Whispering Oaks: A Permaculture Farm, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, is a newly unfolding (ad)venture.  It is a second career, a rebirth even, for this retired pastor and her family.  We had no idea how stewarding God's creation would serve to transform both nature and us.

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Who We Are

The Team
Forming our team (and every permaculture farm needs one) did not involve a selection process for predetermined positions.  I made use of whoever was at hand.  I identified their skills, no matter how seemingly obscure or irrelevant and put them to work.  If there’s something our team can’t cover, we outsource.  What I had at hand was my four youngest children, all of whom are teenagers or younger.  Here’s what each of us brings to the table.

Avi

Skills:

Avi is a tinkerer.  A tinkerer is an actual thing.  It is, in fact, a Jungian archetype (cf.  The Alchemist). Employing their own unique creativity and craftsmanship, tinkerers repair things, invent things, and find new uses for what’s old.  A tinkerer is indispensable and invaluable in the repurposing of a 19th century farm. 


And tinkerers normally give birth to ancillary skills.  In Avi’s case, she is fascinated with instruction manuals, which for most people make for dull or impenetrable reading.  She reads them cover to cover with great patience and perspicuity.  Consequently, she knows how to make exhaustive use of

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everything for which an instruction manual exists - tractors, splitters, power washers, drills, chain saws, excavators, skid steers, etc.

 

Avi too is a Chicken Whisperer.  She and the chickens, through some bond of empathy, relate to one another.  This means that the chickens receive tender loving care and are people friendly.  They are a joy to have around, and with a tinkerer as their caregiver, their habitat is Chicken Disney.

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May

Skills:

May is a Type A personality.  Procrastination may be the thief of time, but with May around, time is never wasted.  Looking out the window on a bad weather day can give rise to feelings of  reluctance to venture out.  It appears so raw and gloomy, so uninviting.  Type A personalities countenance no reluctance - in themselves or others.  Daily chores are an inviolable regiment.


As a Type A personality, May also helps us stay within budget.  Type A personalities tend to be black and white thinkers, thus less prone to temptation than the general run of humanity.  At Walmart recently I casually

tossed Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard into the cart.  May strutted over. “What’s this?” she demanded.  “It’s the best of the Die Hard series,” I remonstrated.  “Timothy Olyphant is in it.”  “Can this be ordered from the library?” she asked socratically.  I lowered my eyes and nodded my head.  “What’s that? Speak up!”  Naturally, Starbucks is not an option.  In this way she saves us thousands of dollars a year.

 

Finally, May is a squatter in the literal sense of the word.  May was born in China and spent her early years with a Chinese foster family who worked the land.  That means squatting became second nature to her.  When she first arrived here, she eschewed chairs altogether.  After a few hours of planting, the rest of us are rubbing the smalls of our backs.  May is going strong.  There are multiple advantages to having someone on the team who is low to the ground.  Guess who milks the goat?

Herry

Skills:

Herry is a manual laborer.  Herry is in Middle School.  This means that he sports a rebellious attitude which he expresses in pithy comebacks.  When I ask him to scare off a raccoon:  “That’s more your thing than mine.”  When I try to impress upon him the manifold benefits of being a farmer.  “Why don’t you be you, and I’ll be me?”  But Herry is young and strong.  Grumbling pithy comebacks under his breath, he carries feed bags and hay bales, hauls water, drags branches out of creek beds, fills dumpsters, etc. 

 

Herry has another skill that I never would have recognized as such before establishing a farm: Herry is missing a filter.  For example, most of us have an

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instinctual inhibition when it comes to grabbing a chicken.  We corner her, but at the moment of truth she squawks and lunges, and we flinch and recoil.  Not Herry.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he simply grabs the chicken.  To give a more convincing example, a neighbor gifted us with three feral goats he had captured.  I won’t belabor the temperament of a feral goat (with horns).  Use your imagination: think, The Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.  Suffice it to say, feral goats do not enjoy being grabbed by the horns and dragged out of livestock carriers and into pens.  For Herry, it was as nothing.  Outweighing him, the goats dragged him around a bit, slamming him once or twice against the carrier walls.  It had no effect upon his adrenaline level.  Maybe the kid is just brave.

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Adam

Skills:

Adam is the baby of the family and weighs less than a feed bag, but he still brings skills to the table.  Adam is obedient, responsive, and cooperative.  This makes him a great gopher.  “Get me the wood screws.”  “Put the wood screws back.”  “Let the dog out.”  “Let the dog in.”  “Pick up the phone.”  “Tell them I’m busy.”  Without someone to end-run all the daily hassles and interruptions, it would be slow progress around here.

 

Adam has also become adept with the fly swatter.  There is no way to eliminate flies on a farm, even in the house.  The farmhouse has eight exterior

doors, and we are in and out all day long.  They can’t be eliminated, but their ranks can be thinned.  This is not trivial, especially at meal time, but beyond this he is developing aim, and aim is anything but trivial.  Over the millenia, men evolved to aim.  It is how they survived.  It is how they are hardwired.  It is how David killed Goliath.  A few more years of fly swatting, and greater feats of aiming will be put to use.

Becca (Me)

Skills: 

My chief skill is that I am driven to enact my convictions, which are essentially biblical.  Having taught biblical theology for 25 years, I am able to quote it in ways that reflect its overall spirit.  Most people are able to quote it only in ways that reflect their biases.  These quotes capture its overall spirit: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.  Is not this to know me?  declares the LORD.”  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And then there’s this, per the Apostle Paul, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  On the farm, I am driven to enact this conviction.

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I also have an usually high tolerance for risk.  You don’t adopt five children from China without an unusually high tolerance for risk.  Maybe like Herry I am missing a filter.  I often hear, “You’ve got to be crazy,” to which I rejoin (rhetorically because I don’t want an answer),  “What’s the worst that can happen?”  There’s an adage,  “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  I don’t feel the fear in the first place.

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Finally, our team has a few honorary members. They can be referred to as:

Friends Who Come To Work.

 

Documentaries about farms all tend to feature fresh faced young interns sporting cool bandanas.  I have tried to attract these extras.  They must not live in my neck of the woods.  But I have my own equivalent: Friends Who Come To Work.  Most friends come not to work but to relax and soak up the atmosphere, but not Friends Who Come To Work.  They don’t even need to be asked.  They volunteer.  This is more of the material assistance that Goethe promised.  They help tackle jobs that are too big or too revolting (or both) for the immediate family alone.  Case in point: the neglected chicken coop.  The

neglected chicken coop had two feet of compacted straw, feathers, and chicken dung interspersed with chicken and weasel skeletons.  Clearing it out involved doning hazmat suits then crawling under nesting boxes on our elbows after the fashion of nineteenth century coal miners.  With Friends Who Come To Work by our sides, we actually saw humor in this. Friends Who Come To Work also tend to bring meals.

There you have it: The Team.  It may appear somewhat ad hoc, but it has proved sufficient unto the day. With Margaret Mead’s words ringing in our ears, we implement the Permaculture principles to which we are jointly committed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Mission Statement
Whispering Oaks, in faithful stewardship of God’s Creation amidst climate change, is committed to the design and implementation of prototypical, replicable permaculture and water harvesting systems in the advancement of of food and water security, optimal nutrition, ecosystem regeneration, and local interdependence.