There is a feel to certain homes that only comes through the daily practice of shaping it. Steve and Linnea Bensel have such a home. The first thing you see at the edge of their driveway is a farm stand, made in the traditional style of a Japanese garden house. This time of year it is full of the late winter foods: squash, leeks, greens, carrots, onions, eggs, and a bin of different potatoes. They leave a jar out for their neighbors to pay in.
Farther up the drive is the first home they built, a 12 x 16 cabin with a loft. The roof is made of old mill slabs covered with shingles, the posts and supports simply fir saplings cut from the forest and hand hewn with a draw knife. These days the cabin is usually filled with herbs drying or to keep onions and squash out of the cold.
Next to the house is a filbert grove, and beyond that acres of loam soil, ground they cleared from the forest 35 years ago. In the years since, they’ve learned how to make their farm a system, rotating their chickens through the fields to eat old crops and fertilize before new plantings. Their clearing gets early sun.
Two weeks ago Joel, another farmer on the island, had his boat wash up on shore in a storm. Steve, Jeff and I joined him down on the beach, using ropes and Steve’s tractor winch to get the boat off the rocks. Working next to Steve, I saw him stare at a bolt for a second. He looked down at a chain hook, hooked it over the bolt and unscrewed it. “How’d you know that’d work?” I asked him later. “I didn’t,” he said, “but it was a long ways back for a wrench.”
Steve’s designed the only solar tractor I’ve ever seen. It runs for more than 5 hours on a charge, enough for him to drive down the county road to their apple orchard on Sandy Point and cultivate their other acres of vegetables. A third generation farmer, Steve’s seen a lot of trends come and go. Not having to pay for gas is one he likes.
Linnea grew up on a Waldron Island homestead, and has been farming her whole life. She too is always looking for what’s new. Several weeks ago I stop in and she turns the radio off. “There’s a campaign on buying ugly food in Canada,” she says. “They’re getting people discounted local produce and putting more money in farmer’s pockets. Saves food from going to the compost pile or to the pigs. Makes sense to me.”