A huge part of our business plan in 2011 was teaching on-farm workshops, featuring a variety of homesteading and small farm topics. We filled our website’s calendar up with workshops on soap making, goat care, cheesemaking, permaculture, beer brewing, conscientious cooking with ethical meats, fermenting, making jams and jellies, making homemade bread and fresh butter, canning, pickling, wine-making, making pizza, butchering chickens, and raising turkeys. We had some of the classes themed for special events, like “Beer Brewing and Making Pizza” for Father’s Day, and our CSA members each received 4 passes for workshops as part of their membership, so we anticipated great turnouts. These workshops would be the ultimate value-added product, they would require very little as far as inputs, especially compared to raising animals or vegetables. They would be our serious cash cow! First though, we had to build a place to host these workshops.
Our workshop space had to be safe, strong, sheltered from the elements and close to our house. We had used our hoophouse for harvesting turkeys with our customers the previous fall, and it had worked great, so we thought about putting up a second, smaller one. It would be relatively inexpensive and easy to put up, but we realized it would not be ideal for summer workshops because it would get pretty hot in there during the day. We decided to make a small pole building instead, to the east of our house. It would be 12 feet by 16, and would have a steep shed roof, opening on the longer side to the shaded north. The majority of our beautiful land would be visible from this spot as well, a lovely space to host workshops and teach from. We had to hurry because we had our first classes scheduled for mid-May.
Andrew designed the building to err on the side of safety, using monstrous 6×6’s for the main support poles. Neither of us knew better, other than bigger poles seemed safer. In the end, after struggling with a high water table with mucky clay soil, dealing with an impossibly stupid hand auger, lugging and lifting the extremely heavy poles, hours and days of leveling and tamping and arranging them perfectly, we had a super strong mini-Doomsday-safe framework. Even in a hurricane, the giant poles set down in 4 feet of concrete were not going to go ANYWHERE. The framework of the walls and roof, with the rafters and giant beams, looked like a museum-worthy pergola that I took to calling the Pavilion. For the materials to side and roof it, we bartered with some of our new neighbors for pieces of their old, about to be torn down, barn. We salvaged a truck load of 2 by 8 foot pieces of their hole-ridden tin and sections of old barn doors to re-use as the exterior of our new “workshop pavilion.” It ended up having a rustic feel with the reused materials, the corrugated tin had a beautiful aged patina, despite the holes that let rain dribble down in places, and the heavy sections of the old barn doors that we used on the back of the pavilion were made of gorgeous weathered grey wood. We had a new “old” building!
It turns out we were smart in not building another hoophouse as a workshop space. After getting the Pavilion finished, one chilly May morning, my birthday in fact, I looked out the kitchen window as I drank my coffee and saw how crazily the wind was blowing. The plastic stretched across the hoophouse was making horrible flapping and whipping sounds; the spring winds had shifted and were blowing from the southeast right INTO the opening side of the hoophouse, really exerting their force on the plastic’s points of attachment. I called up the stairs to Andrew that something potentially bad was happening outside, and then I ran outside to inspect whether or not to panic. As he came out, another big gust came and I saw that the wiggle wire track that held the plastic cover in place was getting loosened with the force of the gusts pushing and pulling on the hoop’s plastic hood. Andrew grabbed the drill and we tried to screw in some more lag bolts into the wiggle wire track. We quickly tried to brainstorm- could we secure some sort of rope web over the plastic to hold it down tighter on the steel frame? And then it started to happen…the edge of the wiggle wire track snapped free from the baseboard and started flapping around in the wind, then more of it and more of it. I ran to the end of the 60 foot baseboard, trying to hold the plastic down, because if I let go, the whole plastic piece, over 70 feet by 60, would fly over and off the other side of the 30 foot wide hoophouse. And despite my holding on, my weight was NOTHING to the gusts hitting the plastic, which was more of a sail at this point, a giant plastic sail from which I was dangling at the bottom, trying to hold it down, screaming to Andrew to PLEASE …..HELP…….. MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! But even with our combined weight, the majority of the sail was exposed just perfectly to the gusts, and the plastic could not help itself but go with the momentum. As I was lifted in the air, Andrew hollered at me to just let go so I didn’t go over the hoophouse with the stupid plastic. I let go. We stood, dumbfounded at what had just happened. The massive expanse of very expensive UV stabilized greenhouse plastic had just blown up and over the frame and was now impaled on a 4 story tall poplar tree. Happy Birthday.