We met in the Ohio University botany department as Dr. Warren Wistendahl’s students.
We were both very interested in environmental issues. A year later we were married in the chapel of the Episcopal Church. “Ex-Canton Man Weds Teacher” was the humorous headline in the Canton Repository.
We started looking at farms, and found one for $10,000. Cheap, yes, but the owner had paid $3,000 a few years earlier. Ed had $5,000 saved from the Peace Corps. We both had jobs; Ed delivered flowers for Athens Flower Shop and Amy was hired to teach at Trimble Local Schools.
No bank “would spit on us,” as Amy’s mother would say, but Ed’s dad lent us the rest. Ed kept a day job the first few years, but then became a full-fledged organic farmer, and it wasn’t long until we began selling produce at the farmers market.
The farm was 24 acres on a ridge top with a rundown house, circa 1900.
No plumbing, insulation or heat, plus a leaking slate roof, sieve-like windows, and an ugly concrete block porch. But we loved our home sweet home, though it was mighty cold that first winter. Our neighbor George Gilkey gave us an old Warm Morning heating stove. It was a hideous thing, and you’d sit right next to it and freeze, so we resorted to coal for awhile. We hired a bulldozer to clear the overgrown fields. The result was the smell of sassafras permeating the air, and so we decided to name our farm “Sassafras Farm.”
We didn’t mind using an outhouse and having to haul water and bathe in a tub in the kitchen. There was a spring at the bottom of the pasture where we initially got our water, but eventually we installed cisterns. We cleaned out our 30-foot dug well, which was filled with trash, including chicken bones and a huge log. Ed worked at the bottom and Amy hauled up the debris with a rope, carefully. Ed took down a building and built us a fine barn, and we had an old-fashioned barn raising, which was great fun.
We started growing modest crops, acquired a kitten, a puppy, and a pony.
Amy got a piano, an old upright, and took ballet. Ed got a combine. We tried to learn the basics of country life, with help from George. We canned vegetables, invested in beehives, made soap. We bought Carla Emery’s huge, hand-typed book of how to do absolutely everything yourself. The homemade soy sauce failed, but dandelion, cherry pit and pea pod wine worked, and so did root beer.
We were both extremely thrifty, to a fault. We used newspaper squares for awhile instead of toilet paper. Ed’s mom was unhappy with that. His parents would sneak in a stash of Oreo cookies when they visited, for we had become full-fledged “health nuts.”
“When are you going to get a real job?” she’d ask Ed. Amy’s mother would visit and sit by the heating stove in her hat and coat and long for a hasty return to Philadelphia. Her father enjoyed visiting, having homesteaded in Colorado as a child. An outhouse was fine with him.
It was all a wonderful adventure, except the time Ed cut into his leg with the chain saw. “How could you do this to me?” Amy screamed, as they raced to the E.R. Two children arrived exactly as planned, and Ed found himself being a house husband as well as a farmer. We never had to worry about child care.
As Amy’s mother would say, our “cup runneth over.” And so did our leaky, old slate roof. We planned to have a new one installed soon. And “soon” turned out to be about 40 years later. The reason it took so long was Ed kept saying he could find the leaks and fix them, but they simply eluded him. We also got an indoor bathroom several years ago. Such luxury!
Amy Abercrombie and Ed Perkins have lived on Sassafras Farm for 45 years.