Farms are certainly places of function—growing food to feed the family, the neighbors, and some to sell to help keep the place running—but often in family-run, small-scale farms, there is also attention to other details that are not just for form or convenience. Flower gardens by the house do attract wild pollinators and provide habitat for hummingbirds and butterflies, but they are also pleasing to the senses of the people who live and visit the space.
Over the centuries, we can see the pride in craftsmanship that has been built into farms (especially barns) from a time when the pace of work moved slower and ethnic styles in architecture leant a noticeable flavor to homesteads. While they meet the need (sheltering livestock, grain, and hay), they also command a presence and serve as the visual crown of the barnyard. Many times, the barn went up on a farm (with the help of neighbors and family) before the house!
But attentions to detail, to form, and to visual appeal can be found all over the historically connected farm—from quilts to baskets to rugs to wagons. One of the definitions of art is “to make special,” and these small but significant acts of making ordinary objects and work spaces unique and pleasing is part of the everyday aesthetics of homestead living. As an artist of many mediums, those moments of everyday aesthetics—whether planting marigolds and sunflowers this morning in the flowerbeds or weaving a colorful rag rug—are sparks of joy and creativity amongst the often long and hard work of farming.
Just today, we were visited by the film crew from Wisconsin Public Television’s “Around the Farm Table” series to discuss a shooting in June. We were strolling around the barnyard, meeting the sheep and turkeys, checking out the parlor, and laughing at humorous pigs.
“Wow,” one of the producers kept remarking. “You have such a pretty farm, so clean and tidy. You guys have really taken care of this place.”
Pride of place and the value of caring for a piece of our precious earth not only shows in the lack of junk piles and sagging buildings but also in the striking barn quilt, the cheery red-and-white poultry coops, and the border of tulips popping up through fresh bark mulch. Even Laura Ingalls’ mother found meaning in “making things pretty” in the various homesteads the family owned across the country during the pioneer days. Taking time to “make special” our environment is a way to show respect for the space as well as kindle that special beauty inside ourselves as well.
So often, farming is a matter of making order out of chaos, each and every day. The strawberry bed was overwrought with weeds, so I spent days with a garden claw, ripping out the quack grass, dandelions, sorrel, and daisies—turning the damp, cool spring soil while being careful not to disturb the strawberry roots as much as possible. I tamp in new plants in the bare patches, mulch lightly with bedding straw to help suppress weed seeds, and lay down chips in the walkways. It’s tedious work, and I have to take breaks when my back wears out, but with only one bed left needing weeding attention, the seven-bed patch of June-bearing strawberries not only should be more productive this year, but it’s also a very pleasing view out the farmhouse picture window.
Here’s another example. This last winter wreaked havoc with the front stoop at Farmstead Creamery (as you may have noticed if you came to visit during those months…didn’t everyone have problems with something this year…). With all the frost heaving, at one point the front door wasn’t even openable and folks had to make their way in through the kitchen door! Despite the cold, Jon Sorensen of Venison Creek Construction (who built the creamery) came to jack-hammer out enough of the slab to accommodate the door. It was a long and grueling process (not to mention dusty!), but he held in there for us.
All winter, we’ve been vacillating about what to do with the stoop. Obviously, it couldn’t stay. So this last week, Jon came with a saw and cut the beasts into pieces we could haul away. The last vestige refused to break up, so Jon bent the rebar, hooked it to his truck, and drug it out! There, take that you nasty concrete!!! Away with thee!
With the new attempt at a stoop, Jon buried heat tapes and foam to help keep heaving at bay. But instead of repouring a cement slab, we decided to try pavers. Now, some folks might have just picked up whatever and thrown something together so visitors didn’t have to spend even more time entering through the back, but Jon also has a cultivated sense of everyday aesthetic. Like building a barn or planning a flower garden, he worked with the limited materials at hand, in the space required, to create a stoop that not only serves the form and function needed to meet ADA standards and ease of access, but it also holds its own visual appeal in keeping with the aesthetic theme that makes Farmstead Creamery special.
Creating pieces of everyday aesthetic takes times, thought, and care. Our new stoop certainly outshines the former, practical-only one (hole busted through or no), and we wonder why we didn’t think of this lovely idea in the first place. It fits in so well with the visual theme of timbers and fieldstone that some of the people who’ve stopped since the installation haven’t noticed there was a change at all.
Now, I know that some folks won’t notice just because they don’t—they’re in a hurry or they’re distracted by something else. Alternately, others may be inspired to think differently about their own stoop or patio space. Either way, the little things do make a difference in the homestead environment to bring meaning and appreciation to the often dirty and thankless work of livestock and crop tending. In our tech-infused society, where instant gratification and speed are the driving desires, it’s important to cultivate time and appreciation for an everyday aesthetic—to build a place that pleases the eye and soothes the mind.
This week, take time to cultivate your own space with simple but pleasing aesthetics, whether in the garden, the home, or beyond. Maybe it’s time to bring order to the chaos of the garage or add an attractive bird bath to the front flower beds. Whatever way works for you, springtime is a great space for “making special” in our everyday environments. I’ll keep working on those strawberry beds. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com