Last season I worked so hard to complete the day-to-day on the farm that I failed to really take time to get out and see what awesome growers in Washtenaw County are doing…and there are quite a few of them! Many of these growers have been in business for many, many years and some are just starting out like us. I would run into other organic growers at market with a distant promise to come visit some day. Finally my friend Kari and I took a morning to enjoy a tour of organic farms in the area.
Although the fields are brown/grey, there is still a lot happening at these farms. Our first stop was Community Farm of Ann Arbor, where Kari worked last season. I’d heard so much about the farm and adore Annie and Paul who run it. They have many fields tucked in for the winter, cattle (which are a big component of their biodynamic system), goats, chickens and a couple of sweet kitties.
Apparently Annie and Paul used to be bakers in Ann Arbor before starting the farm! That explained the gorgeous bread oven they constructed!
Next stop was Sunseed Farm in Ann Arbor Township. Tomm and Trilby Becker are the owners and have done a phenomenal job in just a couple years of being in production. Tomm was the farm manager at the Student Organic Farm in MSU when I was a student there in ’08.-’09. He knows his stuff and has run a several hundered member CSA at MSU. Now they are cranking out greens and roots for their winter CSA in 4 beautiful 30×96′ hoophouses!
This was truly inspiring to see and made it clear for me how much investing in more larger hoop structures will help us to provide produce all year long. Our little 30×48′ hoop has cranked out a good amount of spinach this winter…but oh what I could do with 8x that amount of space!!! For better or worse, seeing a farm that is rockin’ like Sunseed is makes my vision and ‘to-do’ list expand at a unmitigated rate.
I also noticed every farm has animals. It made me vamp up my campaign to get at least 5 little chickens at our farm this summer! They can help us compost and lay eggs for us! Kari witnessed my first chicken handling when one of the ladies escaped the pen and I chased her a bit and grabbed her, putting her back in her safe space…how exciting!
Finally, we made our way to Tilian Farm Development Center. This is the site of several new farms getting started with a variety of fun projects! We chatted with Mark of Seeley Farm and he filled us in on what he was up to and how things work at the Development Center. There are also several other farms on site including Bending Sickle Farm whose pigs are featured above.
Earlier in the week I was able to check out Our Family Farm in Manchester! John and Lois are both amazing people and they have been farming their entire lives! They do a lot of poultry, eggs and starting hoophouse greens, etc. This Saturday I plan to stop by and see Amy of Two Creeks Organics who is also in Manchester!!
For the first time since we started our farm I felt like a part of something larger after taking the time to look around. I am committed to visiting more farms and also finding ways that we might all work cooperatively to create a strong sustainable food system.
One project I’ve heard a bit about that is starting to gain traction is the Washtenaw Food Hub. More on that in another post….
Back at the farm Andrew and I have made some big decisions! One of which has to do with division of labor. So it was clear to both of us that I do not have the skill set to do certain projects that needed to be done…certain projects which Andrew has the perfect skill set to design and implement impeccably. Andrew worked off farm full time though–when was there time for these projects??! Especially when there is no room currently in the budget to PAY him for his efforts!!?
We have decided to take responsibility for different things around the house to make it easier for both of us. In exchange for Andrew doing ALL of the building projects on the farm (which he mostly enjoys doing), installing heat in the greenhouse, shelving, hoop house, etc….I committed to taking care of all of the domestic things around the house (ALL cleaning and cooking every night, landscaping the house, grocery shopping, etc).
The feminist in me definitely cringed at the thought of this arrangement–but only because somehow I felt like I was not fitting this stereotype for what a farmer should be. Shouldn’t I pull my sleeves up and tinker around with tools until I get things done? Apparently my idea of the infinitely crafty farmer may be a little bit antiquated. At least that is not the type of farmer that I am. I’ve got my own strengths and they unfortunately don’t include building or electrical work. Hand me a pile of rotting compost though and I’ll turn that into black gold in a months time!
I figured out that that this perpetual guilt trip I’ve been on for not knowing how to do these things is ridiculous! After almost 3 weeks of this experiment, we are both incredibly happy and way less stressed out. I don’t have to worry about learning how to build a barrel heater or install electricity (stuff I’m sure I could do with A LOT of study and practice and failure and crying) and Andrew can come home, spend an hour in the barn on projects that he enjoys and come into the (relatively) clean house with delicious meals waiting to be eaten!! This must be domestic bliss if I’ve ever seen it. I’m all about everyone playing to their strengths and enjoying the work that they do.