Category Archives: Urban Farming

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

photo 5
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!

Permaculture Design Intensives

During each of these three hour intensives, participants will cover the core permaculture ethics, principles, and design process. All HTF classes are free and open to the public.

Permaculture Design Intensives will be held:Butterflies_wallpapers_313

  • February 23rd, 10a (FULL) 
  • March 16th, 10a (FULL)
  • March 23rd, 10a (FULL)

For directions and to register, please email:

I am Pioneering

barnlight“I’m new to this livestock thing,” I said to the 30-year feed store veteran, after asking him whether straw shortages are common.

Hearing this thought out loud brought out an awareness that in piecing together this farm, we are far-extended into new territory. Pioneers born out of a generation gap in the how-tos of farming before machinery and electricity, running water.

This year alone, we’ve learned how to raise chickens and ducks, how to kill and butcher, how to shear sheep, wash fleeces, card wool, hand spin, how to store salted meat, have tasted milk from nearly every animal producing it off our neighboring farms, made butter, knitted cat fur (to prove a point), discovered the essential characteristics and differences between a mule and a donkey, found out oxen are just cows and that Jerseys are smaller and produce creamier milk, keylining and subsoiling, contouring, the history of the NRCS, the Yellow Sweeting is the oldest variety of named apples in the United States, grant-writing skills, that sheep produce pelleted nitrogen that is nearly double the concentration of horse and cow manure combined, uses for common “invasives,” that rye is like candy to chickens, and what a stoat is. The list goes on and continues to grow each day.

It’s intimidating, it’s enthralling, it’s an education born out of necessity. And it takes unadulterated commitment. Commitment to be willing to try and fail, to trust your own ideas, to trust the ideas of others, to re-learn what worked in the past, no matter how much work it entails in the present, to build community, to ask for help, to cross into new territory with a kind of unabashed curiosity. To know your own boundaries and to push them constantly.

This is new and sometimes painful growth. It is growth that comes on in the flush of a sudden rainfall, post drought. So many ideas curled up into one Bing cherry, pushing the flesh until it nearly cracks open. We have come to this place and have been careful to follow the subtle messages the land affords us: Carrots will grow well here, whisper the Queen Anne’s lace; Plant your asparagus there, say the reseeded brassicas.

Ghosts of old farmers are with us everywhere, in the old nails dug up as we begin planting posts for new grazing lands, a paint brush uncovered, a license “farm” plate from the 1950s, a playing card that frightens me with its taboo lineage, flowers planted in the 1940s still blooming with the story of the woman who tended them, the old apple tree with its graft grown through producing once again. My child wanders up to the chicken coop and I feel an urgency to close the door, but the door slams ahead of him and stays put. Likely wind, but I call aloud, “Thank you, Louis!” The way we were told DeYoung’s wife used to call for him, the latter part of his name affording a shrill upward slant from the start – “Lou-eee!”

We are both observing and interacting, weaving in intricate dance between the knowing and the showing. Building a foundation whose form is made from fitted stone, rather than the simple configuration of brick on brick. The community, the history, the farm life acting as a blueprint that is ever-shifting into greater efficiency. Solid, yet fluid. Hungry, yet satisfied.

So, that when I say, “I’m new to this,” I  do not mean I am naive, but rather on new territory. I am not fledgeling, I am pioneering.

On becoming farmers, Pt 1

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.

cherriesIn 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.”

orchardNot 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 laurenlymphomas 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.

Time stopped. For six months, I underwent surgery, chemo- boardphotoand immunotherapy, and radiation. Innocence was lost. The orchard had lost its magic.

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…

Ochard Design Course Slated for New Year

Healing Tree Farm is announcing our Permaculture Orchard Design Course slated for January and February, with a follow-up class in applied orchard design anticipated in March. If you are interested in participating in the class, please contact Samantha Graves.

This four-part course will examine the usefulness and effectiveness of edible forest garden design when applied to the back-yard growing space.

Tentative dates for the course: 6 Jan, 13 Jan, 27 Jan, 3 Feb. Times and location TBD. All HTF courses are free and open to the public.