When Calamity Strikes, HOLD ON!

The detonation just about shattered us. That day—a week+ in the rearview mirror—may have been the most stressful of my adult life. Thankfully, it’s all smoothing over. At the time, it felt like all may be lost. Though we curled up into a ball, catatonic, somehow we didn’t succumb to self-pity. Here’s what happened, all within 15 hours:

  1. Knowing a week of rain was in the forecast, I was determined to get the majority of field work done at the main farm plot. Though the sale of the property is pending, hints had been dropped that I’d be allowed to garden there for the majority of the season. Mere moments—literal seconds—before firing up the tiller to form garden beds, I received a phone call. The buyers pulled the plug on the farm, and I needed to vacate the property.
  2. Two hours later our Toyota Prius, a super nice car with just 110K miles, blew the engine. Our only vehicle. EPIC DISASTER! The quote came to $5600, and I was warned it could cost more. Go ahead and crush the car. An ask of a million dollars couldn’t have been more shocking. This is about how much we had taken in for 2017 up to that point. All that work, in a moment…
  3. My wife’s laptop, an absolute necessity for her business, was flooded with water.

And we thought it was a big deal when the dehumidifier broke down a couple days prior….

It was all too much. If I could have plotted out a timeline of my life in advance, plotting out the worst possible season for all this to have happened (let alone on a single day), this was it. We were/are already up against the ropes.

Feeling defeated, we got up the next day and did what we could. There were no solutions. Best not think about it too much.

I put the finishing touches on an interior paint job, an entire home that’ll net us a couple grand. The mindless work, with the hope of a tangible payday, was a real gift.

Shawna poured her energy into painting of a different sort. A bit more stimulating. Immediately after the kids got on the bus (45 minutes after the water fiasco), she returned to this piece. Seems fitting…



Slowly, we came to terms with the reality that we might not have a car or land to farm this year. Life is more than such externalities. We could be a family without them. I even contemplated taking the bus to farmer’s market, lugging my coolers three blocks up the hill myself over the last stretch. That would’ve been an experience!

Ultimately, the unfurling disaster left us awash in kindness. Friends and family stepped in to help, cheerfully, and without being asked. My wife’s parent’s offered up their car, temporarily turning their 1949 Mercury hotrod into their work vehicle in the process. My brother-in-law drove six hours roundtrip, trailering the car back to the Twin Cities where he’s plugging away at putting in an affordable used engine, even though he has never worked on a hybrid. We didn’t even know he was coming until he arrived. Amazing. The car now looks like a T-Rex took a big bite out of it:


I’m glad I don’t have to put this mess back together!!!

*Update two days later: Turns out the transmission is wrecked, which likely caused the engine to blow. Unbelievably, the bro (after putting all this back together) has already mined the same junkyard for a transmission to install. It might not even work out, but his level of sacrifice for us is just incredible.*

My friend, Mike Casey, the guy from last year’s kayak adventure that took us 100 years back in time, offered up his pickup truck for the duration. Once again, cheerfully, and without being asked. AND, this is a guy I’ve met in person like five or six times. Can you believe that?????!!!!!  The 14 mpg’s are a real shocker, but it’s fun to be a “cool” farmer in a pickup for a change. I enjoyed bringing the dog along on a quick errand…


Shawna’s computer works fine now, too. The solution is simple. Leave it off, and turn it upside down to dry for two days.

Regarding the land, I met the buyers of the property in person. They couldn’t be more wonderful. They’re allowing me to farm the land this year after all. I’ll give them yummy produce in exchange each week, make various improvements to the land and property, and put it all back into grass when I leave. Secretly, I’m hoping they’ll enjoy the farm enough to keep a portion of it next year. For now, that isn’t the plan, and that’s A-ok. I’m completely grateful.

I can never repay these people adequately for their kindness (aside from the value for value exchange for the land). Nor should I. It would only cheapen the gifts they’ve offered. This is grace.  Totally undeserved, and something to revel in. Going through hard times, real darkness, makes such light that much more glorious. Gratitude for these gifts—love and compassion in action—will remain with me forever. I (and we) will never be the same.

As if this wasn’t enough, farmer’s market is exceeding expectations. This past Saturday, a week before Memorial Day weekend, I sold $382 in microgreens and a few early radishes. Keep in mind that it was 39 degrees AND DAMP when the market opened. You should have seen me swimming in a sea of wool from head to toe (yes, undies included—it was that cold). I feared a week of work would end up as compost, and I sold out instead!

Wednesday markets are another story, but I’ve started a delivery service for surplus produce. On my way home I deliver to homes on the East side of Duluth, which has been netting roughly an additional $50 in sales each week. It takes me about a half hour to make these deliveries that pay for the fancy cell phone each time. I couldn’t be happier. Each Wednesday, towards the end of market at around 5:30 pm, I send out a text blast along with a picture like this. Peeps can choose whether or not they’d like some yumminess delivered to them right then and there:

produce surplus

Let me know if you’d like to get in on the texts, which eventually might include the odd Saturday. We’ll see how it goes.

Finally, I did an impromptu 45-minute interview yesterday afternoon over at Wisconsin Public Radio (91.3 FM, KUWS). It’ll air, largely unedited, June 9th, on their Friday evening 9:00 Meltdown program. That’s 9:00 pm. Eventually I’ll drop the audio in over here for kicks and giggles. It was a great conversation, and a ton of fun. I had no time to get terribly stressed out about it or do any advance planning. I’ve gone past the point of frantically marketing the book, so I got on the Straight Talk Express instead of worrying so much about impressing the listeners. We had a wide-ranging conversation about writing, farming, this book, my upcoming book, and more.


Thanks for all the love and support, y’all. Until next time, keep your hands on the plow. Hold on!



5 thoughts on “When Calamity Strikes, HOLD ON!

  1. I am looking forward to the interview. As always, this lifts my spirits. Your determination in this dream of yours is completely unsurpassed. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Ooh, several kicks to the gut. Was it the timing belt? Wish I was closer, I’d help on the car front. I’ve got a great runner I’m selling for super duper cheap. Cheaper to friends… 😉
    Sounds like a great support network though. Like Kristina said, your determination is unsurpassed. Impressive.

    1. Thanks Scott, and Kristina. Even though y’all are hundreds of miles in the distance, you’re consistently a big encouragement. And no, not a timing belt. Threw a rod, poked three holes in the engine block. Nobody has ever heard of that happening with a Prius. A real mystery. Kind of shakes my experiment of paying more for a car up front rather than on the back end. Anyhow, thanks again…

      1. So the bro got this all put back together, and discovered the transmission is wrecked. That’s likely what caused the trouble, so at least things are making a little bit of sense. The beat goes on….

      2. Oh wow, hate to figure that out after it’s all buttoned back up, hate to hear it at all. Sorry dude, I’m totally unfamiliar with prius. Hope it get all back together soon, and cheaply…

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