When my grandson saw the photo I took of a two-acre field of wildflowers at Germantown Farms, he said it looked like a “Windows background,” implying that it was beautiful enough to be unreal. Kids these days: plugged into their screens. I couldn’t convince him to get out of the truck to walk in 90+-degree heat over a hill to behold this paintbox scenario. I’m sure he could see it from the truck, but up close, it did feel otherworldly – like a scene out of a French movie.
Vern and Genette Oehlke planted this field where his Granny’s orchard once stood. They bought the property and home next to his family’s homestead, where they continue to grow alfalfa, corn and soybeans. This is their first season offering wildflowers. I ask if he’d always wanted to be a farmer. “No, I did not expect to be a farmer. This was one of the results of marrying Genette,” he says fondly.
Oehlke did two tours in Afghanistan and came home with a renewed appreciation for the countryside and bucolic lifestyle into which he was born. Genette is from these parts, too. Now she’s in banking, and he’s in law enforcement…and driving a 40-ton tractor and other accumulated farm implements, and using them from sunup to time-to-quit-and-cool-down.
Planting wildflowers for a U-pick fundraising effort gives the couple a chance to give back to their community. Visitors can grab a bucket (small or large) and wander the path through the colorful array of flowers, picking as much as will fit in the bucket. The donation goes to one of five local worthy causes, which the flower-picker gets to choose. Selected organizations include the Germantown Afterschool Program, the Germantown Fire Department, the Germantown Library, the Jennings-Willets American Legion Post #346/Women’s Auxiliary and the Mr. Bones & Co. One Lucky Pup Rescue Program. Premade classic country bouquets are also available to purchase.
Oehlke talks about tilling the soil for the first time and having to battle the onslaught of weed seeds that had been dormant underground for years. He grouses mildly about walking outside to find deer grazing for breakfast in his flower patch. It’s clear, however, that he cherishes the life that he has assumed, animal intrusions and all.
He walks me into his family’s ancient barn and points to features no longer in use, like the pole lattice above that would be layered with wheat. The grains would be whacked down through the slats. If both ends of the barn were open, the wind would blow the chaff away. They found other antique farming tools, an old sleigh, well-used odds and ends around the place. He tells me that the structure of this barn is unique in that it has bentwood supports at the pitch of the roofline: a bit of decoration in an entirely utilitarian building.
One day they might keep some animals in a pasture above the field of flowers, he says. Who wouldn’t want to bring their family to park on the hillside and picnic next to a veritable painting with lazy llamas grazing nearby? Even if reluctant grandsons stay in the car, it’s worth the drive and the time outdoors. U-Pick Flowers for a Cause is open on weekends through September. Head up 9G and check it out.
U-Pick Flowers for a Cause, Saturdays/Sundays through September 25, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., $10-$15 donation/bucket, Germantown Farms/The Secret Garden, 258 Church Avenue (one mile south of Main Street), Germantown; (518) 755-2086, www.germantownfarms.com.