Tag Archives: Healing Tree Farm

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.

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:

It’s True.

movingThe rumors circulating are true. (Not the one about the unicorn hair and the black market.) We are moving.

Our house is sold, all of our belongings are in storage, and while we’ll continue to lease the farmstead through spring, we will be leaving Michigan at the close of the school year. We’ll relocate with the alpacas to a new farm in upstate New York, where the project will continue.

Living off-site and at a distance from the farm, with four children at home, proved far too difficult. We no longer felt it was fair to the Conservancy to continue with the lease while our time was so constricted. The driving to and from the farm, along with access to water meant our input/output balance was out of wack. That’s simply not permaculture.

The Leelanau Land Conservancy provided us with an opportunity DSC_6244for which we feel intensely grateful. The experience of being on an historic property that permitted livestock shifted our long-view of the farm project and allowed us to try things we might never have tried before. This meant some huge risks and failures, but the rewards in terms of education far outweighed any hardships.

A list of what we learned while at the farm would stretch miles; from the butchering to the growing to the coping with failures and turning those failures into successes.

-2We experienced the ups and downs of farming outside of convention and that meant coming face to face with all sorts of experiences, including watching a 300lb boar go swimming at Cedar Lake or being chased around the farmstead by a widowed duck or walking all of Leelanau County in search of wandering sheep only to find them huddled against the safety of the barn door or planting 200 apple trees by hand or discovering the rare Shiawassee Beauty and reviving the variety or living in 1935 for two months and washing dishes in the dishpan beside your teenage daughter by oil lamp.

The era immersion experiments also altered our perspective and photo 1provided insight, allowing us to re-discover older methodologies toward improving efficiency whether for hauling water or washing fiber or raising sheep and alpacas.

DSC_4204The farm inspired us to think differently about the world. It asked us to look to the past, when contemplating the future. And those invaluable lessons will carry us toward a new life out east.

RealEyes Podcast on Our Farm Story


Levi at RealEyes Homestead, which is a permaculture farm adjacent to our farm at DeYoung has just started doing podcasts. They’re great! And we’re particularly fond of the second ever, the story of our farm. Please take a listen and then sign up to receive additional podcasts from RealEyes.

Etsy Store Open!

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To visit our newly opened Etsy store, please visit : https://www.etsy.com/shop/HealingTreeFarm

Healing Tree Farm offers hand-spun yarn, natural fibers, and knitted products made from fleeces grown on our farm located in Leelanau County in beautiful northern Michigan. If you’re looking for a unique gift that reminds you of the land and beauty of this place we call home, consider a skein of our hand-spun yarn.

Having recently added a small herd of alpaca to the farm, we’re now offering a gorgeous blend of Suri alpaca and Shetland fibers. This yarn is as beautiful as it is warm and durable. Woven into each skein of yarn is the story of the farm, the animal(s) from which the fiber came, and the farmers who carefully raised the livestock, gently sheared, washed, carded, and spun your yarn.

About our fiber:

  • Each skein is made from 100% local and organically/humanely raised fiber animals
  • Skeins average 160+ yards each
  • Our fibers are 100% hand-spun and processed entirely by hand from start to finish
  • Skeins are wound prior to pick-up or shipment, unless otherwise noted
  • Skeins may be purchased directly from the farm
  • Ask about our multi-skein discounts
  • We are happy to make custom orders
  • Proceeds from sale of our fiber supports Healing Tree Farm’s ongoing fiber and farm-related programming.

Our hand-spun yarn may be used to make a variety of items including:

  • Sweaters
  • Socks
  • Scarves
  • Hats
  • Weaving
  • And more…

And our roving may be requested for felting or other fiber-related projects. Want to learn more about the art of raising fiber animals, spinning, or knitting? Consider one of our free fiber-related classes offered at the farm.

To visit our newly opened Etsy store, please visit : https://www.etsy.com/shop/HealingTreeFarm

The big barn, boar, and our little beauties…

Last night, we moved the alpacas to the large barn. The historic imageCampbell-DeYoung barn was built around 1885 over top the foundation of the original barn, destroyed by fire. It once housed a team of horses and the bull. The animals used a self-watering system powered by the diversion stream that once ran just south of the barn. It’s always nice to see life back in the old barn.

imageIn addition to this small change, we also added a boar to the farm, a temporary resident borrowed from our homesteading neighbor, Levi, who raises pigs. We needed a pig to do the work of cleaning up the former market garden, so that we can put it back into operation next season.

Timagehe boar, “Big Red,” lives in a pig-tractor that is moved daily. He plows up the earth in search for worms, grubs, roots, and greens, and leaves behind manure and soil, prepped for a new cover crop. In the former alpaca pasture, the chickens are now tractor-ed and working hard and revitalizing the soil from years of over-tillage.


In other news, with the help of a farm volunteer, we have successfully grafted 40 Shiawassee Beauties, from scion collected from the only known (to us) and verifiable Shiawassee growing outside of the park boundaries. The grafts appear to be taking nicely and we look forward to adding these trees to the orchard in the future.

Women’s Liberation?


Last winter, we spent two full months immersed in the 1940s, a period representing the introduction of many modern conveniences and a booming economy on the heels of the Great Depression. We learned how to operate as a more structured family and daily tasks included baking bread, a lot of cleaning, and awaiting my husband’s return from work so I could rub his feet.

On the surface, it sounds horrible. And in reality, for women who couldn’t make the leap to modern times, it was a period that marked considerable social expectations that were often demeaning to women.

However, for the modern woman returning to a period disassociated from hyper-accessibility brought to you by technology, it now represents a period of quiet, structure, and ownership of the traditional role. And compared with the modern day chaos of balancing, work, children, food preparation, schedules, and care for the house, it illustrated how efficiently early American households operated.

Though we left behind this period to move on with other life adventures, I missed the calm and the quiet time I shared with my children, the lack of distractions and interruptions, the respect and housewife-1940s-washing-dishesreverence we felt for one another in our well-defined and understood roles. And I began to wonder what part of women’s liberation really means in this modern world? Are we truly more liberated? I mean yes, of course we have more choices, freedoms, and responsibilities, and that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s the notion that all this convenience and liberation from tradition is actually good for us.

I cringe as I write this for I fear it will be mistaken for some kind of misogynistic message. That said, what we discovered as a family, was that those traditional roles promoted a different, and in many regards, more valuable kind of freedom that worked for us.

So, today, as I think about all of the things that will be carefully packed or hidden away during our trip back in time, I find myself giddy with the expectation of quiet evenings, radio broadcasts, and even the drudgery of housework, because it is the difference between rolling over purpose to get it out of the way, and fulfilling a more purposeful role. And in it, I find my own kind of liberation.