two and two together: My good friend Georg’ann’s dad was one of the Marines I saw talk at the library.

What are the chances?

While I don’t remember the details, George was coming to visit not long afterward. We made arrangements for Georg’ann, her husband David, and George to come to the farm for dinner. I made a venison pot roast. We had a nice dinner, and then George talked about Iwo. I am sure it was his “spiel,” but it was really important to me that the kids hear what he had to say. Alexandra was too young to get anything out of it (probably for the best), and Iain (to my great disappointment) does not remember the conversation. But I remember.

I don’t want to project, but my assumption is that George and Frank gave these presentations to people not simply to contribute to the historical knowledge of what they did. It was to deal with what they did. It was, to use a cliché, to exorcise the demons of Iwo Jima that they had lived with for decades. I hope they were successful.

Five

We had dinner at Georg’ann’s Friday night. George had recently returned home from a  trip to Guam and Iwo Jima. Georg’ann said he was in no shape to make the trip but wouldn’t be deterred. While in Guam, he fell in the bathroom and cracked his head on the tile. He had a rough flight home and was doing quite badly by the time he arrived stateside.

We received word this morning that George was taken to the ICU last night with pneumonia. He died early this morning. He was 93.

George was not my dad. If he was, I don’t know how I would have felt about him taking that trip to the Pacific in his condition. But as someone who admired him, I am grateful he was able to go. And why not? He wasn’t going to ever be in better shape to go. He lived on his own terms to the end, and good for him.

I understand that Frank died a few years ago. There are so few WWII veterans left. One of my great regrets (if one can regret something that one has no control over) is that my maternal grandfather died while Melissa was pregnant with Iain, so they never got to meet.

I don’t really have an overarching thought to wrap this up. George would object to being called a hero, but I don’t really care–he was. They all were. Going through what they went through makes them heroes. But you know what?

He raised a hero, too. As the director of BABS, Georg’ann empowered so many families to speak up for themselves and have their babies on their terms with the most knowledge she could impart to them. What she did as part of BABS was beyond measure to all of us who benefited from that organization. And she continues to be an advocate in our community for justice. She is a strong, fearless voice, and I can’t help but think that George lives on in her spirit.

I am proud to have met your dad, Georg’ann. He was a good man. And I am in your debt for helping me to expose my son to his experiences. But I am in his debt, not just for the ordeal he endured for us, but for giving us you. I love you, I hope your dad is at peace, and I hope your memories of him bring you peace and joy.

EDITS:

Here’s a link to an interview with George at the WWII Memorial:

Here is a brief record of the 13th Marines at Iwo Jima. George was in the 4th Battalion.

http://www.recordsofwar.com/iwo/5thmardiv/13thMar.htm

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The pitch.
May 12, 2017, 10:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ghostwood Farm LLC was founded in 2012. We are a small vegetable, fruit, and poultry farm, with one acre in production (and plans to expand to about 2 ½ acres, including an orchard, in the near future). Our one production acre is within a 6’ high electrified fence to exclude deer. Currently, we have two asparagus beds (500 plants) and a 24’x 96’ bed of strawberries. We also have 17 annual beds, each of which is 8’x100’. One of these is being converted to a perennial wildflower and herb bed to attract pollinators, with plans to convert an additional bed to perennials next year. We also have a poultry house in a converted horse stable. The birds are outside on pasture frequently, though not as frequently as we would like due to predator problems.

Just as important to us as our production area, we have about 20 acres of fairly rugged woods and an 8 acre prairie planting that is in a conservation easement. The prairie was designed to provide pollinator habitat in summer and songbird habitat throughout the year, including providing food over winter. Longer-term plans include incorporating an environmental education portion to our mission, focusing on how food production can be most wildlife-friendly.

Our draft articles of incorporation state that, “The specific purposes of the Corporation are to increase food security and independence in southern Indiana through 1) growing garden plants, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and poultry (hereafter “produce”) and providing these to residents of southern Indiana, and 2) cooperating and developing educational opportunities. Both will be primarily and whenever possible distributed through cooperation with other local nonprofit agencies. The Corporation will be funded through grants, donations, and sales of produce (both regular price and sliding-scale) through on-farm and farmer’s market sales.”

We are pursuing 501(c)(3) status because we want to use the farm to help our community. Over the past few years, we have been donating more and more to local food banks (Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard). This year, we will have donated over 1200 plant starts to MHC to distribute to their clients to put in their own gardens, and last year we donated nearly 900 pounds of fresh produce to HHFB (our goal this year is one ton). We are intentionally planting produce this year that HHFB has requested as most useful to them and most needed by their clients.

We plan to distribute food primarily through HHFB. They serve Monroe and surrounding counties. We will also be actively searching for partnerships within Lawrence County for food distribution, since our farm is located in Lawrence County and we feel it is an underserved community. We want to work with HHFB in part because their distribution network includes Lawrence County. Consultation with HHFB’s leadership indicates that a partnership in our county could be mutually beneficial. However, we are also open to partnerships in other parts of southern Indiana as we are able to expand our offerings. No formal agreements are in place yet. However, we are in frequent communication with both MHC and HHFB as we develop our mission statement and bylaws. Our plans are to use the distribution networks of these established organizations to reach the most people effectively. We plan to reach out to Lawrence County providers (food banks, primarily) to determine whether other collaborative opportunities exist.

We find that, so far, we have not been able to make any money through the farm. However, we believe that a relatively small influx of capital (>$30,000), raised through donations and grants, can help us build infrastructure that will allow the farm to be far more productive. These improvements would include an orchard (with deer fencing), weed eradication, adding brambles and grapes to our fruit plantings, high tunnels, raising some of the beds, amending soil, an irrigation system, and reducing predation losses through better fencing for the poultry while on pasture. This would not only improve productivity in terms of quantity and quality, it would also extend the season during which we can grow and make production more predictable, opening a potential opportunity for starting a community supported agriculture (CSA) program in the future.

Additional, medium-term future plans include integrating gardening education into our mission to help families learn to grow their own food. We hope to cooperate in this with established organizations, such as MHC, who already offer such opportunities in Monroe County. We would like to incorporate what there is to learn from their experiences and help to “recruit” new gardeners in our area.

We do not currently have any employees (and have no plans for any). Compensation for the executive director in the short term would be limited to produce, with a longer-term goal (~10 years) of developing enough income for the farm that the ED could take a salary to work for the non-profit full-time. An additional benefit of achieving 501(c)(3) status is that it would open up a pool of volunteers within the Bloomington (and hopefully Lawrence County) community who could be available for short-term assistance (one-day projects, for instance).

We have applied to the Indiana University Nonprofit Legal Clinic for pro bono assistance with the application process. We are now awaiting an appointment to speak with them, which should be forthcoming shortly. Their assistance would be invaluable with filing for our status. In addition, we are hoping for some advice on how to handle some potential complications. The most important one is that the land used for the farm is our personal home, so determining how legally to lease, rent, or loan the land (and all the equipment) to the new nonprofit will be critical.

In terms of the Board, what we really need are members with experience getting a nonprofit through those first few hurdles who are willing to respect the ED’s vision of what the farm should be. I am considering whether the initial Board members should be limited to terms of less than one year, with evaluation and reconsideration once we achieve legal status. At that time, the Board would likely be reorganized to include members with fundraising experience and a passion for alleviating food insecurity. This will not be a large budget operation, at least in the short to medium term, but someone with accounting experience (and credentials) would be extremely helpful in bringing the ED up to speed with what is required on that front.

We sincerely appreciate your interest in our project and gratefully welcome any comments, suggestions, or questions you may have. Thank you.



A letter to my kids.
April 10, 2017, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My friend Diana is leading a project in which people are submitting reflections on a given topic (The Bridge Project). Many of these reflections will be published in a book and on an associated website (not yet developed–I will post a link when it is). I wrote the following open letter to my kids about sex as my contribution in the “Family and Relationships” section.

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This is a difficult (but important) letter to write. Sex is fun. It feels good. That’s why you seek it. There are things you should know, though. Some of those things I can tell you and some of them are things you have to find out for yourself. Sex is one of the most important parts of any long-term relationship and is a basic human need. I will tell you what I can.

#1. Sex requires consent. Everything you do with a partner needs the consent of both of you. Nonconsensual sexual contact isn’t sex, it is assault. Only “yes” means “yes.” Ask. Over and over. Always. If you mean “No,” say “no”. Be assertive, be respected, and be respectful. Have fun, and be safe.

#2. Sex is normal. It is not dirty (sweaty and messy, maybe). It is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone’s idea of sex is different. Have fun, and be safe.

#3. Communication is very important. “That feels good.” “That hurts.” “I want to try something.” Everyone’s idea of sex is different. Have fun, and be safe.

#4. There are things that can hurt you in sex. There are diseases you can get from unprotected sex, and of course, pregnancy can be a life-altering result. You can get these diseases from oral sex, too. Have fun, but be safe. Condoms are not negotiable and are your responsibility. You may find that the emotions involved in sex can be intense and confusing and, sometimes, hurtful. Have fun, and be safe.

#5. Sex is a collaboration. If one of you is not having fun and receiving pleasure, fix it. Communication is very important. Respect your partner and their needs, but don’t give up your own opportunity for pleasure. Have fun, and be safe.

#6. Alcohol and sex can be a difficult combination. Alcohol removes inhibitions and clouds judgment. Be careful, be assertive, have fun, and be safe.

#7. The best sex grows out of the intimacy of a long-term relationship. The better you know your partner, the more trust and respect there tends to be. But sex doesn’t have to come out of a long-term relationship. Sex doesn’t have to mean anything. But the best sex strengthens a relationship. Have fun, and be safe.

#8. Self-awareness is important. You can’t tell a partner what you like if you don’t know what you like. It can take a long time to discover these things with a partner, especially with a partner who is also new to sex. So, experiment by yourself. There is nothing wrong with masturbation. Most people do it. It’s a great way to find out what you enjoy. It should be private, but not shameful. Have fun, and be safe.

Your decisions are your own. There are a lot of people who will tell you that teens should never have sex, that they can’t be trusted with new hormones running through their bodies. Nonsense. You are going to have physical contact with other people, hopefully people you care about. You need to be aware of important aspects of sex before you start. Other aspects you will figure out. You can always ask me or your mom any questions. About anything. Just remember:

Sex requires consent. Sex is normal. Communication is very important. There are things that can hurt you in sex. Sex is a collaboration. Alcohol and sex can be a difficult combination. The best sex grows out of the intimacy of a long-term relationship. Self-awareness is important.

I love you.

Have fun, and be safe. Be safe. Keep yourself and your partner safe. And make sure you both have fun.



Changes
February 18, 2017, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We have been here at Ghostwood Farm for almost seven years now. We incorporated right away, though we took the easiest possible route. Legally, the farm itself is what is known as a single member LLC, which means that doing  our taxes is easy: We just include farm expenditures and income in our personal tax return. 

The farm has never made a profit, in any year (and CERTAINLY not over all years). In 2016, we were about $450 in the red (our best year!). However, we donated about $2000 worth of food to charities last year. That charitable aspect has become more and more important to us as we have developed over the past few years.

It appears that we have decided to become far more intentional about alleviating food insecurity (and increasing food independence) in southern Indiana by moving forward with incorporating as a 501(c)3 non-profit public service corporation. 

As we move forward into this process, I will be writing here more. I will explain why we are taking this step and explaining how our approach has evolved (and will evolve) as we focus more fully on feeding people. I will talk about the process from my perspective as a complete beginner. Hopefully, I won’t have to talk about how awful the experience is!

For now, I will just say that we will be exploring partnerships with existing charities that have been dealing with hunger for decades. We think we can fill a unique niche here by dedicating our production to supplying local nonprofits with high-quality and (what we hope will be) dependable food and garden plants for distribution, as well as an important educational component to help people understand where food comes from, how they can grow their own, and, possibly, the environmental effects of different food choices. 

I have reached out to friends who have contacts in the nonprofit world and I will gratefully continue to count on the support of those who have been through this process. I am excited and terrified, but mostly really really hopeful that changing our organizational structure  (fairly radically) will allow us to greatly expand the positive impact we can have on our community.