Coleman corners was dreamed up on a steep mountain road in a February snowstorm. “Who’s he?” you might ask, followed by “Why were you out in a storm?” The truth is, Coleman is a little farm stand, and also a centerpoint for sanity, and my husband and I were having wild ideas in the wilderness because the storm and the high roads were gifting us with six rare, uninterrupted hours to talk.
From Fox Hill Bruderhof, we’d deserted our three kids (responsibly) to surprise a good friend who had seen us through a tough time and then moved too far away. We were mounting a stealth raid with a massive birthday basket, silly hats, and an even sillier song with which to barge through the front door.
The barge was a joyous success – just a few hours of celebration, laughter, and true talk, fueling the energy cells for what we didn’t know the year would bring. Then we had to hit the road home, looking forward to hugging the three livewires at the other end, while still glad they were not in the back seat.
“So the old Coleman House finally came down…” mused Jason, as our wheels clung to another mountain curve. “What can we do with a location so close to a big road, with such a beautiful view, and its own drive?”
Coleman’s was an ancient farmhouse on the corner of our Fox Hill property; last fall it had succumbed to time, rot, and a demolition team.
“What about a little farm stand? A cozy spot off Coleman Road with a play area for kids?”
“Yeah, and a chill area for parents…with Adirondack chairs…”
“We could turn around the funds for local shelters or food pantries, or if someone needs a wheelchair ramp…”
We ran out of sweet corn and cucumbers. But more than vegetables, people wanted voices.
The idea was met with approval from the rest of the Fox Hill folk, providing we could build and run the thing in our spare time. “Spare time” is ephemeral on a busy community, so we started collecting materials and sketching plans for a shed and surroundings to be finished in a year or two. Then the whole world shut down, and something as frivolous as a farm stand seemed ridiculous in New York, for a while the epicenter of a pandemic. We were worried out of our minds for distant friends, I was homeschooling those three livewires, and Jay – Jay was not working.
Home-free is not a happy thing for a builder, unless he can park his carpentry trailer in the backyard and build something there. But what? Perhaps a post-and-beam farm stand. Could a son finish his math faster if he got to go out to hammer and chisel after? He could. Though we now had the time to build it, when would it ever see use, in this strange stay-at-home era?
Turns out, much sooner than we thought. Framed out in July, and forklifted onto a flatbed, the little shed traveled slowly to its hilltop location. Jay finished siding it by sunrise light. A few families joined us to clear brambles and burn brush, sow grass and start a small playground under a big maple.
In August, our garden was booming. We posted our first tentative Facebook event for a Saturday afternoon, promising an open-air farmers’ market and asking folks to wear masks and give each other space. Privately, I thought we’d have more than enough space between the two or three old friends who would come so as not to leave us hanging.
This place was born out of a determination to defy distance and celebrate face to face.
One hundred and twenty people showed up over four hours. Everyone wore a mask. No one crowded anyone else. We ran out of sweet corn and cucumbers. But more than vegetables, people wanted voices. They stood around in spacious circles and talked. “How’ve you been?” “You surviving the summer?” “Have you heard if Joe and Linda are doing all right?” “They’ve been hit hard.” “We’re praying.” “I’m taking them some of this fresh bread and tomatoes.”
The next Saturday, we had more chairs, set up in decorously distant circles under the trees. More people came. Even though the farm-stand side of it did almost frantic business, it felt more like a peaceable festival – the chairs were full of people, chatting and laughing across the six-foot spaces. Our friend Mark’s booming laugh could wrap around the whole circle, especially when the walnut tree started to bomb us. Or maybe it was his laugh that shook the nuts down.
Two ladies from Walden came every week, bringing their mothers, making an afternoon of it. The matriarchs sat, still and queenly in their wheelchairs, reigning over their circles while their daughters chatted and shopped. As they rolled out, one leaned over and whispered, “This is my church!” Another elderly lady told us her greatest fear wasn’t Covid, but loneliness: “I don’t even know anyone to call and talk to. There’s nowhere to go to see a face that’s not on TV. I can’t take one more day on my own.”
Among our staff, talents surprised us as Farmstand Saturday became a glowing beacon on the calendar. Our daughter mastered the cash register. Our son rigged the lawn tractor to haul large loads of pumpkins. Three little cousins got professional at popping up tents, labeling bins, crating eggs. Our friend Barb, a brilliant musician who missed her local orchestra and chamber groups, invited all the area musicians to reconnect and talk shop over the pastry table.
Speaking of pastries, Edna, a legendary Fox Hill baker, worked ahead each week to make apple pies and Danish that always disappeared within the first half hour. She has never managed to make any quantity to outlast that timeframe. Edna is seventy-six. Her older sister Emma had laid down her paintbrushes a few years ago, saying no one was really interested in her kind of art anymore. But she picked up her exquisite stone and driftwood sculpture work again when we started displaying homemade crafts. Now we can’t keep her owls on the shelves. The kids stand in front of them to see if they’ll blink. There are folks making pottery and home decorations. It’s a whirling flurry of industry.
Could we use more staff? Probably. Does my house ever get cleaned? Ehhh. Is it worth all the scramble? I’d have to give that an unequivocal yes. Every time I look over this sloping little meadow, alive with people, I think back to the way Coleman Corners came about. Much of the last year has been a war waged against encroaching walls, silence, and a fear beyond illness – a fear of being alone, living alone, dying alone. It makes sense that this place was born out of a determination to defy distance and celebrate face to face.