By Jim Phillips
— A couple of years ago, my mind started chewing on something. I had a vision that I wasn’t even sure I could make happen. My wife Elisa looked at me one night from the couch as I was cooking dinner and said, not so delighted, “You have an idea, don’t you?”
“I do, but I need you to take it seriously.” She agreed and, after a deep breath, I told her that I wanted to buy a house with some land and start a small, urban farm, eventually feeding ourselves with its yield. Chickens. Compost. Pickling. Fruit trees. Permaculture. I didn’t want to sell produce, necessarily. I wanted to turn it into an educational facility. I wanted to teach people how to do things for themselves. She stared at me for a moment. Then she fell off the couch laughing.
I understood why. We were born renters, and I’m a musician that had never farmed anything, never even held a chicken much less cared for one. When she had calmed, I just stood in the kitchen staring at her. She stared back and simply said, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
I replied, “I am.” Elisa nodded and within 20 minutes found us a place three blocks from our rental in Old Town with one-third of an acre. And the Josephine St. Yacht Club was born (“Josephine St.” by I Love Math being my favorite song). Music never leaves the picture.
I built a chicken coop, The Bungalow, and we bought three Rhode Island Reds. We raised the darlings in our laundry room, The Mud Wagon, with no idea how attached to them we would grow even before they began producing the beautiful eggs that are a staple at the Yacht Club. For thank you’s for help, for sick friends, for egg lovers of all kinds, we gift those eggs. We also had no idea how much work chickens are. That is how Dawn Patrol came to be.
We agreed that the grim reality was that we were going to have to get up at the crack of dawn to get all of this done. The crack of dawn. Every day. In the winter, two hours before sunrise. Dawn Patrol, a little bleary but always on its feet.
It was fall, but my farmer friends taught me that there is work to do even in winter. There is no rest. They taught me how to plant winter crops and prepare the soil. We planted somewhere around 15 tree saplings and some juvenile trees as well. Fruit trees, evergreens (whose needles serve as excellent mulch) and soon shade for the veranda. We planted flowers and herbs. Then we got the first water bill.
Based on that evil, wretched son of a bitch of a bill, we developed a simple system to preserve rainwater and our dish and laundry gray water. We are even able to save the water from the shower while we’re waiting for it to heat up instead of watching it go down the drain with our money. Hauling bucket after bucket all over God’s earth is tougher than the hose by a damn sight. But it’s a good workout, and it’s free.
Our first spring yield for vegetables was small but so delicious. We were gifted heirloom plants and seeds. Of course, some of our attempts fell completely flat. I had been warned about this inevitable outcome. What made me push on was the fact that we had each thing serving a purpose for the other. I think it’s a hell of a start when you can stick with your mission even if everything doesn’t always cooperate. But a salted heirloom Moscovitch tomato with black coffee in the kitchen for breakfast lets you know that you’re doing something right.
Another winter and the Seed Project began. During the fall, Elisa preserved and saved seeds from all of the most successful plants we had. That’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds. We set up an indoor grow room, and we have tomatoes and basil already, in early February, in need of being repotted. Spring is around the corner so the work can never stop.
As I said earlier, I want the Yacht Club to serve in some way to educate people in the benefits of caring for yourself and living within your means. It literally translates to freedom. I just wasn’t prepared for the fringe benefits that I would have thrown my way. We walked into the Yacht Club alone. And upon entering, found a world of people with similar minds. All willing to help in some way with advice or gifting or just giving you a little pat pat when you fail. Or a high five when you win.
Having lived in the underworld of music for more than a couple of decades, what I have always enjoyed most—besides playing, obviously—is the sense of community, loyalty and camaraderie. Somebody is always willing to lend a hand. What I found in the underworld of farming is similar. It was a bit of a shock for me. I can name at least three people who came forward to help, having grown up on farms. But you must understand, I have know them for five-plus years and never knew that they had a knowledge of farming. Then, of course, the pros are also more than willing to pitch in. And I have the best of that lot to work with, too.
This project more or less defines my love of New Mexico. Elisa and I have to do a lot on our own and live by our wits. It’s just the nature of this thing. But we have a giant safety net. Dawn Patrol can be tough. It’s work. But watching the sun come up over the Yacht Club as you put down compost, thinking of the community and your vision, chickens lovingly following you asking for back rubs, well . . . that’s made the Yacht Club not just four walls and a roof. It’s made it a real home.