Five Farms in Essenstadt Ohio

Meyer Farm is on a rise overlooking the others in town, not in judgment; modest; self conscious, trying to shy away.  It has haphazard stone walls, or paths or a labyrinth: depending on where and who you are.  If you are a goose, flying with your geese, the piles of stone become lines and look like the earth has cracked and crazed.  If you are a woodrat, you see with your nose, an easily trailed scent where birds and bugs and moles have left their history tucked beneath pieces of granite and quarts giving a heady, rich scent; dead things and live things mingle.  If you are a farmer walking his acre, it’s a frustrating place and you pick and hurl the rocks that seem to come endlessly from the earth, without end, so you wonder if you are harvesting rocks.  If you are walking by, or driving by on the road, you see braids of rocks lying across the land.  You also see crops.  If you were a thief, coming to steal food, say, the strawberries, the manic rock trails would trip you up: cut and break you.  If it was daylight and you were the harvester of all these gardens, and it was a good day, a day overcast and cool a change of day from other days because you knew you wouldn’t be sweating straight through your clothes, you could eat and graze as you harvested between the maddening stones and be content for a few hours that you had help feed this posse.

The farmhouse stretches long; an add-on house wandering like a weasel trying to catch its own tail.  Some rooms are rotting away, the roof fallen in.  Plastic or board or even long tails of grass are heaped upon the holes in the roof, making it a passageway, to another room.  There’s somewhat of a summer kitchen and a winter kitchen and a storage barn for the food (which is the best kept and closed room – see it there?  The one where the large spotted dog is sleeping on the door sill, sunning himself, but you know that dog – you do.  One foot placed in its direction and the large head will rise up and… decide.)

Jargon’s Farm rests on a hilly wavy land, as if the ocean passed a gentle wave and left its mold on the earth and the farmhouse was a ship, holding on.  It’s on a watery then dry patch of land and Jargon’s unwilling to surrender to the lands curvy figure; trying to box it in, force it into a girdle of raised garden boxes.  The boxes tumble first one way then another, the water from the valleys of the waves flood the soil and the rises dry the tops, so that the only thing that truly grows well are the weeds.  His house was built in an equally stubborn manner, unyielding.  Even though the Jargons built the house, they can not control its decision, and it has eased into the bosom of the land and now waves with it, the floors that rise up and down in the kitchen (Farmer Jargon cursing as he walks uphill to the kitchen sink), the windows that can no long be open because the sills rest up or down in a slight wink from their panes,  the front stairs split then rested in sags or cracks.   Still, the house, from far away has a dear embraceable look, more sensible than all the stiff boxes, because it’s surrendered to the land.

Che Che’s farm looks foreign in this American land: you discern some other country’s logic and art.  Her family chose the highest spot because it was the cheapest land.  That was all they could afford but they had hope, it tilting clefts toward town, but remaining aloof and superior.   A forest of out-of-place bamboo stands stiff on the northern side.  There are no straight American rows or strict confining boxes.  The plants follow the land like braided corn rows on a head.  Sideways, sideways, sideways they turn with the land that’s way up forcing your chin up, holding the soil with their horizontal grip.  Oddly stones stay where they are: plants are simply interspersed amongst their impositions.  From your spot on the road, it doesn’t look like a farm at all: it looks like a mountain meadow.  There are many out buildings, and the main house is small with large sliding doors made of bamboo (which grows quickly and anywhere with its persistent shallow roots).  These doors are open or shut depending on the weather and the job at hand.  Work and life flows in and out of the farmhouse like a stream, closing up for the night, open during a summer day.  In the winter great sheaves of bamboo and straw seal some of the doors shut for the long cold nap.     There are two long haired cows whose manure is piled against a cement block wall that acts as a massive wall of warmth and when the spring comes, it is fed to the soil that grows the grass that feeds the cows.

Jonathan Storley’s farm was stolen, stolen from a suffering uninformed gullible family forced to pay off debt and he usurped it as you would rape a bride.  He has taken the house, and made it his proudly own with perfect clapboard, a picturebook wrap around porch, sheep so snowy white they look like they bathe every night and a garden, ah the garden.  Nothing dares to be out of place in that garden.  Every path knows its course, every plant know what it must do – or else.  The Storley family works day and night to keep this almost imaginery farm appearing as if the family was a group of supermen.  It is one child’s and one dog’s job to take all the stones and throw them into a specific pile in the woods.  It’s become a mountain and the poor child and the poor dog (there’s been several hump backed children and dogs) who drag this dross off to the pile and then up it.  All the Storley’s are stooped and sore so they cannot stand proud and insolent.  All the Storley’s think their farm, of course is the best, and all the Storely’s look down on their neighbors’ lack of ambition.

The Smithson farm is a hidden farm.  You won’t see it from the road if you are going to fast, if your mind is thinking on other things.  You have to work to see the Smithson farm.  The house is set way back from the road, and their driveway curves.   All you think you’re seeing are woods, but it’s really food.  The bushes are blueberry, and currants and the canes of raspberries and blackberries (don’t try to sneak on the lot there with those blackberries in the dark  – they’ll bit you and catch you like a thousand needles), and the trees are wild nut trees, walnuts and hazelnuts and strawberries line the feet of the bushes, wild grapes clot the trees.   As you head around the turns in the road, chickens run wild while quail and rabbits are cloistered in large homemade stick cages.  The gossip in town is that they take the chickens, quails and rabbits into the house if the weather becomes poorly.

The Smithson farmhouse is made of any type of plastic, wood, boxes, pallets, broken tile, car parts, tin cans and broken bottles, mosaic style in a house that you are not sure if it’s art or madness.  Windows of all ilk and shape are haphazardly placed about like they were flung on by a random hand.  You can’t tell how many floors there are in the farmhouse because of their wicked randomness.

The Smithson’s are the only ones around with a sprouting garden.  There plants are allowed to bolt; to grow until they reach the point of seed emission; they pop.  These are collected, harvested for the winter months and when soaked, create seedlings which have an enormous amount of punch for their size, protein and nutrients in a natural seed packet.    After the plants reach their climax and most of the seed is harvested, the chickens are encouraged to visit the beds and they in turn clean up all the debris: the plant husks, the leftover seed, the roots, and bugs and pests.  The rabbit and quail cages and placed like hats over the gardens to further fertilize the soil and a more perfect fertilizer could not be bought.  You rarely see the Smithson’s: they are really a commune of sorts of several families.  They are helpful when asked, silent when not, and they look to be the worst dressed and best fed of the entire village.