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Building Our Farm One Pergola At A Time

The very first pergola. Hand built in the driveway before transporting out to the farm.

It’s a bit funny how it all started.  I would love to tell you it was a grand business scheme complete with well thought out ideas, a marketing plan, and great advertising.  

A grand plan to build a business that would allow our farm to earn an income, and create a more self-sufficient farm and life.

It was however, all by chance.  You see, after clearing the land for the first time and putting in the raised bed gardens – we sat in lawn chairs in the upper northwest corner of the “farm” and took in the view.  

While sitting, Mary simply said…”wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to sit and enjoy the garden and look out at the barn and farm”.

Early spring…the farm pergola with the barn being constructed in the background. Its a great place to sit when you need a rest!

We both liked the look of a pergola over other choices of garden structures like a gazebo or canopy.  The rustic and beautiful lines of a pergola just fit the theme of what we wanted our Old World Garden Farm to be about. Over the course of the next few weeks we looked everywhere to buy our dream pergola.  The problem was, we couldn’t find one we liked. We seemed to have two choices –  flimsy metal canopies that came with a not so flimsy price –  or ultra expensive wood kits on the markets that required the equivalent of a house payment.  So we decided on a third option…design an old world pergola and build it.

This was the view Mary loved of the fence and garden from the first time we sat in the lawn chairs with just an open field.

With no power still at the farm, and much like our chicken coop – we built our farm pergola in the driveway of our suburban neighborhood.  We cut our own pattern for the edges from a piece of cardboard until we liked the curves – then proceeded to cut out the purlins with an old jigsaw.  

Looking back now – I laugh thinking how long it took to cut those boards – having to stop every 15 minutes just so the ol’ jigsaw would stop smoking from overheating.  We cut every curve and notch by hand – even cleaning out the notches with a hand chisel to get “just the right look”.    At the end of a couple long days – there she stood –  our “old world” garden pergola – an all wood, all natural hand-built pergola erected in our driveway.  We celebrated by heading out to a local dining establishment for a celebratory beverage and meal.

It took FOREVER to cut these notches the first time with our old jigsaw!

And then it happened  – Mary’s phone rang, and our little business started.  The call was from  parents of our neighbors down the street.  They had just driven by our driveway while we were at dinner and the pergola caught their eye.  She innocently asked where we had purchased it , because like us – she had been looking for a “real wood” pergola.  We laughed and said we looked too, and finally had just built one.  Before we both knew it – we were building another for them.   We built that one in the driveway too – and during the process a note appeared on the half-built pergola asking if we would build another….and then another.  That year, in just a few months we built and sold 15 pergolas…and every single bit of the profits were poured back into our farm.  It was our way to start building the dream.

Our first “sold” pergola.

And so it continues, one pergola at a time.  We have one simple rule.  Keep it fun and keep it simple.  We still build them one at a time – and always will, although we did purchase a new saw and a few new tools that makes all that cutting a little easier!  We will never build more than 50 a year – so that we can continue to enjoy time with our family and continue to build our farm.  We practice responsible building by using only FSC certified wood.    Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way

One of our favorites! A pergola we built for a couple in Ohio.

One of our favorites! A pergola we built for a couple in Ohio.

So whether it’s a CSA,  selling canned or baked goods, raising livestock, growing cash crops, making your own wine or beer – or building pergolas – there is always an opportunity to do things you love and to make a good simple living at it.  We still both have our days jobs – with no immediate plans to stop.  But our ultimate goal, is to have a completely self-sufficient little farmstead.  A little vineyard, an orchard, a full garden, chickens, with hopes of more future livestock as well.  And ultimately – a little bed and breakfast to share it all with others.  For now, our little business is helping us build it that much quicker, one pergola at a time.

– Jim and Mary