For the past two years, I’ve been referring to my “future farm” on this website as just that - an unnamed Future Farm, a great big “farm in the sky,” my “farm dreams.” The past few months, as I’ve gotten down to the nitty gritty of business planning and the realities of farm start-up, it has become increasingly apparent that it was time to name the farm. Certain milestones approach, forms await filling, and it was time to come up with something to fill in that blank. The sign at the end of the driveway says “Valley View Farm,” but there are already quite a few of those doing business in Wisconsin, and the name seems pretty forgettable. Similarly, there’s already an LLC registered in Wisconsin called “Just A Farm,” though they seem to have no web presence otherwise. The two most obvious options unavailable, it was back to the drawing board. I did some brainstorming, lots of googling, and at one point even sent out a survey to some friends with a list of possible names. They were mostly uninspired, especially when presented in a long list. There was liberal use of a thesaurus, lots of seed and root imagery, and bids for memorability that ended up just sounding a little…. off. My criteria for a good farm name, as I laid out in the survey, were that it must: sound nice out loud, be easy to spell, be memorable, not be too crop- or product- specific, be original, and have some je ne sais quoi.... It’s that last one that I was missing, and the feedback I got over and over again were that the name should be more personally meaningful, or place-specific. It wasn’t enough to just pick a good name, but there needed to be some kind of good story behind it. Back to the drawing board. I put the whole thing on the back burner, trusting my subconscious to come up with something eventually.
For once, my subconscious pulled through! I can’t tell you how or when it came to me, but suddenly I had the perfect name for my farm! It checked all the above boxes, and has some family significance to boot. My little hilltop farm will hereby be known as Hazel Hill Farm. On the surface, it sounds nice, and will eventually be accurate (no hazels yet, but there will be some tiny hazels planted soon enough). The name “Hazel,” however, has a greater significance in my family. Here’s an excerpt from the family history that my late grandmother wrote a few years ago about her side of the family:
"While Dan and I enjoyed being with Nell and Nora, the twins were privileged to stay with Hazel and Marie, mainly because their home was not childproof. Hazel Bush, our mother’s spinster sister, whom we called Dade, and her life long companion Marie Flanigan lived in a beautiful apartment full of things young children shouldn‘t get into.
Dade and Marie were an integral part of our life. They had a Packard sedan which was put up on blocks for the winter, but taken out in the spring for an annual trip to Rhinelander. Our mother was in a tizzy for days to get ready, not because Dade was so particular but Marie poked in every corner and then would suggest to mother, “Don’t you think, dear, that….. “ whatever she was criticizing. Dan and I were almost afraid of her.
But we loved Aunt Dade. Everyone did. She had been a primary school teacher all her life, back in the days when there were 50 kids in a class. She always was interested in what we were doing. She had a stash of Hershey’s kisses in her pocket. And passed them out all day. . .
Her bedtime ritual was legend. She would simultaneously smoke a cigarette, chew a stick of gum, drink a beer and say her rosary, all the while watching the ten o’clock news on the television. The kids were enthralled."
This image of an eccentric old lady with her stockings rolled down, smoking, drinking, chewing gum, and praying all at once has become family lore. During a very memorable girls’ weekend in Las Vegas seven or eight years ago, my mother, my aunt Mary, and some of their female cousins began to refer to one another as “Hazel,” and their collective group of cousins as “the Hazels.” Mary contends that there’s not a shade of “we’re turning into eccentric old ladies” meaning to this collective nickname, but only time will tell on that account. Nobody’s rolling down any stockings these days, but I prefer to think of the Hazels as a family legacy of strong, independent, and slightly idiosyncratic women. This little Hazel will gladly position herself as the latest in a succession of teachers, logging camp cooks, immigrants, pioneers. I hope that though I haven’t inherited a propensity for rosaries and cigarettes, that I can call upon the strength, independence, and, yes, eccentricity of my foremothers as a modern-day pioneer, breaking sod and planting trees. So Hazel Hill Farm will not just be a hill that holds some hazel trees, but a hill full of Hazels both hereditary and honorary, rolling down our collective stockings after a hard day of work just like my great-great-aunt Dade.