Holes: A Homesteader’s Narrative

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage
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Let’s be honest, holes happen on farms. I always get holes in my jeans from making hay — throwing bales, stacking, climbing, crawling. There’s a sand-strewn hole just under the garage foundation where the thirteen-lined ground squirrels have taken up residence. And there are all the quirky knotholes in the walls of the barn, where the light shines in and casts speckles and streaks in the morning.

There are holes in my chore boots, right where they fold when I walk, that lets in the morning dew and splattering rain, dampening the tops of my socks. So much for keeping me warm and dry…but I still haven’t taken the time to replace them. Seems like you just get something broke in when the holes start appearing.

Our summer intern Sam found the hole in the pair of thick, blue, rubber gloves used for dunking the chickens in the scalding tank during butchering. Now and then, she’d have to pour out the hot water that had collected inside. And, of course, there’s always the holes worn into garden gloves from weeding and transplanting, with sandy grit impacted under my fingernails or the sticky greenness from handling tomato plants. 

Yup, it seems that some things have trouble holding up to farm work. Last summer, a particularly pointy rock managed to put two holes in one of the truck tires.  At first, it looked like a nail, but the fix-it garage saved the dagger-shaped stone after extraction for us to see.  What luck it was indeed to run over such a treasure wrong-side-up.  We actually kept the little bugger, to show when telling the story to family, but also to quarantine it from reappearing on the driveway!

Every Saturday during farmer’s market season, I load up the car with bakery, jams, produce, gelato, and other farm goodies. The fold-up canopy rests on top, along with the tables and bakery bins.  Our first canopy, which lasted 10 years of active duty, had a pretty forest green and white striped top with a center peak. The case that slipped over the top was equally striped, like a big Cat-in-the-Hat chapeau, minus the brim. Well, as the 10 years were getting on, the case first wrinkled, then wore out at the corners, then tore down the seam, then simply disintegrated. 

Holes worn at the corner intersections of the canopy began to leak, so the poor thing was demoted from farmer’s market duty to chicken butchering shelter. A few more years of limping the well-loved structure along, and UV degradation left the top with little pin-holes everywhere that dripped rain like a fine sieve. But still, being thrifty, we kept the thing until at last all the aluminum bracing broke at the hinges and the canopy refused to open anymore. That doesn’t make the structure terribly useful.

The newer, white canopy has since passed the “death of the case” phase, and lately I’ve noticed a few holes where the corners rub in packing. So we start the saga again!

If there’s a hole in your bug net hat, the skeeders and the gnats will find it. Please don’t tell me there’s a hole in my beekeeping suit!  If there’s a tear in your rain jacket, the water will seep in.  If there’s a hole in the fence, the pigs know about it, and if there’s a hollowed out hole in your winter squash, the voles got there first! Holes, holes, holes, where do they all come from!?

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza dear Liza

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza a hole.

Almost all of my sister Kara’s favorite farm shirts have holes in them somewhere. One of my sweatshirts has some interesting holes from being in the compost pile for nearly a year. It must have been laying in the bed of the utility golf cart when someone piled a bunch of weeds on top without noticing, dumping the whole load. I looked everywhere for that blue sweatshirt! Then, one day in spring, there it was on the pile, with the quack grass punching up through. It cleaned up alright, though bleached in wavy streaks by the sun, with all the new holes.  Battle worn, perhaps, is an apt description.

But some holes aren’t funny at all. I remember one day back when we were first restoring the farm, and I was just a little bean pole of a pre-teen. Historically, it was customary for farmers to simply throw unwanted items into piles just outside the barnyard. We’ve found three such piles on the farm, which we’ve cleaned up and hauled away over the years. One was filled with old wheels, medicine bottles, a toy pistol, the sole of a shoe, and bent sickle bars, but the one where our first chicken coop was going was the old boards, rusty nails, bent shingles, and broken glass type.

We threw the big pieces onto the red trailer by hand and scooped up the small bits with shovels and rakes. I remember picking nails and picking nails from the dirt, and even still the chickens continue to scratch up odd objects to this day — remnants of trash heap archaeology. But at last, we were fully loaded and heading off to the dump.

I can’t tell you how many times I was warned to be careful about the broken glass.  Again, we had thrown off the big chunks and scooped away at the small pieces, but there weren’t enough shovels to go around, so Grandpa was kicking at the pile to help it along. He didn’t say anything, but when we got home, he calmly asked Mom to look at his foot. A piece of glass had sliced through his leather boot, right into the side of his foot! And he had driven home that way!  It was a messy cleanup job to take care of that hole, so be warned.

But perhaps the happiest holes on the farm involve food. There’s the hole sliced in the top of a pie crust, to let out the steam and watch for bubbly doneness. There’s the hole made in the top of the mashed potatoes on your plate to hold the butter or homemade gravy. And there’s the hole in the middle of the bagel or fresh pretzel, which I guess is there just to be there. So yes, while most holes are bothersome, a few on the farm are just for fun. Watch out for holes! See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.

Photo by intern Sam Harrington: Our intern Jake’s workshoes by the end of the summer — patched with duct tape and bound by hair ties.

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