February 2016
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Backyard Harmony Dirt Farm & Mosaics – Potter Valley, California

I spent just over a week on the road before coming to this beautiful place. The drive into southern California and north past San Francisco was simply amazing. I will be recounting a few of my stops during this time in later posts. For now, I’ll keep it with the farm theme.

My first impressions of this property were very different from any before. If you don’t know much about California climate around the end of April just know that it is VERY dry. The overall color of the terrain was golden brown. Everywhere else I’d been was on the east coast. Almost all had a problem with too much water. Here it was the opposite. I was about to learn just what that meant.

My accommodations were very simple. A bed in the back of a renovated garage partially used for storage. It was relatively clean and I didn’t mind after not having a bed for the majority of the trip out there. The food provided came from the farm as well as the local town.

The length of my stay here was just over 3 weeks, giving me the opportunity to fall into daily routines and actually see a few projects through. Elizabeth and her friend, Will, lived in the main house inside a fence that surrounded the small orchard, garden, and connected to a larger sheep pen. Every day the sheep were let out and allowed to roam the majority of the property. The garden required watering on a daily basis, usually in the mornings. The other Wwoofer, Ryan, had been there a couple weeks before me and helped me get the daily routine down in just a couple mornings. Chicken eggs were also collected in the mornings but a check was needed in the evenings since they roamed free on the property and didn’t always like to cooperate on timing.

Other tasks included working in the garden and planting for spring. Small potted plants were purchased for transplanting and open spots were made in the beds to receive them. The water used in the garden was a combination of water caught and grey water coming from the sink in the kitchen. Because no harmful chemicals were ever used, the water was safe to hydrate the soil with. The orchard and greenhouse just above it were watered with rain water caught from the hillside.

Ryan and I worked together most days to accomplish whatever needed to happen next. Our main task over a week or so was to clear fencing going through the woods and stretch new fencing along the posts that were already there. Since I had done this a couple times before it didn’t seem like a difficult job to complete. In just a few days we could clear the old wire and stretch the new fence the couple hundred yards, completing a very important section of the new sheep pen. What I didn’t know was what we had to cut and clear from the woods.

I’ve known for a very long time that poison ivy has a profound negative effect when it comes in contact with my skin. I can remember many times getting poison ivy and only knowing days later when the rash formed or my eyes were swollen shut. Poison oak was something new to me and identifying it wasn’t always easy. What was also new to me was that it didn’t grow the same way poison ivy does. Instead of growing as a smaller vine, poison oak can grow to be as large as a small tree. This is what we were dealing with and it was only after a few days that I realized how bad it would actually be. I noticed a small spot on my arm at first and didn’t think much of it. Two days later it had spread to the majority of my left arm, my face, and small patches over my body. It was quite possibly one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my entire trip. It took almost two full weeks to clear up and since then I’ve been much more aware of how to identify and stay away from it.

Only about half of our time was spent working outside on the farm. The other part of our work was helping Elizabeth with her art and mosaics. She is a highly recognized mosaic artist in this country and many others and has a separate building on the property just for her work. A couple days out of each week were spent going to elementary schools in Ukiah to help the kids cut and design tiles for a themed mosaic. Working with children is always a good opportunity to remember the subtle beauties in life. Ryan and I enjoyed working with them very much and by the time we both left we had the opportunity to see one all the way to completion.

For anyone interested in art as well as farming, this is a great place to be. The people were wonderful and the weather was gorgeous. It even rained while I was there! The next stop was the last I had planned on my trip before going home. As it turns out, that is now where I live.

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2 comments to Backyard Harmony Dirt Farm & Mosaics – Potter Valley, California

  • Jono

    Hey Will! I’m on the same farm in Willits I found myself right after leaving Potter Valley. It’s been two years, just like that! Last time I talked to Ryan he was in school in Chicago. It was nice hearing from you and I hope you’re well!

  • Will

    Good to see you in print, Jono! Where are you now? Where the heck is Ryan? I’m in Maine again, long story. Anyway, how cool that we have this record!

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