It’s 72 degrees, overcast, with a cool breeze. It’s actually perfect weather, and it’s so peaceful out here. I’m writing this from our new (to us) patio table. It’s an old green circular iron table. It came with 6 matching chairs; they rock slightly. They have cute little green and white pads for the seats. There isn’t much padding to them- they are more for decoration. The table is turning brown in spots, like it probably has several times before. And like someone else did those times before, I’ll repaint it soon. We bought the table and chairs from an estate sale. The table had likely lived its existence in that one location- a quaint little backyard patio that I assume was cared for by a little old lady. That’s what this table is- it’s the quintessential backyard patio table of grandparents in the Midwest. In fact, the very first friend to come over and saw the new table said “I think my mom has this exact table and chairs in her backyard, it’s been there since I was a kid.”
I’m okay with that. I am good with that actually. I’d love for our patio to be remembered as fondly as all of those. I think we have a lot of work to do to get there, but the table is a nice addition.
My wife found the table. She is good at things like that. Thrifty. She literally just had me touch a couple of new towels she picked up, and said “soft aren’t they? I got them for free.” She really prides herself on a being a bargain shopper, taking advantage of coupons and grocery store sales at every opportunity. It reminds me of my grandmother. She would keep a folder or envelope with all the coupons she’d cut out of the ads, and she also prided herself on bargain shopping. For that reason alone, I am confident she would love Amanda.
There are many ways our acreage resembles my grandparents’ home. Some, like the bargain shopping woman in charge, have happened very naturally. Others, like the garden, I’ve worked very hard to recreate.
When I was a kid, my grandpa grew maybe an acre or more of sweet corn every summer. He grew other things like tomatoes and rhubarb but he grew the sweet corn in abundance. I have such fond memories of it all. I remember his neighbor Jim would help him. Back then it took two people to operate the tractor and planter. They would work all day and then share a beer after. I don’t exactly remember but I believe Jim was paid in beer, sweet corn and probably one of my grandma’s apple or cherry pies. I could write a whole post about those pies.
Now when you are kid, you are small, so everything seems really big. That’s how I remember the sweet corn. The stalks seemed like giants and the rows were never-ending. I was taught how to look for good ears and before I was very old I’d be tasked with going out and grabbing a few for dinners. When the majority of the corn was ready, we’d pick it all. It would fill up the entire truck bed of my grandpa’s 1972 blue Chevy Cheyenne. We’d sell corn out of the back of that truck by the dozen all day. It might have been where I learned to count. I got a lot of practice: 13 ears of corn, $2 dollars a dozen (I don’t actually recall the price). Some time later, my teachers had a hard time convincing me that a dozen was not 13. According to stories I’ve heard from either before I was around or just outside of my childhood memories, my grandpa would supply the local fruit stands on the south side, selling them sweet corn by the bushel, and maybe before it was sweet corn it was cucumbers. My grandpa always liked to stay busy. He does still, at age 94… too busy sometimes. We’d really like him to stop cutting down every dead tree he sees, but I digress. I have really fond memories of those days selling sweet corn.
I have such fond memories in fact, that when I started the garden 3 years ago- a hobby I had never attempted on any level- I started with the only real concept for it coming from those memories from nearly 30 years ago. I didn’t tell anyone at the time, probably because of my own fears of failure, but I started it with a goal of selling truckloads of sweet corn someday. I had tentatively given myself a 5 year window to perfect (with a lot of help from friends and family) being a farmer (a gardener to be more accurate but farmer is way more fun).
I actually seemed to have caught on pretty quick, and this year in particular I have put a lot of effort into being detailed and prepared, and staying on top of all the daily maintenance of the garden. Last year I struggled to keep up with the insects and weeds; this year the insects and weeds are having trouble keeping up with me. I created a spreadsheet and started keeping extensive data for current and future reference.
I really threw myself into learning harvest preservation this year as well, canning pickles, salsas, and banana pepper rings, among other things. About the third time through making each of those things, I had a good recipe down and the process was becoming more consistent.
Then by chance we ran into a friend at a birthday party who is an accountant. We were talking about the garden and possibly selling some items soon, like maybe next year. He mentioned how easy it is to set up an LLC, and some of the benefits of doing that. A couple days later I had my mind made up that this was a good idea. We already had a great name, we had some interest built from social media posts about the garden, and now I felt confident in the product we were producing.
So I started making a bunch of salsas and pickles. I spend a great deal of time in the garden each summer, but once I decided we were going to have an actual sale I was basically working for BDF from 4pm to 10pm every night and 10 am to 6pm on Saturdays. That obsessive part of my brain, the part that made me a terrible alcoholic, the part that makes me a decent “farmer,” was in overdrive. By Tuesday, I started dropping hints that we would have a sale on Saturday. By Friday night I had created a FB page for the business and set up hours, pricing, and inventory for our first ever POP UP SALE. Things were happening really fast.
Friday afternoon, my step dad and I made signs for the end of the driveway with stencils, spray paint and an old piece of plywood we found in my grandpa’s garage. At some point in there we went and picked up the old green table. Then I was making more salsa and pickles until midnight.
During this build up to the sale, that obsession or drive came close to turning me into an asshole- the same way I would be an asshole if you didn’t want to take another shot back in the day. I was going hard and I was expecting everyone around me to keep up or get away from me. The difference now was that I was aware, or at least became aware of what I was doing rather quickly. Picking up the table was certainly one of those moments. I was really busy that evening, and extremely focused on being ready for the sale. I had forgotten that we were supposed to go get this table. When my wife came home, she was feeling rushed and I hadn’t been responding to messages because I was helping paint the signs. I honestly didn’t want to go get the damned table right then, I was in the middle of five things. I was spinning myself in circles. It was a moment when I could have fucked up the whole night, or worse, we could have been fighting during the sale. All I had to do was say we didn’t have time to pick up the table and it would have been an argument. That bargain table was important to her.
We didn’t fight though. I can control my emotions a little better these days. I am also acutely aware that my first reactionary thought is often a terrible idea.
So we went and got the table, came back, and I worked until about midnight preparing for the first ever Brown Dogs Farm pop-up sale. It’s such a good table, we used it for the sale.
The next morning, we did our normal routine of breakfast with Grandpa around 8 am. We got back home around 9 and I went straight to the garden and picked 189 ears of corn to sell. Amanda and I picked over 50 peppers and 10 of the biggest zucchini you’ve ever seen. I had actually used all of my red tomatoes for salsa, so we had to outsource our fresh tomatoes from my grandpa. He was ready to assist and gave us over 50 bright red baseball sized tomatoes for the sale. Using a picnic table from our yard, some wood crates from our garage, my truck, a yard cart, and that old green table, we set up a (kind of) professional-looking produce stand just off the driveway so that people could pull in, park and walk right up.
Hank was a natural. Once I had everything set up, he took to laying under the truck or the picnic table as if he knew the branding was named after him (and his dog brothers). When people would arrive, Hank would get up and greet them, then walk them right back to the area where the sale was happening. After about the 3rd customer he was totally exhausted, snoring loudly between customers, but somehow managed to pop right up every time someone new arrived.
My wife was also a great help. She had all the products available to sample in a little cooler and did a great job of explaining things to people who had questions. My mom hung out for the entire sale and helped with customers, and I think I even heard her up-selling folks. She is funny like that. The day before, she was warning me not to price things too high as it “shouldn’t be about the money.” 24 hours later she is holding pickle jars telling people “this is a really hot item and we only have 2 left- you might want to just buy them both.”
My grandpa also showed up for about the last hour of the sale- he wanted some sweet corn. Well, he said he wanted sweet corn but we all know he came to socialize. People recognized him from social media posts. They knew right who he was- I had used a picture of him as advertisement for “Grandpa’s Tomatoes.” He was telling all sorts of stories to each person he spoke with, but the thing that he said to customers that really stood out was “if you need some more produce, just come by my house and I will give you some, you don’t have to pay me.” I can’t compete with those prices.
Our first sale as Brown Dogs Farm went really, really well. I am extremely grateful for that. I think my family (wife included) was a bit surprised at how successful it was, but not me. I had planned on it. I wasn’t overconfident- I was still afraid of failing and had some anxieties going in, but instead of expecting to fail and in turn self-destructing before giving it a chance, I put myself in a position to be successful.
Through a lot of this blog I have shared my past and how I ended up as an alcoholic. I have shared a lot about very dark times and in doing so, I was concerned I would lose readers before I really had a chance to write about what the blog was truly started for: to tell you what comes after the dark.
This is what it looks like for me, and if you can’t tell, I am very happy with it.
And while my life will never be as simple and wholesome as my grandparents’, it might get pretty close.
And Amanda and I would have to live pretty long to be married 65 years, but I bet we can get pretty close.
We’ve got a little green iron patio set and a garden full of sweet corn.
So that’s a promising start.