Saturday, July 1, 2006

We are cleaning up the farm for our festivity tomorrow. We hope that many of you can make your way out to Frog Holler, perhaps some of you for the first time. Even if the weather threatens, we can move the food and festivities into our "party barn", as my three-year-old buddy, Arianna, calls it.

The Party Barn is the latest incarnation of a building that has served in previously much more work-oriented capacities. When we moved to Frog Holler, the barn was a big, beautiful classic animal barn, with a huge haymow and stalls for draft horses in the lower floor. Apparently, Frog Holler had been a working orchard with trees planted in the 1940's by Dr. Gesell. (See "History" for more background on Dr. Gesell. Also the June 11 Frog Log.)

When the Gesells were no longer involved, one of their caretakers kept sheep on the farm. Apparently he had an innovative idea for managing the sheep. He kept them in the former horse stalls, but he never got around to cleaning those stalls! When we moved in, the entire lower floor of the barn had become, I kid you not, a chest-high layer of compressed sheep manure. Well, this turned into gold for us. We had the youth and strength to get pickaxes and shovels and remove every smidgen of that valuable waste. We spread it on the garden and, I believe, are still reaping the benefits, after thirty-five years, of our former tenant's lack of industry.

Then the barn burned. That was a black day. The stone foundation stayed intact and we were able to rebuild a still classic looking but smaller barn on the same site. Ken designed this barn to house the cider-pressing operation that we were just starting up. Perhaps because we had those old apple trees on the land - the ones planted in the 40's but now gnarly and overgrown - we thought we would just pick the apples and make cider. Easy! We found a very old commercial cider press, set it up, and then realized that thirty-year-old untended apple trees don't really produce many apples! So we bought an even older truck (1948 Ford flatbed painted red, white and blue by the former owner) and Ken scoured Southeast Michigan for apples that we could press. As we usually do things, our cider pressing operation was small, very hands-on, and made very high quality cider.

But it was hard work. The truck and machinery were prone to breakdowns (and mechanics would shake their heads when Ken drove in with that rig). The barn was unheated and with water constantly spraying on the apples to clean them, it got pretty nippy in the winters. And it isn't easy to single-handedly wrestle with fifteen-bushel boxes of apples. So we added a few years to Ken's life when we stopped pressing cider. But we still have customers coming to our market stall and wistfully asking if we will start pressing again. It was very tasty cider!

We were able to stop pressing cider when we became more adept gardeners and Cathy started teaching yoga. We are thankful to the cider-pressing years because as a "day job," it supported us so that we could stay on the farm and learn how to grow things. But Ken never looked back when we stopped. So we scraped all the apple crud off the barn walls and floor a few summers back, set up the sound system for musicians and held a big party to re-christen the barn into its new life. Please join us on July 2. See the gardens, woods and pond at Frog Holler - and the Party Barn!


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Holler Fest 2016
August 26-28