Please consider contributing to a permaculture demonstration orchard at the Leelanau Conservancy-owned DeYoung Farm property. Thank you kindly!
Help us fund the first fully integrated permaculture apple orchard at the DeYoung property next season. Your contribution will not only help create a demonstration orchard; it will go toward preserving antique and unique apple varieties. Thank you for your support!
Preserving our region’s health & history
Healing Tree Farm founder, Samantha Graves, grew up in the heart of cherry country and was curious about mounting concerns over the increasing rate of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among agricultural families.
In 2005, she began researching the correlation between the increased incidence of NHL impacting farmers, and the paralleled increase in the use of organochlorines and organophosphates on conventional orchards in northern Michigan. One year later, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the cancer.
In response, Healing Tree Farm was established as an experiment in growing fruit trees without the use of biocides or petrol-derived fertilizers.
Today, Samantha (living cancer-free), along with her husband, Christopher, are expanding Healing Tree to a Leelanau Conservancy-owned property at the historic DeYoung Farm just outside of Traverse City, MI.
A biodiverse 145-acre farm, DeYoung will be home to an eight-acre permaculture demonstration orchard and antique apple tree nursery.
Each acre will support 25 apple trees surrounded by support guilds, or companion plantings, mimicking the ecology of a mature forest edge. In addition to apples and guild plantings, we’ll grow filbert hazelnuts and mulberries.
For this fund-raising campaign, we are seeking $5,200 to finance the initial planting of 200 apple trees. These trees, grown on standard size to semi-dwarf rootstock, are varieties selected to ensure disease resistance.
The majority of varieties we’ve selected for the DeYoung property once thrived in our region and climate until large-scale commercialization of commodity apples (varieties that transport well across long-distances) began seeing preference.
This shift dwindled the availability of some 14,000 varieties to market down to just 14 sold today in grocery stores across the country.
At Healing Tree Farm, It is our goal to educate other farmers, and those interested in growing food, about a safe, holistic approach to farming; a method that integrates with established ecosystems. And a thought-process that puts earth, people, and fair share above profit.
With your support, we can build upon a lasting legacy of preservation and perseverance at DeYoung, introducing a sustainable approach to farming that will foster greater resilience within our community. We appreciate your support!
Since childhood, there has never been a day that I wanted anything more than to work with the land. Inspired in part from the magic of a childhood spent looking into long rows of cherry trees, where space seemed to disappear in the distance, swallowed whole by the vastness of the orchard. The bright red cherries looked like sparkling candy mid-July and the airplanes that flew overhead, dropped clouds that fell gently, and whined their way past the vanishing point of the horizon. I would wait and listen for the revving of engines as the planes banked out of site for a return swoop.
I knew nothing of the practice of farming; only the art.
In high school, I worked on farms and in college, lived in a beautiful farmhouse atop a hill dotted with cherry trees, apples, pears, peaches. Tractors wound their way through the straight, even rows, chugging those familiar billowing clouds peacock-fanned-tail-style. My knowledge of the pesticides made me weary of standing too near, though I looked on still in reflection of my youth.
It was about that time that someone asked, “What is your idea of paradise like?”
I didn’t hesitate, “An orchard. The culmination of nature and human c0-inspired thing of beauty.”
Not long after, I began working on an organic farm just a few miles down the road. It was the first in a series of experiences that would lead me to discover a new way of farming. A method more in line with not only with my own philosophy, but one interwoven into the very fabric of ecology.
I went on to study biodynamics, and discovered permaculture nearly by accident, when my mentor suggested we plant a small orchard atop a knoll on her property. A thoughtful seed was planted.
By this time, I had begun to experiment with farming practices in my own backyard, a property not much over an acre. The soil had once supported an apple orchard, and lines were still drawn in the soil from years of tilling. Only a few trees remained.
It was 2004. Studies were emerging supporting a correlation between ag practices and the increased incidence in lymphomas in farming families. I was working for a share of food each week, and following the story in the local papers about a young woman running for Cherry Queen while battling diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
When this brave young woman died in January of 2005, I began researching the link between lymphomas and the use of organochlorines and organophosphates on cherry orchards in Peninsula Township, Grand Traverse Co. Michigan. In September, 2006, I was diagnosed with aggressive form of the cancer.
During that time I struggled with how to move forward. The mother to three young children, my life had been turned upsidedown. The way forward no longer seemed as clear as it once had. Or perhaps for the first time, I was examining life with enormous clarity.
A thought had sprouted in my imagination – a vision of the orchard as a living being, a healing place. The thought was what moved me through those dark, dark hours contemplating the outcome of the treatments. I needed to find a way to heal the old orchards. To bring about change, I couldn’t sit around and hope someone else would do it; I needed to be the change.
Healing Tree was born. A small-acreage experiment in growing fruit trees without the use of biocides. It has transitioned through some significant life changes. And today is taking root at the Conservancy-owned DeYoung property.
But the path was not so obvious. And the source of inspiration? Well, that was something quite out of the ordinary…
DeYoung has long been at the forefront of horticultural and civic innovation. We are excited to be a part of continuing that legacy of innovation with the installation of a fully-implemented permaculture apple orchard at the site.
This eight-acre orchard will be home to fruit-tree centered guilds made up of many other food-yielding plants. The remaining acreage will support livestock and a tree and guild plant nursery with a portion being dedicated to a market garden.
We are trilled to be working with the Leelanau Conservancy in pursuit of inspiring a love of the outdoors, and an appreciation for those diverse and thriving ecosystems that make up this unique farm property. Moreover, we will continue to offer (free) educational courses in permaculture design, workshops, and work-bees in pursuit of solutions to issues that impact regional farmers.
Please join us in support of our mission to foster a holistic approach to growing fruit trees. Contributions of ideas, wisdom, and inspiration are always welcome!
When we began studying permaculture nearly a decade ago, we did so because it represented a preferred method of farming. Today, we’re applying the fundamental principles of permaculture toward survival.
In anticipation of increasing global temperatures, we’re paying close attention to methods of building and maintaining healthy soil. Healthy soil maintains moisture levels and temperatures, decreasing the need of supplemental watering and nutrient inputs.
This process may be sustained long-term with perennial polycultures planted specifically to improve soils through nitrogen fixation, dynamic accumulation and redistribution of nutrients, and broad leafed ground covers that shield top soil from a scorching summer sun and drying winds.
Why grow resource-gulping grasses when you can grow your own food?
Soil building requires little more than resourceful thinking. Most materials used in soil-building are typically available on site. Materials like newspaper, paper bags, cardboard, straw, and dead leaf matter provide sources of carbon. These layered with coffee grounds, manure, fresh leaf or grass clippings, and kitchen wastes, all nitrogen rich sources, provide for an ideal 1:1 CN ratio to begin soil-building and engage the carbon cycle decomposition process.
Planting newly developed beds in legumes inoculated with N2 fixing bacteria is a jump-start for next season. Why grow resource-gulping grasses when you can grow your own food?
I must find a man who still loves the soil
Walk by his side unseen, pour in his mind
What I loved when I lived until he builds
Sows, reaps, and covers these hill pastures here
With sheep and cattle, mows the meadowland
Grafts the old orchard again, makes it bear again
Knowing that we are lost if the land does not yield.
-Jeanne Robert Foster
Up an old farm road, some ways out of town, there’s a place that grows ideas. It’s a little unconventional (thankfully), and as the woman who owns the property has always said, “If you make it up the hill, you were meant to arrive.”
I could drive it, and sometimes I do, but mostly I prefer to park at the base of the hill and trace the two-track up through the still of the forest. A few days ago made the trek on foot and met up with a deer, all the while contemplating the juxtaposition between the system and game that is played in surviving via a new set of rules, versus the simplicity of rules laid out by nature. How one system deprives us of purpose, while the other feeds it to us in abundance.
The hill is my transition in and out. A time for me to process what I have learned, or while ascending, consider all that I have learned that has lead to my return. This farm is where I got my start in permaculture. It’s the place where I was given information, shown how to grow food, how to build soil, how to live and think outside of the melancholy of the free-market system.
A biodynamic farm. What happens here is dynamic, from how we build thematrix of the food web from that which we eat, to that which eats what we eat, to the larger picture of how we relate to the plants, each other, our place within this universe. This is where I first heard the universe described as “one voice, one song.”
And that word “dynamic” – I love how it feels to say it. How it opens my throat like a yawn. How intrinsic a vocal movement meets definition is this word, dynamic.
We have been asked here to help an old friend restore her vineyard, planted 25 years earlier on a bluff over the bay. The vines are still bearing, though many other plants have joined them and there is much to learn about the ever-increasing intricacies of this now self-regulating ecosystem.
And in returning, we are visiting the ghosts of our past. Walking past echos of ideas still standing. Thoughts pending. Heartbeats rendered through the undulating landscape where milkweed, vetch, and valerian have replaced annuals in the fertile soil. This is a living memory. And to think I felt sadness when I first looked upon it! When it has so thoughtfully produced in our absence! Lifted the roof off the greenhouse, and blanketed the orchard in a cloak of yarrow and gentle green grasses.
We have been charged with more than the responsibility of salvaging a vineyard for harvest.
That is too one-dimensional and careless a thought. We have been shown a path that will lead to wisdom gleaned from the harvest or from the goal of harvest. And what better way to begin, than to learn about a vine? A vine that is so careful to root itself in depth and breadth before reaching out to others for support.
We will not be saving a vineyard; we will be saving ourselves.
Interested in learning to build soil for your raised garden beds? Wondering about that crazy German word you’ve heard floating around of late? What is hugelkultur, anyway? We’ll share the answer and much more as we build beds all around our new, old, old house.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll welcome people or small groups to our urban farm and illustrate the art of all things earthy, including information on indoor and outdoor composting and how to find free materials for use in building soil. These informal gatherings are FREE and open to all. Call to set up a time that works for YOU.
http://www.healingtreefarm.org • Healing Tree Farm • (231) 499 – 8188
I grew up in a sturdy four square house nestled in the middle of a cherry orchard that spanned every horizon. The only tall trees I knew as a child were the two lone maples that framed the face of the house. Their canopies provided the shade that was my summer fort, where I could gaze into the hallowed depths of those infinite rows.
On the occasion, beautiful children wove their way between trees, while their parents worked, speaking in a language that was foreign and magical, picking cherries, and dropping them into buckets. How I longed to run amongst those children, but so foreign were they, I do believe, I thought them imagined.
Though I wasn’t supposed to wander from the yard, the dwarf trees ripe with red, sparkling cherries, standing in neat, tidy rows, were an irresistible attraction to my four-year-old curiosity. I ran down the rows until I could only barely make out the broad arches of the maple trees, and then back home again.
In May, the planes would come, dipping low from their perch in the sky, blanketing the orchards in a fine mist. On these days, my mother would lift me from where I played in the yard, and take me back into the house. From the front window, I watched the planes disappear over the horizon, listening to their motors rev and whine as they looped and lifted for a return pass. The air tasted strange, but the sight gripped at me and held me to the window.
My mother wandered the house, closing windows and cursing the men in the planes.
Later, before the cancer had settled into my blood, whenever someone asked me my idea of heaven, I explained to them the tidy lines of trees; my idea of heaven was the farm. What a perfect place; the natural pallet painted by the hands of humans and machines. It was the beginning of a life-long love of farming. There has never been a period of time when, like most of us who live in the greater Grand Traverse region, I have not in some way been connected with a farm.
At 26, I saw a photograph of a young woman in the newspaper. She was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood while running for Cherry Queen. Something in her smile radiated out from the page. I sat with her photo for some time. Behind her, cherry blossoms clouded their branches. There, the neat rows beckoned.
Later that winter, I learned that the young woman had died. I ran a query for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer about which I knew nothing. Lauren had died of diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of the cancer, dubbed “the pesticide cancer” for its prevalence among agricultural families.
Before long, I was knee-deep in research into the links between the increased incidence of NHL and the use of organochlorines and -phosphates on cherry orchards. I studied DEQ maps of water samples taken in Peninsula Township, where Lauren had grown up, spoke with the Old Mission school that neighbors an active orchard, where the branches of trees overlap the playground, questioned residents, learned of the prevalence of NHL and leukemia among families living on or near the orchards, and suddenly the sweetness of those beautiful, perfect orchards had soured.
Two years later, at 28, with three young children, I began having dreams that I was dying. In each dream, I was on a ship in the Straits of Mackinac. In the dreams, my girls stood on the deck reaching out for me, but I was leaving them. My heart ached as I turned each time and walked into the light afforded by sun filtering through spray forming off the bow.
In a final dream, I looked down upon a body resting in a bed on the second story of a house. The house didn’t have any walls and large, fierce animals were trying to get at the body to eat it. The body was naked, and an intense light emanated from the right armpit. The light was so bright, you couldn’t look directly at it. I fought off the animals, to protect the body, and awoke shaken and crying. That morning, July 19th, 2006, while in the shower, I discovered a large lump within my right armpit. The lump felt dense and smooth and it sickened me to feel it.
In September, I was diagnosed with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, the same cancer that had killed Lauren. My treatments began immediately.
Fighting cancer involves the poisoning of the body to destroy the cancer, while managing the extreme side-effects in a simultaneous battle to keep the body alive. Over the winter, I began chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy. I met with my darkest fears about dying. I accepted it might happen, but chose instead to focus on my babies. By the time farmers were gearing up to spray their orchards, I was completing my radiation treatments, and feeling a renewed commitment to farming.
In 2007, we established Healing Tree Farm in response to concerns over the use of chemicals on our food-supply. So began an adventure in farming using the principles of permaculture, a method of farming that mimics natural forest succession, in urban and country settings. Since then, we’ve helped build school gardens, began the first permaculture courses taught at NMC, and have held free workshops to educate and inspire people to question the system and make changes according to the lesson book nature has provided.
Today, divorce has uprooted the farm, but seeds have been planted in three different counties, and we will never stop helping others achieve their goals of growing food without chemicals. This year, Healing Tree hopes to locate land to plant an orchard. This orchard we hope will represent the future of growing methods, using innovative thinking, rather than relying on biocides to solve problems, and growing food that is truly healthful, not only to those who eat what the land provides, but for those who work the soil and live nearby.
It is our hope to heal the old orchards, to restore magic to a place I have loved for as long as I can remember. This is what is meant by our name Healing Tree. In teaching, we are healing, and in healing, we hope to inspire.
What we yield from our garden (or in some cases learn to yield to), depends a lot on the first two principles. This third principle of permaculture refers to the output of our design. It does not, however, focus solely on yield as it pertains to what comes out of the garden, but rather creating a ratio in which our inputs are matched or exceeded by our outputs.
You might put a good summer’s worth of effort into building healthy garden soil without the immediate satisfaction of a subsequent harvest that year. In the years that follow, these beds that require low to no additional input will produce in abundance at harvest time.
We’ve planned for future outputs to exceed our first season’s inputs.
Through observation, we can obtain a measure of current resources and consider how these outputs might be enhanced.
- For example Maintaining rabbits for food in hutches by the greenhouse to produce heat, fertilizer, etc. is great. However, if you have a small plot of land in need of improved fertility, rabbit tractors might give you better output by reducing the need to supply supplemental food for the rabbits, while at the same time improving fertility of the previously unusable garden space.
Within the garden guilds, pay close attention to how plants interact with one another and any beneficial relationships that might be formed for improved production. In nature, plants, fungi, and microbes form an intricate web that we try our best to replicate when applying the principles of permaculture to the garden space.
- For example Planting comfrey, a plant that mines for and accumulates nutrients, within areas that require higher inputs of macro- and micronutrients, rather than inputing these nutrients artificially.
Choose plant varieties best suited for growing conditions. Healthy, hardy plants will deter their own demise.
Repeat, revise Even after one improvement is applied to the system, observe again to see whether this change might be improved further. The system should remain flexible, and as it changes, so will considerations over resources. This is a strategy that may be applied to all aspects of our lives; and is one that will benefit, via even the slightest change.