Spring and New Beginnings

Farmer Voices

Spring and New Beginnings

By Lauren Rudersdorf | Photos By Lauren Rudersdorf 0

If you ever find yourself in a conversation with a farmer, soil will likely come up more than once. Good, healthy plants begin with good, healthy soil. It is essential. Flavor, quality, yields: they are all affected by the soil beneath the roots. Soil is life. I married a soil scientist. All this I know.

Yet for me there is something that comes first. Something not more essential than the soil of our fields, but something that occurs earlier in time. Before vegetable plants find their permanent home gently nestled into the earth, there is the greenhouse. In February and March while the soil is still frozen, when the ground is still unworkable and often covered with snow, thousands of plants get their start in the greenhouse. Two months of diligent work has been done in the greenhouse before we ever break ground.

The season begins here. The farm begins here. Life begins here.

We may have finally broken ground in the fields last week, but we have spent the past 8 weeks in our new greenhouse. Our greenhouse. Uttering those words is still a bit surreal. We own a greenhouse. We built a greenhouse. We had survived the first three years of our business without owning one: hopping from greenhouse space to greenhouse space, making plants fit where they could, some years in several places, housing the overflow in our home tucked into corners and vacant floor spaces. Chaotic and always inconvenient, it's no way to start your season, at least not with any degree of sanity.

This greenhouse is a big first for us. Not only the first greenhouse we have owned, it is also the first structure we have built on our farm. In fact, it's the first structure my husband has ever built with his own two hands. There was bare land and then there were four walls and now there is a greenhouse built on a corner of the farm where I grew up. On a patch of ground where I played as a child, beside the hill where I built many a snow fort, beside the garden where my mom grew food for our family for 20 years, beside the horse pasture, there is a structure that my husband built: the first space on this corner of my parents' land that truly feels like our own.

Lately the greenhouse is my favorite place to be. Safe and supportive, nurturing and warm, I sit in the greenhouse and let a calm wash over me. I close my eyes, inhale deep and take in the aroma of plants that will soon feed the 75 families who loyally support our farm. 

The view inside our greenhouse looks nice, filled with all the things you'd expect. Pallets are stacked high with dozens of trays perched on top. Young seedlings vary in their phase of growth. Some waiting to germinate beneath rich soil while others have just begun to sprout, their first leaves gently pushing the soil away in search of light. Mature seedlings sit nearby, working tirelessly to grow vigorous roots. Plants are everywhere and the shades of green are mesmerizing. Bags of soil stacked four feet high lay on a pallet in the corner. The plastic ceiling is speckled with water droplets, ripe with new plants' transpiration. Winds rush past at unsettling speeds. The metal frame gently quivers. The fan kicks on every couple of minutes as temperatures rise above 70 degrees. The black landscape fabric on the floor radiates heat. The air smells like new life.

I love the view inside our greenhouse, but to me it looks like much more than a place that houses our spring plants. It looks like love, partnership, hope and possibility. It looks like family. It looks like the next step down the path of a young couple's dream. Our greenhouse not only nurtures our young plants, it nurtures our spirit. It not only marks the beginning of the season ahead, it marks the beginning of becoming a much more serious enterprise: a business where we don't have to rely on the kindness of strangers and some serious finagling to get our farm started each year. A business where we own the structure that brings our farm to life in late winter's frigid temperatures. A business with a future and a purpose. A business that sees a long-term vision for a piece of land that has been in the family for four generations. A business built between a husband and wife, whose divergent talents are their greatest strength.

Our fourth season begins here. Our farm begins here. Our life begins here in this greenhouse.

Never did I imagine I'd be the type of person who gets sentimental about a structure built of steel, plywood and plastic, but try as I might to resist, this new greenhouse of ours continues to pull at my heart. It's our past, present and future packed into one small space, and the possibilities feel endless.

Lauren Rudersdorf owns and operates Raleigh's Hillside Farm outside of Evansville, Wis., with her husband Kyle. Together, they manage four acres of leased family land, growing two acres of vegetables for a CSA and area restaurants. In her free time, Lauren loves to share stories about farming, life and food on her blog, The Leek & The Carrot.

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