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.
Time stopped. For six months, I underwent surgery, chemo- and 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…