Category Archives: Community-building

Can I still spin?

IMG_9470It’s been six months since we moved out of our house and started down this transition pathway to New York. I haven’t seen my spinning wheel in months, though I’ve continued to use the drop-spindle just so I don’s forget how much I miss the wheel.

We’ve only stayed two nights in the new house, as it is in need of some plumbing and electrical work, but Chris started a fire and we camped out in front of the fireplace in the living room. It was a pleasant way to spend part of our latest trip. The IMG_9565
neighbors brought over firewood and hosted us for dinner that first night. More neighbors joined and we were warmly welcomed, which meant the world to us weary travelers.


Chris said it’s now a waiting game to begin this next leg of our journey. We must wait for the the completion of the plumbing and electrical work before we can move in officially, so our original plan of waiting for the kids to finish up at school works well.

It’s really unreal to finally be creating a home in a whole different state. This dream realized has been months in the making, with setbacks and so many little obstacles along the way. I haven’t felt much like writing about it because there’s so much to say and it’s hard to decide on a topic well-suited for a farm blog. I cannot wait to play in the soil and work with fiber again. I am IMG_9542excited for all the stories, some old, and the many new we will make together.

The neighbor said she felt called to this area of the Schoharie. It was the first time I had heard someone else say that. I’ve been telling people much the same. It’s an old mountain region and there’s an energy to the land that really speaks to us. We feel ‘called’ home. Michigan will always be my childhood home, but this part of New York feels like home on a deeper level. And maybe it never really needs to be put into words the way we writers are always so inclined to do? Perhaps it can just be and we can simply enjoy it for what it is. Home.



We bought a house! (FINALLY)

We spent the weekend in NY house hunting again, after the farm we tried to purchasephoto 2 (3) previously fell through. The timing was good and we found a great house for sale in the Schoharie Valley, where we had hoped to land. The community is welcoming and the setting is tranquil and beautiful.

During this trip, we were pretty sure about the property, so we planned a day for house-related stuff and then a day for fun. It was a quick trip, but we managed to get an accepted offer on the house, watched Zootopia (awesome film!), and even found time for some cave exploration – think boat, underground river, Goonies…

We also enjoyed some downtime at the inn where we have stayed on previous trips out. This trip we brought along our son and youngest daughter, who wanted to offer her opinion of our housing choices. She was a big help and it was delightful watching our two youngest bonding as siblings.

photo 1 (4)Games, ice cream, and stories were devoured on this trip.

photo 2 (2)[My favorite part of being 200 feet underground on a boat floating down a crystal clear river? Hearing a woman behind me say, “It’s our time; it’s our time down here.”]

This plan to relocate has been in the works for more than a year, which has given us time photo 3 (2)to prepare emotionally for leaving home in the quest for a new place to call home. It has also provided us with opportunities to get to know other families in communities from all over the region, so the move isn’t as scary as it might have been otherwise. Our agent has been such a good friend to us in this process. He’s made this transition so much easier – we love this man! (Brad Morley – Benson Real Estate)

photo 3 (3)I can’t tell whether I’m more excited to link up with other farmers in NY State or sharing the history of this incredible region, known as the breadbasket of the American Revolution, with our children. There are cannonball holes in the sides of buildings here. Wha?!

Moreover, the house is near a state university dedicated to agriculture with barns filled to the brim with sheep, goats, cows, and horses. Yep, an entire college for agricultural studies. My kind of town!

We made sure to visit our friends at the ‘Il Cafe’ in Little Falls and Sunset Corners in Ames, the smallest incorporated village in the state of NY. The kids love this place especially. It really feels photo 1 (2)like you’re stepping back in time.

Feeling grateful also to those kind TC folks who helped us out while we were away. Thank you to Levi (RealEyes Homestead) for watching over the alpacas and kitty and to the Marker Family for taking on Louis Dog, who I have heard has been very well behaved (our sweet boy is growing up!)

Time for coffee and reflection. So many changes ahead. Thank you for the messages of support and encouragement. We appreciate them as we take this next, big step toward a dream realized.

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Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Something from Nothing

DSC_0026Ten years ago, I was living in the rural outskirts of Traverse City, building garden beds as a leisurely summer activity with my three toddlers. I could never have imagined how much my life would change in the coming decade. By the end of that summer, I began feeling ill with trouble breathing and nightmares about dying. In September of that year I was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma and began immediate treatments, lasting into the following year.

Little did I realize that a single event, a phone call that I picked up while standing at the kitchen counter, in which a surgeon very plainly announced the diagnosis with little emotion in his voice, that my life as a farmer would truly begin. Not out of a desire to farm, specifically (although I have always wanted this life), but out of a need to find answers; alternatives to biocides used in fruit production.

This morning, I looked out at the calm waters of Lake Michigan and the sunlight spilling
over the hilltop through the windows, and felt my heart swell for the little apple whips beginning their first full season as individual trees. These trees represent so much more than the salvation of a single apple variety. They photo 4 (1)are also the culmination of a decade’s long effort toward restorative agriculture. Progressing toward a desire to save not only rare apples, but also to satisfy my own desire to see my children play among the orchard trees the way I once did as a child, but free from the worry of toxins.

Farmers, generally, whether they spray or use alternative growing methods, are some of the best people I’ve ever known. And this little travelling orchard is representative of not only my hope for the future, but of my admiration for my fellow farmers. I know the struggles we each endure regularly, the set-backs and failures that make this business challenging, and the pioneering spirit that keeps it all moving forward. Because this business of growing is as much about growing food as it is growing from within.

Tender leanings

On the way out to NY last week, I stopped near Port Huron for coffee before the trek through Canada. At the counter of a Tim Horton’s (that’s right, because, well, Canada), a young man behind the counter asked about my scarf.

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The scarf is a beautifully knitted infinity scarf made by my mother-in-law, with our fiber. And amid this industry-hardened region of the thumb, an 18-year-old boy who has never seen an alpaca, leaned forward over the counter and said, “Your scarf looks so soft.”

“Do you want to touch it?”

“May I?”

Now, normally, this might feel awkward, leaning forward toward a total stranger in the middle of a chain restaurant, so that he can feel my scarf, but something told me this kid was genuinely interested in fiber.

As his thumb ran across the corded alpaca and his eyes met mine with a sparkle.

photo (2)“Is an alpaca like a llama?” The questions began. And before long, we were talking about the process of taking fiber and turning it into scarves. Leaving, I ran my own fingers across the soft fibers and thought about the process. And how the process is an ongoing story. And how that story impacts more than just the animal or the farmer. It’s the connections between, whether the winding off of the skein by the hand-spinner, or the carefully knitted scarf by the knitter, or the person inspired by the tactile beauty of the finished scarf, this process inspires conversation.

And hopefully, for at least one person in southern Michigan, it inspires something more. An opportunity to explore a world he may not have known existed. For this gal, from a tiny town in northern Michigan, it afforded a similar impact. This whole journey forward is about exploration, adventure, and expanding our world.

Special thanks to Cindy Graves for the lovely scarf!

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

New York and MassaChooChoos

We just returned from another trip out to NY for the home inspection, andphoto 1 while there, visited a friend in Massachusetts (pronounced “massachoochoos” by Topher). The region of NY where the farm is located is very similar to the landscape of western Mass.

photo 2.JPGPersonally, my favorite part about these treks is the history, most notably the architecture, which is far older than anything we see typically in northern Michigan. The house we’re buying is a Greek revival, built around 1830 with wide plank floors and Greek- and even Egyptian- inspired details adorning every angle. There’s something really moving about walking through a house with such old bones.

The small towns near the farm reveal something special about the people of the region. There is a kindness here that beckons. It’s an old-fashioned kindness; welcoming and refreshing. You can hear it in the gentle approach of a stranger offering directions, in the clip-clop of the Amish horses passing down main street, and in the genuine approach of the cafe IMG_3520.JPGowner eager to introduce us to the community. This place feels like home.

Which makes returning to life in Traverse City feel very temporary. And gives us a bit of freedom to make the most of our final months as Michigan residents. We’ll make the most of this Michigan winter, reflecting on all that lay ahead of us with a bit less anxiety, and a whole lot more enthusiastic anticipation.