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April 12th, 2012

farming decisions

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I decided that I cannot take on getting my own market garden going this year. After this past winter I've just had too difficult of a time focusing on what I would need to do in order to have a successful season. So instead I am just going to work for another farm or farms in the area and when I am not working concentrate on projects around the little bit of land I own and fixing up my house.

This was a definite departure from what I originally pictured, even knowing that I was walking into a situation in which the ground I own is not good for growing stuff yet. But I feel like it is the right decision based on my current emotional energy level and given the fact that I am totally questioning in which direction I want to focus my long term agricultural energies.

Over the past four years of managing a five acre vegetable farm, I've seen that the logical end of the direction I was headed was to become more and more mechanized. I am beginning to realize that this is OK and necessary if you are supporting a family purely by a farming income, especially for certain types of farming. But I still want to explore on a small scale what exactly you can do without heavy mechanization. I'm afraid if I don't do it now I'll get swept up into the pattern I've seen so many other small, idealistic farmers follow, which is to just keep getting bigger and bigger with larger and larger machines.

In addition, there are other hobbies I want to pursue. I took a writing class over the winter and have several projects started I'd like to finish. I'm continuing to take welding classes. I want to get better at building and repairing practical things which require good technique and a high knowledge base so I don't endanger people. For instance, at the farm I'm currently working at I fabricated a new trailer tongue because the old one rusted off. If I didn't do that well structurally someone could potentially get hurt. I'm also interested into delving into ornamental stuff. The only inspired thing I've done so far is the alter for my outside wedding, which was made out of old tractor and farm equipment, essentially a plow coulter lain flat on top of old tiller tines planted into the ground on a single pole overwhich we hung a small cloth on which we put candles. It looked a little like a flower when finished.

March 25th, 2012

And so

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starts a life in which we must just go on.
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Hello, I am Eric, Randy’s youngest brother.

I have to admit, over this past week, to having difficulty writing down what I’ve wanted to say during this time. It’s not so much that I don’t have a lot of memories to share or, and this probably goes without saying, that it would be hard to talk about what an awesome guy Randy was. I know everyone here today was touched in some way by Randy’s healing hands as a doctor, gentleness and humor when it came to conversation or interaction, or his humility in that he rarely trumpeted his own accomplishments.

So, most of my reflections or memories will center on Randy as my brother and friend. The older brother who I always held on a pedestal, who I always admired for his intelligence, patience, and talent. The older brother who I had to learn it was ok not to be, although, quite frankly, the world could use more [ people like Randy ] OR Randys .

So it was hard the last six months of Randy’s life to watch him suffer from an illness which, day-by-day, stripped Randy of the ability to do what he loved most both professionally and personally. I remember coming down from New York over two months ago and being at work with him the day he fell and flown to Johnstown. It was hard to believe the toll the cancer was taking on him, how quickly his symptoms had increased to the point where he just couldn’t do many everyday tasks.

Despite all the difficulties Randy was determined, as long as he could, to go to work. I remember having a conversation with Randy which I think helped explain part of his determination to continue working. Randy after his initial diagnosis and the first of many hospital stays said at one point what he was going through made him more sympathetic toward his patients going through similar experiences with hospitals. He hoped he could take what he learned from being a patient and give back to the world as a more compassionate doctor.

It’s easy to dwell on Randy’s fight with cancer, but it is the memories of Randy as my brother and friend I want to carry forward.

As a brother Randy was everything you could ask for. He was there to talk when I needed it. At the same time though he was often reserved about his thoughts and struggles and because of his natural humility it often took time to tease out Randy’s own dreams and fears.

One of the things which always astounded me about Randy was his ability to synthesize information. He was one of the few people I know who could sit down with pretty much any book on any subject, whether or it be an instruction booklet, a medical text, or a book on the history of mathematics, and be able to explain it in easily understandable terms. He could also do this with multiple points of view, synthesizing different voices and state an obvious common point both sides were missing. I remember once we were having a conversation about health care in the U.S. and he said to me, “the nation as a whole needs to address the philosophical question as to whether or not everyone deserves, as a right, health care.” It was a simple statement but characteristic or Randy’s ability to cut to the heart of a problem.

As his little brother, as far back as I can remember, Randy was helping me out. When I was in elementary school I remember proudly walking into my second grade classroom with a lego castle which I announced, “I built but my brother, Randy, helped me out a little.” The truth was Randy mainly put it together while I ran around the house playing with lego men. Fast forward 20+ years at Wilson College. I would often be asked to give tours to school groups at the organic farm I was managing, I would often point to the rodent proof cold storage that I said I made whith my brother, Randy, who helped out. The truth is that Randy designed, built and donated the materials while I only helped out sporadically between projects.

Randy was an avid boardgame player. Some of my favorite memories are the Wednesday night gaming sessions he and I, and eventually my wife, Marie, had while he was working in Chambersburg. A sly, competitive side of his came out but I remember Randy’s broad smile whether he won or lost and he’d say, “that was a fun game.” I’ll never forget that his advice to Marie and I as we embarked on our married life together was, “Eric, make sure you make Marie laugh every day and never stop playing games together.”

    It’s also no secret that part of our friendship centered around our common love of science fiction and fantasy. The last few weeks of his life he even asked for certain fantasy novels to be read to him. One of those was the lyrical Ursala K Leguin novels of the The Earthsea cycle. For a time while he was in the hospital he could not speak. In order to indicate he wanted read to he would write out the main character’s name, Ged, as his way of asking me to read to him. I know I took comfort, and I think Randy may have as well, from the flowing earthiness of her work as Ged would comment ----- “Living, being in the world, was a much greater and stranger thing than could ever be dreamed.” ----- OR “Death and life are the same thing- like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still they are not the same.” ----- OR “His death did not diminish life. Nor did it diminish him... He is there in the earth and the sunlight.”

    So, yes, Randy was an amazing brother and friend and anything I say here in this short time couldn’t do justice to other aspects of his personality which deserve attention. I’ll miss him dearly but, at the end, Randy once wrote out, again when he couldn’t speak, that he could hardly wait to walk again with Keith, our brother who passed away six years ago. I picture them now, having met, and after having taken a long walk, sitting together under a large, cosmic oak tree, a chess set between them, intent on what they are both doing but taking breaks to make wry comments and chuckle over memories of their family and friends. They are sad to know they are missed, but both are healed - fully. So, Randy, until I get to see you and Keith again, know that every day, I see you in the earth and the sunlight.

March 18th, 2012

Keith's obituary

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I don't believe I've every posted Keith's obituary on this blog. I'm not sure why I want to do so now, I think because Randy, as he neared death, he several times mentioned looking forward to walking with Keith. In a way I am jealous that my two brothers, two of my best friends, are now possibly walking somewhere together.




Benner, Keith David
, 31, of Elkhart, IN and Chambersburg, PA, died suddenly at his home July 18, 2006.   He was born in Philadelphia, PA to John and Barbara Benner; grew up in Tunkhannock, PA, and made his home in Elkhart, IN where he received a master of Arts in Theological Studies with a concentration in Church History from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS).  

Keith was planning to pursue a Doctorate of Philosophy in Church History at Toronto School of Theology.  Keith's church home was at Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN. His interests were broad ranging and his passion for education, justice and life were evident in everything he did and studies.  Before attending AMBS he had worked around the world.  He spent time in Alaska as a bush pilot where he flew cargo to remote Inuit villages.  He also took his love of flying and desire to aid those who were less fortunate to the Democratic Republic of Congo where he flew for Airserve, an international organization that flies relief supplies and teams for the United Nations and non-governmental agencies.  Keith flew for several months in Iraq for the same organization in 2002 at the beginning of reconstruction efforts. At the time of his death he was working on an editing project preparing selected lectures of Mennonite Theologian John Howard Yoder for publication.  He was also anticipating publication of another article in the Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Keith is survived by his parents, of Chambersburg, PA; his sister Lolly and Ron Kratz, Brandon, Nathaniel, Josiah and Hannah of Mount Joy, PA; brother and wife, Randy and Brenda Benner of Somerset, PA; and a brother Eric Benner of Syracuse, NY.

A memorial service was July 22, 2006 at Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN.
Friends and family members in the Chambersburg, PA area may call at the home of John and Barbara Benner.

March 16th, 2012

Life and death

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My brother's long sad journey with cancer came to an end on Wednesday. I wish I could have the chance to talk with him again.

Below is a link to his obituary.

http://www.dailyamerican.com/lifestyle/obituaries/da-ot-dr-john-randall-randy-benner-44-of-friedens-20120315,0,2202064.story

March 8th, 2012

welding

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One interesting hobby I've picked up over the last four years is welding. I first became interested in welding when the arm of one of my disks fell off in the middle of a field during the middle of the day. It was hot and I was frustrated as I loaded the disk arm into the bucket of my tractor and headed back to the shop. At the time I was still pretty new to farming (still am, the USDA states that beginning farmers are anyone who has been farming for less than ten years) and didn't know how little I didn't know. I sure didn't know what to do with an arm which fell off the my crappy old, bottom shelf disk.

Luckily one of my interns took a look at the disk and said, "I think I could weld that back on." The field house of the college I was working at had a little AC buzzbox and we headed over with the disk and, it took him a day or so, but we soon had the disk back in operation. At the time I barely even knew what welding was and when I saw how easily my intern, with only modest welding skills, was able to re-attach the arm of my disk, I immediately said to myself that I've gotta learn how to do that.

The ability to bond together different pieces of metal into one piece is an immensely useful skill on a farm, and in addition there is the potential to branch out into sculpture and all sorts of awesome stuff. So a year later I took an evening class in welding at the local adult education center.

Three years later I've just finished up my second class. I still find welding challenging, there is so much to learn about everything, that I am looking forward to taking yet another class in April which will go into more advanced processes. My wife even gets annoyed with me at times because I find myself day dreaming about projects to do or looking online for bargain welders. Some of my most recent projects included fabricating a grate for my fireplace and building a very small welding table, which can double as a stool as soon as I can afford enough metal to actually build a real table. Hot or cold rolled steel is extremely pricey and I think my wife may also be concerned with my predilection to now stash away any available scrap metal for future projects. Oh well, just another excuse to get going on building my dream workshop so my ever increasing amount of stuff doesn't clutter the garage so much. Besides a proper workshop is absolutely essential for the homestead I hope to someday create here on our little 4.5 acres.

March 4th, 2012

continuation

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So my brother continues to languish in hospital beds amidst harried nurses and distracted doctors. Last night was particularly difficult since on top of everything else he developed atrial fibrallation Friday morning and he's been growing considerably more uncomfortable with less and less an ability to rest in any type of meaningful way. I hate to see him like this and I found myself unable to sleep when I got home from the hospital around eleven. What do you do when your brother is bed ridden and contemplating hospice? Suddenly so much of what has seemed important becomes trivial as stark life and death issues you read or hear about with other families come crashing through your front door.

Of course with cancer this hasn't been a sudden thing. My brother has been surviving with cancer for three years. This has meant that there have been ups and downs in the journey. Right now is definitely a down.

February 27th, 2012

One Plow Farm

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So I am trying to get my own farm up and running. Below is a link to the website where I will, hopefully, be posting more regular updates about what I am doing on my farm. I also hope to post pictures and maybe even some other types of media about what I'm up to on my own farm.

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/oneplowfarm

February 26th, 2012

Sundays

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So soon after last nights update my father called to say that my brother was readmitted into the hospital. My wife and I decided to give up trying to be in NY for a bit and drove back down to my parents house, which meant we were barely at our place in NY for more than 14 hours.

My brother's breathing had worsened considerably throughout the day, Saturday, until it got to the point where it was decided he needed to be moved back to the hospital in order to make him more comfortable.

I was back down by 3:30 Sunday morning and say with him the remainder of the night. By this evening he was talking much more clearly and will hopefully be able to sleep the whole night through.

February 25th, 2012

another update

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So here I am again writing after a very long hiatus. I'm not sure why I keep coming back to livejournal after such long breaks but I do remember that I rather enjoyed writing my rather silly blog entries.

These days, though, I have a lot more than just silly blog entries on my mind. At the top of the list is what is going on with my brother, who is now a three year brain cancer survivor. I've been spending quite a bit of time down at my parent's house as he's had increasing difficulty walking and three weeks ago he took a nasty fall. He ended up getting helicoptered to a trauma center before being moved closer to my parents house and being in the neuroscience integrated care ward. Turned out, thanks in part to the poisons they are using to try and kill the cancer, he developed a nasty infection which spurred an increase in his symptoms leading to his fall.

I've returned home now after he was moved this week, at the age of 45, to a nursing home for rehabilitation. It's difficult to be so far but luckily it really is only 4 hours away and I'm planning on going back down in a week to see how he is progressing and to spend more time with him.

Luckily I am currently not working so I can do these long week long trips to spend time with my family. Well, not working as in I quite my job as farm manager at a liberal arts college to pursue my own farming dreams. That means that I should be very busy right now, and I am to a degree, getting things underway at my new place. So far, though, all I've really done is order seeds and some supplies. I worked out with a neighbor to lease a couple acres since it will take quite a while to get my own small, crappy acreage into any type of production. Baby steps, I have to remember. But my neighbors are more than accommodating and are sharing more than land, but also some of their networks which will help me get into some good markets earlier than I had anticipated.

Between all that I've also got a few part time jobs lined up on other farms so as to network and continue learning everything that I can.

I'd also like to keep blogging and writing. This blog, I believe, I'm going to reserve for my more personal reflections but I'd like to get another blog going specifically about the new farm I'm developing. Right now I'm calling it One Plow Farm, after the found a plow in the woods near my house. The plow is from 1902 and obviously was designed to be drawn by draft animals. For me this plow signifies that this little piece of land I purchased could be once again turned into a homestead and maybe even a little more than that.
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