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.



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.