So, everyone wants to know, “what does BLD stand for?”
You will get a different answer depending on who you ask. However, Leah will say that it stands for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, therefore representing our goal of being able to serve a full set of meals right here from our farm (and maybe from a neighbor’s farm, too). The idea is that we are working to make our corner of the world a little more self-reliant and full of a lot more joy. Leah and I pinky swore that we will do everything we can to reach this goal before we die.
Now more on the answer to “what does BLD stand for?”
Somewhere back around 1995, I sat down with my sister Michaela and our friend Chris D and worked out a plan to start an artist collective in Columbus Ohio. Well, I don’t actually think we were really thinking that far ahead just then. More like we wanted a place for ourselves and we figured to pay for it by talking our motorcycle friends into paying us for a place to store their bikes inside during the winter. Regardless of how forward our minds were going at that point, a seed was planted in my mind. I imagined a place where folks could come for all sorts of things. One idea was an art gallery with artist studios. Another was a building materials re-sale store with classes on how to do simple remodel and repairs to homes. What we didn’t do was limit ourselves to exactly what could happen there. Now come to think of it there was one rule we did have. NO BANDS. We managed to find our way into a 12,000 sq.’ warehouse from the late 1800’s that had once been a building supply depot sitting on a 3 acre lot within direct line of sight to downtown Columbus. The ancient timbers were piles as high as physics allow with dust and debris of the years the place was used to store and sell all the material needed to build a growing metropolis. Birds occupied the tower at the top of the elevator shaft; most of the upper windows were gone. The building screamed out for someone to come and love it. Which is exactly what we did.
Jump forward 8 years and a thousand changes and even the NO BANDS rule was gone. Gone too were my sister and Chris D.
In their place was a hardy band of intrepid adventurers who were absolutely convinced that the rules of polite society simply did not apply to them. We considered the space to be the tree house we always said we would live in as children. A life-sized playground if you will. At the time BLD gallery was described by the curator of the Columbus Museum of Art as the best underground art space in town. Our Halloween parties brought in 800 people without a bit of overt advertising. At least 3 albums were recorded in our music studio. 7 humans and 15 cats occupied the 12,000 square feet on and in it’s 3 acres.
Well. They say all good things must come to and end. BLD studios was no different. The end came just before Christmas 2004. Not by fire or calamity, but by a bureaucrat’s clipboard. By then though, even I had moved on. I had married and moved away 2 years earlier to Montana and was then living in Conneaut, Ohio across the street from where my father had grown up. With the demise of BLD studios, BLD farm was born. On November 6 2004, my (now ex-) wife, her then 6 year old daughter, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 pigs, 11 pigeons and 27 chickens and I had driven 2000 miles from Montana, under a low latitude auroral display the likes of which are rare at best, to set up shop on our 12 acre piece. Eventually we had 3 dogs, 3 cats, 13 pigs, 4 goats and over 130 chickens. (The falcons and hawks ate the pigeons) This incarnation ended after almost 4 years and then it was just my dog, Panama Red and I.
Not terribly long after this, i met Leah Wolfe while out on the road being a streetmedic at the RNC in St Paul. At first glance, it is safe to say she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. It took me a couple of years to convince her otherwise. Over the course of the last 4 years since we met, BLD farm has gotten a running start at what it is meant to be. With her help we have broken ground of the Seed House, started work on the Classroom, gotten the land designated as a Plant Sanctuary, and even got a new dog. It’s almost like this place (I) was waiting for her to come along and get things going. Our plans for the future include a folk arts learning center, The Trillium Center, and having livestock again (the chicks get here Monday!!!) and helping to reintroduce at-risk understory medicinal plants back into the woods around the place.
The Farm’s History
Back in 1948 my grandfather, James V Schiavone, purchased the 63 acres at 748 Furnace Road for only slightly more than he eventually paid for his ’72 Buick. He put his 3 sons to work on the land as soon as they were able to pull weeds and run the tractor. They had a modest farm whose product went to supplement the factory paycheck he received as a tool and die maker. They put just over 20 acres of land under plow, beans and corn like most folks around them, with the rest as tree lot. The last time it was planted by my family was in 1958, the year the youngest 2 (my father Charles and his twin brother James) graduated from High School. It was rented out to a local farmer for a few years but even that was finished by the early ‘60s. The land was left to recover until the mid ‘80s when the Landsmen and the Timber Agents convinced my Grandfather to let them punch 3 gas well on the land and to “harvest” the largest trees out of the wood lot.
The land is fairly flat with a general tendency towards a northern exposure. Moving from west to east, the land at 748 undulates in a series of low ridges running, in general, towards the northeast. Each of these ridges has a small stream or brook in their attendant valley.
Just below the first ridge east of Furnace Road, I have situated my workshop, a 30×40’ metal sided pole building. About 40’ south of the building is a vernal pool fed from underneath by a slow seep. This forms a small brook that then flows around my shop on its eastern face and circles back towards the west where it crosses under the road. The trees surrounding the shop are mostly Black Locust.
The largest valley runs through the middle of the property and forms a stream, which flows year round in wet years at about 40’ wide and 4-6” deep. In 2011 we began construction of a bridge across the stream near where the house will eventually be built. This brook drains from a large wetland on the property directly adjacent to the south. As yet I have failed to find its source. Following the stream’s path northward, the water enters the woods and meets up with the seasonal outflow of another vernal pool before continuing north and then east before emptying into a man-made pond on the property to the north.
The next “valley” east extends to the eastern edge of the property, which runs along the Ohio-Pennsylvania Border. This is by far the largest section of the property that includes the original tree lot. It seems fairly obvious that the entire property was clear cut and likely farmed some time before my grandfather purchased it judging by the lack of biological diversity. This area is a mixture of hardwoods and wetlands. Primarily silver maple, Tulip Poplar, Wild Cherry and Red Oak, there is a smattering of Blue Beech Black Locust, Sassafras, Hophorn Beam and Hickory. Possibly making up about 30 acres of the total section, this piece is where most of our habitat restoration work is occurring. Here we can find most of the damage left from the 1980’s extractions. The skidder tracks are still obvious in the woods and the gas road is still a morass. The ground cover is mostly poison and Virginia Creeper, which we are slowly working to replace with Golden Seal, American Ginseng, Trillium, Blood Root and Black and Blue Cohosh, among other things.
715 Furnace Road is a very different piece of land in several ways. Purchased in 2004, the land and house were supposed to be my parents’ retirement home. While it was logged only recently-within the last 10 years- there are still some fairly large trees on the property. It also seems that when the logging was done, large equipment was not used. The deep skidder tracks found on 748 are not apparent. Now, that said, when I got to the property in 2004, the slash piles were still there. The first 2 winters, I burned firewood cut from the rotting slash of Cherry and Red Oak trees. In spite of the removal of upwards of 25 large trees, 715 still has an impressive stand of mixed hardwoods, red and white Oak, Wild Cherry, Sassafras, Tulip Poplar, several types of Hickories and Maples with a smattering of Hophorn Beam and Blue Beech as well as the grander Common Beech.
Two streams and their confluence at the western edge of the property define the land itself. The primary stream runs from east to west just below and north of the house. This has cut a fairly deep ravine into the land, with some spots measuring a 10’ bank along the northern edge. The northern portion of the property has a south face dropping down into this stream. The 2nd stream runs south to north behind the barn until it joins the first stream and continues west. At the point where this 2nd stream comes onto the property the remains of a dam can be found that once formed a pond used to water the previous neighbor’s cattle. The dam was likely dismantled when the cows were sold off so now there is a broken dam head with large rock and chunks of cement where the stream cuts its former wall.
At some point before my family purchased the property, the neighbor wanted to square off his property and ended up selling a strip of land 66×1000’ long sticking off the southwestern corner of the property. This strip of land features some of the largest trees to be found in the area. Once the defining edge of a field above and a wetland, choked with skunk cabbage, below, the grand old Red Oaks found on this strip measure up to 6’ in diameter. The strip of land races up and down hills and crosses another stream before ending up back in the heart of a large timbers stand of several hundred acres. It’s an odd piece to be sure. With all the elevation changes, tracking exactly where the property lines fall is a task requiring a survey team with a good GPS unit. Luckily the western property pins and some of the original Black Locust fence poles are still present.
So, what is BLD farm?
Through all of this writing, I keep running the question thru my mind, “what is BLD farm?” It’s a question I am very familiar with as it was asked of me countless times back in Columbus at BLD studios. BLD is an idea. It’s not so much a brick and mortar structure. Nor is it a particular piece of land. As I see BLD, it represents the idea of human animals working together towards some particular goal. Be it the giant Halloween party or our Seed House. BLD is the spark created by human endeavor. That spark is a real thing. Also known as the Contractor’s Law, when 2 or more people get together to do some thing, their output, together, is greater than it would be if they were working alone.
BLD studios, in Columbus, was about artistic expression in an urban setting. Even then, though, the seeds of BLD farm were growing.
The gardens out back were simply amazing to behold when they were in full bloom. We knew how to stop. We understood the basic human need to take a step outside of the busy pace of city life and watch the butterflies drinking nectar from a Mexican Sunflower and the simple joy of an heirloom tomato fresh off the vine. I lost count of how many people came to me and told of how coming to BLD studios was like going out into the countryside, in spite of the hum of the interstates and the bang of the grave vault factory across the tracks.
We gave people a place to exhale. We gave them a place to just be.
BLD farm is only different in a few ways. First and foremost is the fact that BLD farm is rural based with more of an emphasis on agrarian concerns like growing tomatoes and building a better greenhouse. The artistic elements are still important.
Food must be beautiful as well as delicious to nourish the soul, so too should the barn and greenhouse compliment the land they are built upon. The process of bringing these fundamental aspects of daily life, food and shelter, into being is what BLD farm is about. The goal is to bring these things off while at the same time causing as little damage to the world as possible.
With the development of the Trillium Center, BLD farm is taking a step in a direction that I had hoped to take BLD studios. Having a place where people can come and pass on knowledge about things that really matter to our ability
to make the world a better place is extremely important. The, as yet unnamed, classroom will be the first step towards giving this process a place to really take off. The Seed House and the gardens are places of learning, to be sure, but not in the way that the classroom will be. Having a designated learning place at BLD farm is akin to the gallery at BLD studios. Our gallery was a clean space where all the effort of the very personal creative process could be put on display in such a way as to limit the distractions of normal life. The classroom will be multi-purpose structure. At 16×20’, it will be large enough to allow different configurations depending upon the activity taking place at the time.