The Dream and the Diagnosis

A couple at farmers market

We began our tiny farm in 2015.

A pipe dream for years, we saw the first glimmer of possibility when we purchased a small, semi-rural property on 1.5 acres.  We didn’t need much.  Waving rows of cornstalks weren’t necessary.  Broad fields of soybeans didn’t appeal to us.  We just hoped for a little space where we could grow some vegetables and feed ourselves. An acre and a half should work just fine.

We dug a garden.  Planted more than we had ever been able to when living in town.

We started drowning in vegetables. We met members of a local group that was trying to start a farmers’ market in our little town.

“Maybe,” we said. “Maybe we can actually do this.”

We got involved.  LeeAnne volunteered as a market manager the first year the market opened.  We expanded the garden.  Made a plan. The second market year, we signed up as an official produce vendor.  We did alright.  Not great, but alright.

“I got this,” Mike said.  “I think we can do better.”  He spent the winter planning. He made spreadsheets and seeds lists and diagrams and projections.

In December, he developed a strange limp.

“I think we can triple our earnings this year,” he said. “We can become the best produce vendor at the market.”

In February, he started seeing double.  We planted our seed starts in a closet-turned-grow-room.

We finished spring planting, made it through hail season, and started pulling our first early summer crops.

We had great opening day at the market.

Mike’s plan worked.  We pulled rows of vegetables each week, filled our stand, and replanted the empty space in the garden.  LeeAnne started making jams, jellies, and pickles.  The canned goods upped our sales and we stayed on track with our goals. Mike’s limp got worse.  His vision got better. He struggled with exhaustion. The fingers on his right hand started to go numb.

“I don’t remember being this tired last year,” he said. He went to the doctor.  He went to another.  He went to more.

At the end of July and exactly two-thirds of the way through the market season, Mike was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease in which the body attacks its own central nervous system.

We started a new type of research now unrelated to gardens.

Fatigue occurs in about 80% of people and can significantly interfere with ability to function at home and work…Pain syndromes are common…difficulty with walking or balance…vision problems…getting overheated from exercise can cause a worsening of symptoms, even with a core temperature change of  as little as one-quarter of one degree…

Mike sat down in front of Google.  Farming with MS, he typed.

“There’s nothing out there,” he said. His face went sheet-white. “Nobody’s doing it.  No one at all.”

We powered blindly through the rest of the market season.  We went to neurologists. We set up the stand every week. We sold beets. We selected a drug with the best odds, we moved up the list of top vendors, we let the weeds grow up between rows. Sometimes, we forgot to harvest things that were ripe. We made it through Mike’s first 6 hour treatment and had our best day ever at the last market.

In October, after the market season ended, we collapsed, cried, and considered our options.

The farm was a brutal amount of work and didn’t pull in a fraction of the salary we needed to live.  We were accruing medical bills faster than we could pay them. We both had other full-time jobs.  Mike’s health might stabilize but he would always struggle. 80% of MS sufferers eventually develop a progressive form of the disease.  We could barely keep up with the work with the two of us healthy.  Our profits weren’t enough to consider paying for help. We were stressed to the breaking point.

We needed to give up the farm.

But we had hit every goal we had made.  We had already invested in the small infrastructure we needed: irrigation, a tiny tractor, a cold cellar, and chicken coop. We spent most of our free time outside, whether we gardened or not, and the more we researched health and diet the more we believed that the best option for food for Mike was our own – fresh, organic, and nutrient-dense vegetables from a garden where we controlled every aspect of its production.

We desperately wanted to farm.

“It’s okay,” we said.  “We have time.”  Not much, before January seed orders had to be made and the garden plan solidified.  But we had a little time.

We committed to not giving up.

We found peace with not knowing how we could possibly continue, but trusted that we would figure it out.

And here we are. We tossed it out to the universe and decided we’d take the next three months off. Well, mostly off.  The old plants need to be pulled from the beds, fresh compost turned in, and next year’s garlic must go  in the ground, but mostly we’ll relax this fall. Relax and reflect.  And we’re confident that somehow during this off period, we’ll figure out how to make it work.

Because come spring, we’re still going to be farming.

Hi!  We’re Mike and LeeAnne and we’re attempting to run a micro-farm while battling multiple sclerosis!

There, my dear Mike.  Now there’s something out there.

Even if we have to be the first.

5 Replies to “The Dream and the Diagnosis

  1. Your stories are an inspiration and will be such a blessing to people who read them! Thank you for sharing your lives with us <3 and let us know if we can help with anything!

  2. Much love and many prayers for both of you as you work through the challenges that you are facing. I am impressed with your determination to make it all happen.

  3. Keep at it. Let friends know of your determination. I have a friend with MS and the path is always uphill. But you can make it. The medical world is making progress with MS.

    I’ve known Barbara P a long time so I know determination must run in the family. I’ll be interested to see how it goes.


  4. Why not also take online donations to supplement blogging your story? Or perhaps you could come up with a few digital products folks could purchase from you to supplement. However, a donation button is probably your best bet. Just check out the legalities in Oregon. Best of luck!

  5. They always say this about MS and I’m going to affirm it. Really don’t make any decisions that are forever decisions the first year. Nerves do heal, slowly, and it is hard to know what you’ll get back. And hard work might elevate symptoms but it doesn’t make the lesions worse. Stress needs to go as much as possible.

    But I’m convinced I’m still moving because I keep moving, pushing through the pain which I have whether I’m sitting or walking. I’d rather be walking especially since I wasn’t for a while. I sing the “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” song from an old Christmas special every morning when I get out of bad and stagger at various levels of function to the bathroom.

    My best guess for you is that you will be happier being busy, doing what you love, than you would be letting the disease take over. You have to adapt but not submit. I wish this wasn’t the reality that you were facing, but you guys will make it work some how I know!

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