The Story of Lodestar Gardens 2000-2010
Located in eastern Arizona near the townships of Concho & Show Low
under the proprietorship of Barbara and Clark Hockabout
This year marks the anniversary of a life-long dream for both of us. Ten years ago we moved on to the land that would host our efforts to build a sustainable lifestyle and chemical-free produce business. The long views mesmerized us, the clean water and air charged us, and the price of a 40-acre parcel was still accessible to us. It wasn’t the employment opportunities, the people, or cultural aspects of the area that sealed our commitment; it was the land. The quest for an independent and peaceful life is universal, and while we believe it is possible for anyone to attain peace in any context, we prefer living more closely with the earth and working with her for our sustenance. We are keenly aware that this role is a privileged one. We have held this vision and prepared for it in our own ways for four decades. It is by no accident we find ourselves here, and we feel deeply honored.
In our relationship with the land, like our relationship with each other, we are in a constant process of self-discovery. At this point in our development we feel compelled to share what we have learned thus far; it is a time for sharing.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we have been waiting for . . .
A Message from the Hopi elders, 2001
If you would like to know more details about Lodestar Gardens, you are welcome to read the following description. We invite your questions and comments.
The Journey and the Place
In August of 1996, we arrived in Show Low, Arizona. This was the destination we picked after a four-year journey that covered 10,000 miles of land in the west. Our quest: to find suitable and affordable land in order to manifest our life-long dream to develop a sustainable greenhouse business. The sun-filled, rural countryside of the White Mountain recreational area in east central Arizona, approximately 50 miles from the New Mexican state line put a spell on us. The pristine air and water coursed through us and excited our vision of homesteading here. The area rests on top of the geological formation known as the Colorado Plateau, one of the most stable land masses in the world. (Take highway 87 through Payson up the Mogollon Rim to Show Low for one of the most scenic drives you will ever experience.) Three hours from Show Low is the city of Flagstaff; two hours further, the Grand Canyon. Tucson and Albuquerque are also four hours away. Numerous Native American cultures offer color, texture, art and spirit to this area. It has a trail system (hiking, biking and horseback riding) rated second best in the country. Sitting on the foothills of Mt. Baldy, one of the highest mountains in Arizona, the incredible panoramic views seal the deal.
The High Challenges
At an elevation of 6,900 feet we also have many interesting high desert gardening challenges, such as a false spring in January or February, followed by two of our coldest months, followed by infamous blossom-blasting spring winds, followed by two of our hottest months, followed at last by the soothing July-August monsoons. Drought conditions have existed in this area for decades, even though we sit over one of the largest aquifers in the North American continent. Despite Arizona’s high-temperature desert reputation, the White Mountains is actually a climate Zone 2 due to elevation, humidity, and wind conditions (equivalent to the state of Maine). So perhaps you can appreciate how fast our learning curve expanded, given our northern California and Northwest origins. But these challenges inspired creative problem solving, constant adaptation, and critical innovations which lead us to wonderful teachers, friends and books. Today, after ten years of experimentation, we are still humbled and encouraged by the amount of new gardening and technological information coming out daily, but we feel ready to share what we have learned. We now seek to network with other gardeners and support naturally grown agricultural practices and sustainable lifestyles everywhere.
The Magnet Effect
This is now, but allow us to return to the very beginning of Lodestar Gardens. In 1996, we rented a house in the town of Show Low and took jobs as a college teacher (Barbara) and a realtor (Clark). We worked full time, but in every spare moment we scoured the area for the piece of property that would nurture us and a future growing business. Three years passed before that piece came around. By May of 2000, we were breaking ground. We joined the handful of people who quietly resided on our side of the mountain, daily traveling 16 miles to town to our full time jobs. Once the house and the solar system had been established the first year, every spare moment was then consumed in making our first inroads to tilling the soil and creating a relationship with the land. The latter was easy; the former was our first wakeup call that living in this area would be a lot of work. The caked, virgin soil was almost non-existent. We realized we would have to knead abundant amendments into the silt-cinder surface in order to create a pliable receptacle for seeds. We sought out gardening classes at the college and found a mentor in Kim Howell-Costion, a master high-desert gardener who ran a very successful CSA. Her husband, Joe Costion, head of the Building Department at Coconino Community College in Flagstaff was also a valuable resource in developing our infrastructure. (Ashokala Gardens, Earth Magic soil conditioners, gardening and solar/alternative construction classes, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) seedlings. PO Box 3294 Flagstaff, AZ Ashokalagardens@aol.com)
At this time in our development there was a direct correlation between the amount of time we read, studied, and experimented in our garden with the number of helpful resources that came into our life. What you give your attention to . . . thought creates . . . sharpening the will sharpens the outcome . . . when the student is ready . . . all those platitudes and pieces of ancient wisdom were demonstrated during the infantile stages of creating Lodestar Gardens. We swallowed the magnet.
Besides the weather quirks and the silt-heavy-cinder soil mentioned earlier, we discovered the ravenous appetites of hungry elk, deer, and rabbits, from which anything green in this remote landscape must be protected with high, sturdy fences and cages of chicken wire. With fences built, beds raised, soil amended, and t-tape lacing the rows, 2002 marked the first official outside garden; the beginning of the Lodestar Garden operation and dream had come true. We had hoped that year we would sell our extra produce in local stores and farmers markets. Within two months, however, the garden would be obliterated, turned to a green mush, by one of those wildly dramatic hail storms expelled from unpredictable skies above the White Mountains. We had time to educate ourselves about shade cloth, row covering, cold frames and create plans for a hoop house because in mid June of this year two forest fires started simultaneously and whipped by the fierce spring winds, merged into one of the largest fires in U. S. history—the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. At its climax it lapped the city limits of Show Low. It ravaged some 467,000 acres of forest land and destroyed hundreds of homes. One evening we stood on a ridge on the west side of our property with our closest neighbors and watched (without aid of binoculars) the orange flames on the horizon in Linden 15 miles away. While others were evacuated for up to three weeks, we were affected only by the blanket of smoke that filled the skies when the wind went southwesterly. We were prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice, but we were spared. Living on the edge of the Sitgreaves National Forest where the tallest Pinion Pine, Alligator Juniper, or Shaggy Bark Juniper, is only 30 feet high and there exists ample spaces between them, we are much less vulnerable to forest fires here. The winds finally subsided, and the fire eventually contained after three nightmarish weeks. This was the year of our garden’s initiation by hail, smoke and fire.
The Second Year of the Garden – Establishing Relationships
The following year these protective coverings were in use. We also constructed raised beds infused with ample organic fertilizing material, built straw bale worm beds, purchased larger tilling equipment (however, today, five years later, we use only a broad fork on the developed beds) and purchased young plant starts from Kim in order to get a jump on the season. Although we pined for a year-round passive green house so that we can begin our own starts in the winter months, that year we had to settle for a hoop house which would at least extend the season. We were able to grow greens and hearty crops such as spinach, kale, and some herbs well into December. We delivered greens to our small clientele of restaurants and private customers. We met so many people anxious to obtain produce picked within 24 hours and delivered weekly to their doors. (Gas was still under $2/gallon at the time.)
We started a new tradition with our new friends—Thankmas. Two weeks after Thanksgiving and two weeks before Christmas, we fill our modest home with friends and friends of friends and many lovely dishes. This is the time we celebrate friendship. It is an epicurean event! In 2002, fourteen people christened the event; in 2010, thirty-five people huddled around the Thankmas turkey and ham. Although I don’t remember when we began this ritual, Clark and I will walk the perimeter of our property at least twice a year with an attitude of gratitude and celebration. Clark walks first sprinkling a fine line of salt and I follow behind laying a thin trail of corn meal. It is a Lakota practice we learned when we belonged to a Native American lodge many years ago. These rituals, the fellowship of Thankmas and the honoring the land, are more meaningful to us than any Sunday in church could possibly be.
A year earlier we met Barbara Kerr, mother of the solar box cooker, and took a tour of her Center in Taylor, Arizona. We became completely enamored of her incredible solar innovations and accomplishments in living completely off the grid in a harmonious and sustainable fashion for 25 years. She became one of our greatest mentors and friends. I was honored to be her editor for her collection of poetry God as a Shifting Concept and an autobiographical account Home Was a Windjammer. We have served on the Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center board since 2003. The Maverick Magazine published an article on the Sustainable Living Center and board in celebration of Barbara Kerr’s birthday in their November 2009 issue (titled “Happy Birthday, Barbara, Center, and Board”).
Getting Off Grid and Staying On Track
In the third year of gardening, 2004, we were still working full time and maintaining our garden with the time that was left. Early on we made a pact that we would always keep our balance in our lives as gardeners. “Joy in all things” was our motto. However, we began to feel the pull and strain of keeping two full-time jobs afloat—in town and in garden. While teaching consumed my time for nine months of the year, I did have those wonderful summer vacations that allowed me to plunge into my second life as a gardener. Clark’s job as a realtor was always sporadic, so he felt the greater pressure year long. We expanded the garden and developed new beds in order to build up a larger inventory, as well as have room to experiment with new crops. The garden consumed all of our spare time and all of our money. We made great strides in our goal to live off the grid, but we had to stop and accept the fact that as people in our early fifties, we needed to pace ourselves. We had done everything ourselves but pull the double-wide onto the property and put in the well.
If we were to succeed in our produce business, we needed a plan and some help, or we certainly would be Off Grid, as in out of our minds! It was time to assess our situation, to prioritize our time, energy and finances. We did, but quite truthfully, I can’t remember if we changed much. I do remember that the world of gardening, or rather, the world of food producing was changing at an alarming pace. Or at least we became acutely aware of the proliferating practice of growing genetically altered food, large corporations like Montesano taking over seed production, new FDA regulations and proposed legislation to regulate or abolish alternative healing products and all of this was happening when the world’s population reached the six billion mark and global warming was at such a pitch that even the staunchest critics began to melt. Our problems seem to pale in light of this complex net of what was sure to be the deterioration of our human health all over the planet. In this light, the purpose for Lodestar Gardens felt even more clear, and our resolve to continue on with our experiments stronger. We bucked up and re-charged the magnet. Into our lives came people like Perry Wray, and neighbors and young people who had more muscles than cash. We got some help. LODESTAR Gardens received its Arizona business license on August 28, 2004.
WWOOF to the rescue
The following year we became hosts and were listed in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) 2005 directory. We had a wonderful assortment of workers and with their help we were able to construct fences, clear fields for additional garden space and establish a yard for our newest endeavor as bee stewards. The garden was bountiful this year and the business was growing, but we were still unable to finance a passive solar, year-round-growing green house. We worked like most farmers from sun up to sun down. In an effort to keep our balance, we took excursions to nearby Sedona for R&R hikes and good meals. To those who are considering a gardening life, we recommend including some out of town, or out of the routine habits in your busy schedules. Joy in all things.
Learning new things also keeps us pumped up and energized. This same year Kim Costion introduced us to a new approach to gardening inspired by Michael Martin Melendez, a biochemist who operates an experimental nursery in Los Ulnas, NM. His understanding that mycorrhizae fungi are the key to healthy soil, required a radical re-thinking of some of our basic gardening practices. We began to experiment with his formulas in our gardens.
Every WWOOF volunteer helped us to come closer to completing another project. But now our quandary was two-fold. First, how do we store our excess produce? We needed to build a root cellar and to learn how to process food. Second, where can we house our WWOOFers. We needed more space for accommodations. Our earnings barely covered the cost of maintaining and developing the garden. Once again, we took a deep breath. In November 2005, we tucked the garden to bed, looked around at what we HAD accomplished, and basked in gratitude for fruition, friends, support and good health. We salted and cornmealed the land one last time that year.
Coming Full Circle
When we ordered seeds in February 2006 we had already begun receiving the concerned phone calls about Wilma’s ill health. Clark’s 92-year old mother, having outlived her husband, Marvin, for the past 20 years, resided in Alameda, California. Clark’s brother and sister indicated that she needed another living situation. By the first planting in June, the arrangements for her to stay in Arizona were made. By August we were visiting her four or five times a week at a local elder care home. Her strong Glaspell, Montana constitution afforded her the strength to come out and visit Lodestar Gardens until mobility became too difficult. We have precious memories and pictures of her staring out our over-sized windows which face garden, meadow and foothills. She understood our passion and supported it after she died by passing on enough inheritance to make root cellar, green house and shop possible. Marvin grew up on a farm outside of Watsonville when it was still a small town and long before California’s population explosion. Marvin left the farm in order to attend Stanford University and go on to become a community and educational leader in the much larger San Francisco Bay Area. His was a Horatio Alger story and he captured some of the American Dream. Today he would certainly smile to see his son return to a lifestyle of tilling the soil. Wilma’s and Marvin’s spirits are quite alive here.
2007 – Manifestation & Mastery / Courage & Completion
A few years back, we started another ritual. We began the new year by gathering some friends together in our living room and while we chat and eat, we create vision boards which represent how we picture the upcoming year. We also select some key words that serve as guideposts for the year. Clark’s words for the year 2007 were: clarity, manifestation, mastery and clarity; Barbara’s words were: courage, completion and prosperity.
We knew this would be a pivotal year. We were excited by the prospects that at last we had the funds to expand the gardens and create more accommodations for our WWOOFers, but the task was a bit daunting. We were keenly aware of our limitations and that our resources needed to be used wisely. We kicked our learning curve into hyper-drive. There were countless discussions, a mountain of questions, hours of research, endless brainstorming, list-making, flow charts, sketches and calculations made around the dining room table, as well as a continual assessment and reassessment of our resources. It was a headache full of fun thinking as sustainably as possible. We pondered what the next step should be? Every project was an interlocking step and contingent on the next. Cost, weather, season, labor, and time impacted each scenario. We also constantly asked how each step fit the larger picture, helped to create a closed loop, a sustainable lifestyle?
Our first goal has always been to grow vital, healthy food for market and enough to sustain our household. Our long-term goals are to use a portion of our 40-acre piece to create (1) a retreat wherein guests are served fresh garden produce and afforded the beauty and solitude this land has to offer and (2) a space for a school that offers courses in sustainable practices and a space that facilitates workshops and gatherings.
With limited funds, there was a need to set priorities. They consisted of three interfacing and equally important categories—food, energy, water. The operating phrase was “living things first.” A micro application of this tenant would be, if we had time for only one chore, and it was a toss-up between fixing the tractor wheel or fertilizing the lettuce beds, the beds would win; a macro application would be, if we had only enough money to do one project, and it was a toss-up between fencing the property so as to keep out the coyotes or investing in a new well to accommodate the expanded garden, the well wins out. This prioritizing was very helpful in making shared decisions, but the most benefit came in the clarification we received during the process of identifying these priorities.
We now appreciate how powerful mind-splitting visualization sessions can be, whatever the outcome. We now better understand each other, our different perceptions and communication styles, our strengths and limitations. During hours of discussion we got to express and fine-tune the details of our lifelong dreams, to learn to listen to each other. Each minute spent in this manner was like energy deposited in a manifestation account. Thoughts make things. We’ve heard about how many times partners who build homes together ultimately end up divorced. I can see why, given how much you get to learn about each other.
Since our common pledge remained “joy in all things,” we knew when to blow town when the tension and the physical labor got to be too much. Most often we went fishing in one of those pristine Arizona lakes in the Mt. Baldy wilderness area, or we took a day hike with our two dogs. We learned that our different working styles were ultimately a blessing, but that we needed to temper the yin and yang with excursions and time out for fun. It is one of life’s greatest ironies that when the possibility of manifesting a life dream (a home, retirement, a relationship, etc.) draws ever closer, we humans all too often sabotage the outcome. It is a wily temptation best averted by remembering what you want and appreciating how far you’ve come. Our relationship is a cornerstone for Lodestar Gardens. We consider it a responsibility to take care of both. We agreed that both of us were a very long way from mastery and completion, but the opportunity to manifest was kickass!
In an attempt to establish a network, we started to host quarterly gatherings of gardeners and people interested in keeping bees. We call it Bees N’ Seeds and while our exchange of information and seeds is sometimes deeply distracted by a preoccupation for the delicious potluck dishes everyone brings, we do achieve the nurturing fellowship and camaraderie that keeps us all afloat in our various attempts to become more self sufficient. During the year we were also blessed with meeting new acquaintances who offered good ideas, old friends who offered moral and physical support and WWOOFer’s with strong hands and backs. All were indispensible in our efforts to expand the garden area by 200%, dig out an area for a pond, construct a shop in which to work, and develop a root cellar in order to store our food and attain self sufficiency. However, the greenhouse still needed to be constructed so that we could grow year round. Until that was built, we would again close down the garden in late fall. We looked forward to building a passive solar green house by the fall of next year—2008.
2008 – Expect the Unexpected
Barbara’s vision board for 2008 hinted at a year full of the companionship of family and friends: “Be there for others.” For some reason, we had more visitations and did more traveling than any year since first moving on to the property. The plans we had to build the green house by fall seemed to get buried in distractions and delayed by circumstance. The expanded lower garden seemed to suck up all of our spare time, in addition to an inordinate amount of expensive supplements. Bryan Jones, owner of Sweet Corn Organic Nursery, and a seed and plant nutrient business came to our rescue with valuable advice and resources. That year the existing garden was doing well, but we couldn’t seem to move forward with the green house. I remember shuddering at the idea of another year passing before the structure was completed, but that’s what happened. Before I could feel too much disappointment, I was pulled back into my job consumed by preparations for the fall semester. We did manage to research, purchase and place steel containers on various locations of our property for use as storage containers and as a shell for a studio. Steel containers are spawning a whole new form of architecture; it’s worth your time to research their potential application to your situation. We are very satisfied with their function and cost.
In the morning of October 10th I turned on the hotel television so as to catch the morning news before I left to attend an all-day college conference in Sierra Vista, a town 20 miles from the Mexican border. Every television station was reporting on the stock market crash and announcing the period of recession. A military base, Fort Huachuca, specializing in psychological operations, lay just outside of town. I recall the number of helicopters and airplanes that punctuated the sky and my ear drums that weekend. I wondered if it was normal, or if some urgent action was being taken in light of our economic situation. I saw law enforcement and imported self appointed militia lining point along the highway, where they always were since the immigration fiasco heightened a year ago, but something about them was different this time. I secretly wondered if this kind of surveillance would become more common? That weekend marked a feeling that deep, impending change had finally knocked on everyone’s all too fragile economic door and life would never be the same again. Several times over the past eight years we felt the wheel turn.
Looking back on it the delay in building in 2008, ironically worked to our advantage in terms of obtaining available workers. By the time we were able to act on construction, plenty of people were available and eager to work on it; the recession took only a few months to take immediate effect on our economy. Arizona has been one of the places in our country hardest hit by the recession in terms of real estate and construction with the second highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. In the hands of our conservative state legislators, the devasted budget remains in a deteriorating state. Once again our commitment to provide vital, nutritious food and support a center for conscious living was fortified with these growing problems.
2009 – The Year of Design
Clark’s vision board for the new year had a headline quote from Buckminster Fuller: “The best way to predict the future is to design it.” Barbara’s board featured: “Design – Create – Design.” The common theme was design and our predominant mindset was innovation. The permit for the shop and living area above it, where many such things would take place, was issued in January. Final inspection took place in March. We now had a space to design and create projects, conduct classes, and house our WWOOFers. But we knew we needed help in turning design into reality. By the first planting, Scott Little joined us as a permanent WWOOF resident of the Lodestar Garden. Among Scott’s many attributes is his skill as a machinist. With his physical labor and his intellectual contributions, projects at Lodestar Gardens could finally blossom.
In June and July we held our first community education classes in conjunction with our local community college, Northland Pioneer College, and the Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center. (See NPC for course listings; this year’s (2010’s) course, “Introduction to Solar Cooking and Sustainability,” is scheduled for April 16 + 17) Students created three types of alternative cooking stoves using only boxes, tin cans, and cellophane wrap: a solar box cooker, a cook-it (invented by Barbara Kerr), and a rocket stove. They also took a tour of Lodestar Gardens and our alternative energy systems. The dream was taking form. But before design results in products or projects, there must be funding.
We finally made a bold decision to allocate our financial reserves for developing our infrastructure and to go as fast as we possibly could while attempting to keep our motto in the mind: joy in all things. Clark and I have been extremely skeptical of the economy for a very long time. In part, a failing economy fanned our enthusiasm to live a self sufficient life style in the first place. So with Scott’s help, our designs were fine-tuned and preparations were made to develop the greenhouse and a growing tunnel. Every Thursday during the spring, summer and early fall we harvested, washed and packaged our produce. On Friday we traveled 16 miles into town and made deliveries to our preferred customers, sold what was left in the local farmer markets, and any greens substandard for market were donated to our local mission, The Love Kitchen. This had been our routine for the past four years, but this year we coupled the normal gardening duties with the planning and designing of major new projects.
It was an odd gardening year over all. Growing was off-kilter; everyone at the farmer’s market agreed that it was indeed a very odd year. For instance, our dry beans got off to an early gangbuster start and then simply stopped midsummer. Our friends complained that their summer squash died out in the middle of summer and winter squash began ripening weeks too early. We had only a modest amount of produce to store in our root cellar in its first year of use. Gardening is always unpredictable, but this year inspired us to pay closer attention to growing cycles and dates, collect more specific data and sharpen our powers of observation about the plants we grow, experiment with new plants and become more informed about the plants indigenous to this area. Plants are great teachers.
After ten years of trial and error, we are now ready to grow year round. We trust the stream of resources and support will be there when we need them. We also trust that the knowledge, insight and energy will come in a timely and natural manner. We are forever grateful for the many people who helped us move rocks, plant seeds, harvest leaves, dig holes, gave us advice, purchased our produce, and sat with us in our garden. We feel we have had the support of a village since the very first.
Lodestar Gardens is a microcosm of our planet. As stewards and students of this land, we have the opportunity to hear the Earth’s rhythms and sing along with her verses. We seek only to recognize and enjoy her beauty, to understand what gifts she offers, collect them respectfully, and use them with gratitude. If there is everything we need to sustain us here, there is no shortage anywhere. Our quest is to truly understand this and live accordingly.
In Common Mind and Mutual Heart,
Clark and Barbara Hockabout