Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Leading Economic Indicator - No More Tarps!

We purchased our farm in the Fall of 2008 amid turmoil in the housing market. In fact, the steep downturn in housing prices was the only way we would ever have been able to afford it. Little did we know how severe the economic catastrophe would ultimately become. We saw an opportunity and decided to take the chance. It was a wild and frightening ride but we appear to have made it across the chasm mostly unharmed.

The farm was purchased as a short sale and showed signs of neglect. The worst of all was the roof on the house. Our building inspector marveled at the poor condition and stated that he had never seen such a high level of degradation on a roof so young. His opinion was that the shingles had been defective before they were ever installed.

On a portion of the house the shingles had disintegrated leaving only the tar paper as the last defense from the elements. Most of the material had either blown off into the back yard or accumulated as sand in the gutters. Our mortgage company reluctantly agreed to our purchase of the home as long as we were willing to take steps to correct the roofing problem right away.

I would like to think that I am a frugal man although there are some who would say that I'm merely cheap. Whenever possible I prefer to do work myself to reduce the costs and roofing is no exception. Since we didn't move into the house until December of that year, I concluded that it was already too late in the year and the weather too unpredictable for me to replace the roof. I saw no other choice but to install tarps on the roof to keep out the weather until spring.

I spent some time trolling the Internet for information on the best way to go about the project. Luckily I happened on a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website that showed exactly how to do it. The information was intended for use in the wake of tornadoes or hurricanes but seemed suitable for my purposes as well.

Per the instructions on the website, I bought a very large blue tarp, some long framing nails and a stack of 2x4 pine lumber. I climbed up on the roof one late evening and had it wrapped up in a few hours. This was undoubtedly the first time any of the neighbors saw me and despite my pride in a job well done, I can't imagine that their first impression of us was a very good one. I shrugged my shoulders and assured my embarrassed wife that it was only for a few months until spring.

Then the roller-coaster economy headed straight downhill and picked up speed as it raced hell-bent for leather into a seemingly bottomless pit. Layoffs began in earnest at the automotive company were I worked and soon I was furloughed as well. We held on with all of our might and tried to keep our fears under control as companies fell, storefronts were boarded up and thousands of my coworkers and friends were hurled out of their once comfortable lives. All of our extra funds evaporated and the roof obviously had to wait.

As the first anniversary of our move to our little farm rolled past, the winds of Autumn whipped the faded blue tarp until it disintegrated into tens of thousands of blue confetti strips. They rained down on our back yard and made an incredible mess. I can't even walk by a cigarette butt without stooping to stick it in my pocket and now the children and I had many hours of cleanup before us. I climbed onto the cold and windy roof once again with a pile of supplies and tarped it for what I hoped was the very last time.

Winter came and the snow piled deep. In the dark of the year, the economic gloom reluctantly released its grip. The outlook for my employer and the general economy is finally looking as if the worst is over. A few weeks ago Janet called me to say that she had seen a billboard along the highway by a major roofer in our area advertising cheap winter rates.

For a few moments I considered beginning my customary mantra about how I could do it myself for so much less money. Then my thoughts turned to our new CSA venture and the massive pile of farming tasks that I am trying to accomplish this year. My resolve melted away and I agreed that she should give them a call.

A few days later the trucks drove up our driveway and disgorged a crew of friendly and hard-working gentlemen. They swarmed over our house while I was away at work. They removed my blue plastic work of art and peeled away what little remained of the original roofing. Their compliments about the job I had done in protecting the roof and their marveling that no plywood sheeting even required replacement puffed me up with pride as I momentarily forgot the sting of paying for somebody to do the job for me.

In the end I am greatly relieved and glad it is all behind us. It's good to know that the roof is now whole and the house protected. It is also no small relief that the task is off of my to-do list. Each evening I turn into my driveway after a long day at work and take in the view of our home and the farm. The sight of that nice new roof without any tarps makes me feel that the worst is behind us and we are moving forward once again.


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