Over the many years I’ve been writing this newsletter, there have been many stories I’ve wanted to tell but couldn’t. Some of the most “interesting” things that have happened on the farm involved people. But our farm is a small farm and Winters is a small town, and I’ve always had to take care to avoid upsetting or offending anyone. Even after people die, they still have numerous family members who survive them.
Last week, a friend of mine commented that Terra Firma must be one of the more established farms in the area. I laughed and told him that we are actually still newbies. Many, if not most of our neighbors are third or fourth generation family farms. Both grudges and friendships can be passed down for decades, so it’s important to maintain good relationships.
On our primary farm site, the old owners had long-running feuds with several of the neighbors. They shared a private road with several other properties, and never had a verbal or written agreement about how to maintain it. Several times, one owner or another would actually put up a physical barrier to block access by the others — an attempt to enforce a “prescriptive” easement. Several lawsuits were filed.
Another neighbor had put up permanent, metal “Keep Out” signs every 25 feet along the property line. A dispute with a third neighbor occurred when he planted nut trees right up to the property line. The owner promptly built a fence just inches from the trees, preventing the neighbor from doing necessary maintenance work.
We were lucky to miss most of this drama. Within a year or two of our purchasing the property, most of the neighboring properties changed hands as well. It was fairly easy to get on good terms with the new neighbors right off the bat.
For a “newbie” organic farm, antagonistic relationships with neighbors can be literally “toxic”. If the farmer next door is not organic — and most of ours are not — it’s not necessarily illegal for them to drift pesticides onto your property, unless those pesticides are not allowed for use on the crops you are growing. You need to have a good working relationship with your neighbors to ensure that they are careful to avoid drift. The only alternative is to leave a very wide buffer zone on your own property.
Being a good neighbor can mean a lot of things, but most of it boils down to simple courtesy and respect. We try our best to practice the Golden Rule, even if it means that some of the most entertaining and amusing events that happen on the farm will never get told in this newsletter.