To honor their Beginning Farmer and Rancher: Women in Texas Mentor and Holistic Management practitioner Betsy Ross, some alumni from the program decided to get together to undertake a project at Betsy’s house. What follows is a blog, lovingly written, that provides the details of that extraordinary weekend!
I think we all felt that tingle that we were onto something wonderful during that first opening circle of HMI’s first-ever class of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas that started in 2012. Those 30 women had the passion, no doubt; but just as strong was their need—for knowledge, and methods, and processes, but perhaps their most pressing need was for community—other women doing what they were doing, sharing their passion for the land and the way of life that comes from being a woman of the land. Mentoring was part of that program; and one of those amazing mentors; Betsy Ross, felt the urge to download her seven-plus decades of learning into this pool of eager women.
Betsy Ross has been around Holistic Management a long time. She had been a science teacher, rancher and as a retirement career, followed her passion for understanding the life beneath the soil surface. Betsy has combined years of self-education and observation with formal study and certification by Elaine Ingham to form Sustainable Growth Texas, a landscape and consulting firm to help folks regenerate soil and set the table for the desired plant communities. As she mentored the Beginning Women Farmers, she naturally lit fires from her own flame. Several of the women in that first class chose to go into training to become Holistic Management Certified Educators. Others took Betsy up on her many generous offers to “ride along” on pasture walks all over Texas.
As the women graduated and continued their close relationships with each other and the rest of the Holistic Management community, Betsy continued to be a mentor and an inspiration to them. As her 80th birthday approached, the power of that community showed itself as pure green heart. Here is what CD Pounds (now a Certified Educator and expert remodeler) said about it:
“It started with a phone call from Merrie Talley asking me if I would like to help with a little project at Betsy’s and I said sure. Merrie proposed that we get a few people together and fix up Betsy’s porch so that she and Kathryn (Betsy’s big sister) could have a nice place to have coffee in the mornings. Thinking out loud I added that maybe Bobby and I could build her a couple of benches to put under the trees. Merrie mentioned that she would do the cooking if I came up with a porch renovation design. Well, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I couldn’t do a half-way project—especially for Betsy. I called Merrie back and asked what she thought about removing the old trellis and installing a new one. Additionally, I knew I needed to repaint the house. Merrie said she thought it was a great idea. We discussed the possibility about doing some landscaping and Merrie said, “I’ll work on that end of the project and figure out how to get Betsy to agree to it.” We both knew if Betsy caught wind of what we were doing she would humbly think it was too much and never let us do it.
I emailed Julie (Betsy’s neighbor and helper in the business as well as Beginning Farmer Alumni)) and asked her to measure the exterior of the house along with the porch and trellis. It took a few days to hear back from Julie who finally sent pictures and measurements. I had to laugh when she said she about had a heart attack trying to get measurements while Betsy was out of town and almost getting caught by Kathryn. We texted back and forth for several weeks until I finally had the information I needed to put a plan together.
Merrie (a Beginning Farmer alumni and Houston landscaper) decided to tell Betsy that she was coming to her home for the weekend to work on one of “their projects” so that Betsy would reserve that time to be home. So far, so good. Later, I asked Merrie if she figured out how to tell Betsy that she wanted to landscape the front of her house. She said, “not yet, but I’m working on it.” I told Merrie that Tracy Litle (another alumni who is now a Holistic Management Certified Educator) was a great cook and to call her to help with the menu. Later, I saw Tracy at the Mother Earth News Fair and asked her if she was still coming to Betsy’s and she said, “yes, if we aren’t in lambing season.” At this point, I wasn’t sure if everyone was going to show up.
I emailed our team the itinerary with a list of tools we needed.
Everyone that I asked to help with this project, “showed up” and I might add, “showed out” with their skills. I even received a call from Karen McFarland asking if we needed an extra couple who had experience in landscaping and some carpentry skills. She was speaking about Rebecca Nunnally and her husband, Stewart, who is Betsy’s dentist. We were delighted and amazed at their skills.
We picked up the trailer-load of cedar for the trellis, stained it and stacked it to dry. Merrie called and laughed as told me that Betsy asked her if she was trying to “pull a fast one” by coming to her house for the weekend to surprise her for her 80th birthday. Merrie said, “well no Betsy, I didn’t even know it was your birthday!” I thought, wow, God sure knows how to time events! What were the chances of us doing a project for Betsy only to find out that this particular weekend was her 80th birthday?!! Julie mentioned that Kathryn loved working with colors and would want to pick out the color of the paint for the house. I said, “that suits me fine because I prefer that they pick out what they like.”
Finally, a week away from our project commencement date, Merrie called Betsy to tell her we would be descending on them. Betsy didn’t skip a beat, stating they would be delighted to see everyone and that she wanted Kathryn to select the paint color. I immediately texted Kathryn who was thrilled about our project and she texted the names of the colors she liked. I picked up the paint.
Lauri (Lauri Celella, alumni and Holistic Management Certified Educator in training) volunteered to arrive with us early Thursday morning so we could get a head start power washing the house and prepping it. It worked out well because we left our truck and flatbed trailer with cedar at Lauri’s house so that Dr. Celella could haul it for us Friday morning. Lauri had boxes of potatoes, cook stoves and her gear, which we loaded into our construction trailer. We arrived at Betsy’s in time to power wash the house and scrape the porch. Betsy greeted us with a warm hug and she looked at me and said, “I think you are crazy for doing this but we really appreciate everything all of you are doing for us.”
Day 1-Friday morning: The Nunnallys arrived at 7:30 am ready to work. They arrived with big smiles and a trailer full of great tools that they were experienced in using. Betsy had hot coffee for everyone. Julie had mowed around the house earlier and we could see her like a bolt of lightening helping from one end of the property to the other making sure everything ran smoothly. It was a windy, overcast day. I was quietly praying and had a little talk with God: “Lord, we have to get this job done, you see all these cars out here, I thank you that we don’t get over-spray on them and that you will calm the weather so we can paint Betsy’s house. This is her 80th birthday and we can’t disappoint her, plus everyone has taken time to be here for such a time as this…..in Jesus name ….Amen.” Then I made the mistake of asking Betsy if it was always this windy at her farm, she assured me by saying, “we sit on a hill and yes we get a fair amount of wind.” (I reminded myself of my prayer and believed we would have good weather in spite of what I could see).
Dr. Nunnally brought out his pick-axe and chain saw and began work on the flower beds. Rebecca Nunnally climbed up her ladder, started taking down the upper trellis with her Dewalt drill. Bill Litle and Bobby worked on the other end while Tracy and I removed old nails and we stacked the 2×2 cedar boards on the back of a truck. I decided I wanted to use some of the old, straight cedar boards to build a couple of benches for Betsy and Katherine so they would have something old with something new. They could move the benches anywhere they wanted to set them. I wanted this to be a surprise so we had to hide our project on the side of the house. Rebecca quickly set up a site with her chop saw and we cut the boards for the benches. She sanded them while Dave Celella and I built one bench before we ALL tackled caulking the house to prep it for paint the following day.
Merrie arrived with a trailer full of plants including two beautiful white rocking chairs to place on the finished porch for Betsy and Kathryn. Larry McFarland worked on removing old electrical wire as Karen helped Dr. Nunnally clean out the flowerbeds.
The faint aromas coming from the barn beckoned us as Tracy and Merrie announced that lunch was served. Before we returned to work from lunch, Betsy in her wisdom and desire to train up the next generation, took time to teach—-I would call it “a powerful walk with Betsy.” We all know that when you have the privilege of being around Betsy there is always something new to learn and it usually comes in the form of a firehose of knowledge. By the end of the day our fingers and bodies were sore from caulking, climbing up and down ladders, cleaning out beds…. but we accomplished our goal and polished it off with a gourmet dinner.
Day 2 – Saturday: Thank you Lord good weather!! After a scrumptious breakfast Bobby and I started spraying primer on the house as the team masked off windows and doors. Next they tackled hand painting the inside of the garage. Dr. Nunnally and Bobby showed up every time we needed to move the ladders. I looked over at the small building next to Betsy’s house and directed a team to caulk it quickly because I thought I would have enough paint (I was praying) to paint it, too. You know how us women are about things matching. Dr. Nunnally, Larry, Karen, and others began putting the plants in the beds. Kathryn walked by numerous times smiling and excited with all the work in progress.
Betsy took time with each team member to teach or share something special. I saw Lauri and Dave Celella looking at specimens through the microscope and Lauren on the computer with Betsy.
At noon, Betsy treated us to another “Betsy moment” about compost teas. By the end of the day I was so thankful—the spraying was completed, the garage was painted and all the windows and doors were unmasked. I grinned thinking I was going to be in the shower a while since my hair and arms were covered with yellow paint. That evening, after dinner, Betsy gave us a slide presentation, of the incremental effect of the holistic practices that she helped with—on each of our farms.
Day 3 – Sunday: Another beautiful day. More plants were planted/mulched while l, Rebecca, and Lauri painted trim. Dave Celella built two more benches and we began to lay out posts for the trellis. Dalton Pope (Merrie’s son) arrived and skillfully worked with Dave to install 2x2’s after the frame was built.
At noon, Dr. Nunnally helped Merrie and Tracy grill some of Betsy’s delicious steaks. We circled up again for prayer before our final meal. Dr. Nunnally made a toast to Betsy – what a brilliant, amazing woman and friend to all of us. Merrie cut a decadent, chocolate sheet cake as Dr. Nunnally lead us in singing a hearty Happy Birthday tribute to Betsy.
Betsy was on the phone and walked by as they were carrying the white rocking chairs to the porch. When Betsy looked up she exclaimed, “Where did those come from?” We all took group pictures with Betsy and Kathryn. Dave and Lauri along with Bobby, Lauren and I painted a coat of paint on the porch and most of the team packed up and left. Betsy and Julie made sure everyone left with a load of grass fed beef along with big bags of compost amendments. I thought, “Oh my goodness, what a blessing Betsy and Kathryn are to so many people.”
Monday morning we had breakfast with Kathryn, Betsy and Suzie. Bobby and I finished touching up paint, put a final coat on the p
orch and installing the white railing. We took a few more pictures of Betsy and Kathryn on the finished porch and were pleased with how it all turned out. Bobby and I were so proud of our team. They gave their all.
Kathryn walked up with a flower and exclaimed that she was going to paint the benches purple to match the flower. Betsy said, “I think that’s a marvelous idea, Kathryn.” We said our goodbyes with happy hearts, fond memories and headed home. There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished when we have a willing heart and the right spirit.”
Here is Betsy’s comment after the weekend:
“What a celebration, community, good will – and great accomplishments came about! Kathryn (my sister) and I are very humbled but grateful for all the friends gathered to share with us. I got to celebrate my 80th birthday with very special friends and family.
What a gift the time (no one really had time to come spend 3-4 days working at our farm), work (my word, HMI’ers are SO talented), being together, wonderful food (imagine, planning, cooking and serving 15-18 folks for 3-4 days (good, good – Tracey did all her magic as did Merrie – somehow Merrie managed to find time to make my favorite birthday cake – chocolate with pecans from our soil fertility care), AND we got in a few ‘Meals and Learn’ sessions.
To CD and Bobbie Pounds (head carpenters), Bill and Tracey Litle (painter and co-cook), Laurie and Dave Celella (painters), Karen and Larry McFarland (painters, landscaper, master electrician), Stuart and Rebecca Nunnally (landscapers and painters), Merrie Talley (co-cook), Dalton Pope (carpenter/painter), and Lauren Bradbury (computer guru and painter) – and loads of phone calls and cards, thank you!
So when you can, come see the results of those precious times and gifts and what they created – together. HMIer’s! Friends for life! The rest of our good friends, come on by and sit with us on our wonderful porch nestled by wonderful native landscaping. Quite a birthday. I hope I get to remember it for a very long time!”
Blessings to all,