Matfield Green - Our first years

Monday, January 30, 2006

The property

We own about 38 acres, but it is not your usual square or rectangle parcel. We bought the land - with our "Bunkhouse Parnters" Pat Moss and Karl Rohlich - in 2001 from Wes Jackson, co-founder and president of the Land Institute, and Dick Austin, Presbyterian minister, poet, and friend of The Land. Wes & Dick had purchased the property from the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation in 1992.

It's an oddly shaped piece of land reflecting its former use exactly. On the east side of the tracks a long thin 10-acre parcel stretches south from Matfield Green City limits three quarters of a mile to our nearest neighbor, the Rogler Ranch. On that parcel sit the bunkhouse and the simple triangular corral which will soon be host to our vegetable garden. Walking south from the bunkhouse, just a little closer to the road, is evidence of the exact location of the section forman's house. Mexican railroad workers, and their families lived in the cramped and primitive bunkhouse quarters. The section forman's house, while nothing palacial, boasted modern amenties like running water, electricity and telephone service. The small wood-frame house was so simple - one story, no more than 3 or 4 rooms - that it seems odd to me that someone thought it was worthwhile to preserve it intact and move the house 5 miles up the road. But there it sits, urging me to overcome my shyness and ask for a tour.

Maybe my new status as permanent resident will bolster my courage.

On the west side of the tracks we own 30 acres - an almost square parcel plus a long easement connecting the property to the road going west out of Matfield Green. Cattle would be driven from that road, via the easement to our second corral, the only structure on the west side of the tracks. This scond corral is more elaborate than the first - scale, dip tank (and toxic waste still seeping in our soil). This corral is in greater disrepair, deeply scarred in a prairie fire out of control just the year before we purchased the property.

The prairie on the west side of the tracks is beautiful, though it too is scarred from overgrazing. From the top of the hill closest to the bunkhouse I can see for miles east and south, and to the west, over the next hill, I know there are miles and miles of unbroken prairie. I've walked out into that prairie often, sometimes encountering a small herd of cows, which I am careful to stear clear of so they don't become frightened (or frighten me with their common assumption that I have come out into the pasture to feed them some special treat). But more often than not it's just me out there. Me and the view and the prairie plants, and the rock outcropplings and the rippling streams.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Here, on the left, is where the garden will be, inside the old corral.

The picture on the right is a view of the bunkhouse from the garden site.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

House is on the market

Share the listing with everyone you know!
Click here for a picture of our beautiful home on the Chicago River.

Red letter day

I ordered seeds for our Kansas garden today. This is the day that marks the end of winter for me. Everything from last year has been eaten and the preparation for the next harvest begins. I've mapped out a garden of 6500 square feet, in the old corral on the east side of the tracks (more about the property another day, I promise). 4500 feet of that will be cover crop - soy and oats - though I'm hoping we can harvest those and keep ourselves breakfasting off the land much deeper into the winter than today.

I ordered strawberry plants on the advice of Helen Ridder, a Catholic nun who spent five years in Matfield Green, and who noticed that there is nowhere to buy locally-grown strawberries. I will try to fill that void. I ordered 8 lbs of potatoes - enough for about 150 square feet. At first I requested twice that but reading the fine print in the catalogue I see that you can expect 15 to 20 times that in yeild. I just don't know that Bill and I can eat 160 lbs of potatoes in a year, even with the help and support of our community! Now if we could grow rice, I'd really be excited.

Other seeds that will soon be winging their way from Oregon to Kansas (check out are peas, tomatoes (mostly plum tomatoes for canning), beans (we had a fabulous and delicious crop of Kentucky Wonders here in Chicago this year), broccoli and kale, corn, beets, parsnips, carrots, leeks (lots of roots) chard, squash (cross your fingers, between the beatles and the dearth of bees, we just couldn't grow it these last few years), cukes, and honeydew melon (oh I can't wait). The heat should be good for melon and peppers (sweet and hot) and tomatoes of course.

A few seeds I didn't have to purchase. I collected more than enough lettuce seeds at the end of last season, along with habenero and spicy red peppers. The grand total purchase came to $214.55. And I'll supplement with more saved seeds next year. This is when I get really excited about the move. The Territorial website froze as I tried to place my order, but I found myself pleased with the excuse to pick up the phone and share my excitement with the woman on the other end of the line. She was genuinely happy for me. Tra-la.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pepper and me

Managing impatience

I am impatient. I want to get there. I want to be done packing and have made all of the decisions about what to keep, what to throw away, what to store, what I just can't live without. I want to stick my broadfork into the soil and see how deep it will go. Can I till this clay? Can I make beans and strawberries and tomatoes grow? Where will we get our manure and the phosphorus I know that we need to add to the soil.

Of course, I am fully aware that we will be there soon enough, and that mixed in with my impatience (at its root perhaps) is fear. In five weeks or maybe six, there I'll be. Out in the middle of the prairie, with nothing to do but dig down and dig deep into that soil, no matter what kind of fight it puts up. There I'll be, hundreds of miles away - an 11 hour drive away - from the friends I depend on and the places I've known for going on forty years. Yes, I'll have Bill, and I'll have Pepper, and yes the sunrises are really really pretty but it's a long time between sunrise and bedtime and what if I don't like the other three people per my square mile?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Our house goes on the market today

Here I am.
44 years old and a woman. Sitting at my window in Chicago. In my home office overlooking Horner Park.
Our Chicago house goes on the market today. We took it off for the holidays and are starting over now. New realtor. New price. The cleaners are here, Martha and Eddie, sprucing things up for the hords of potential buyers who will soon be tramping through (I hope). I've said that we'll move even if it doesn't sell by March 1, but I'd feel better just packing up and getting out, with no reason to worry about the house we are leaving behind. I'd be happy to make this house someone else's responsibility.

So here I am. It's a sunny day. I've paid the bills. There is a little bit of work I could do to finish a project I'm being paid to do.

I've had a string of interesting careers. Actor. Nonprofit manager. And now a consultant. I facilitate. I train. I teach. I write. I'd like to get into personal coaching but am not quite sure how to get started. May need the help of a coach myself. Mostly I'm looking forward to the gardening - to seeing what I'll find there in the dirt.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why move to Kansas?

The story of my move to Kansas starts out as a love story. In October 2000 I went to a party. Saw a man I'd admired (read, "fantasized about") for years standing alone in the parking lot. Buoyed by a couple (read, "three") glasses of wine, I approached, said hello, stood closer to him than I had stood before.

We liked it.

There came a moment when a former co-worker of mine inserted himself in the conversation. It was bound to happen and usually I would have gone with the flow and released my connection to Bill leaving the next step to him or to fate or to the rhythm of the night, but not this time. I turned to talk with David, but at the same time, reached back and grabbed Bill's hand. He was flattered, intrigued and a bit overwhelmed by the attention, I think. Alone again and releasing ourselves to the giddiness of the moment, Bill asked me if I would move to Kansas with him in 5 years. I said yes. And meant it.

It was his adventure. His early retirement dream to live on the prairie - 500 acres at least - nurture the land, make art, watch birds, be a part of the natural world. My attraction was physical - to him, to the idea of hard work, outdoors, weather and wind. I was at the end of a 9 year relationship. Years of aborted intimacy had left me emotionally exhausted, disappointed in the limits of my intellect, disconnected from my spiritual self. I felt only physically strong and available. My body would lead me back to my self.

I was drawn to the man and to the dream. Later, I would develop my own attachment to the land.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

CC's Matfield Office - home of the books

Packing books

It's a sunny Saturday and we've been packing boxes of books. Making choices of what to keep and what we will live the rest of our lives without. Bill's dad's spelling book from the 1920s we keep. The book of Picasso prints gets tossed, but Munch is too fascinating to throw away. The more we pack the more it is clear that we have. This is the easy part, since all of the books will be accessible on shelves in my office. The next phase of packing will be more difficult as we decide not only what to keep and what to throw away, but also, what we can do without for a year (while we build our house) and what we'll want to have on hand.

Space will be limited. 350 square feet in the bunkhouse, another 400 or so in my office in town, plus whatever we can squeeze into our little laundry room or under a tarp out by the garden. A toolshed - built like our new outhouse from the Santa Fe railroad pattern book - will be one of this spring's first projects.