Dear Readers

Hello Friends,
When I last wrote, I had just been invited to attend a writing workshop on Providence Organic Farm near Central Lake, Michigan. My book Ira’s Farm was to be used as a centering topic in a discussion of writing memoirs or other types of articles centered on Love For The Land. What a wonderful learning event that was. So many talented, dedicated and caring people, which included retired women, one gentleman, working women, an employee at Providence Farm and the co-owner of the farm. At the last session, as we walked into the barn where our meetings were held, we walked into a room full of onions drying on the floor and garlic roots hanging on the rafter boards above our heads. Now THAT was an atmosphere appropriate to the subject at hand! Real motivation.

My previous post “The Hills Are Alive” is an Introduction to the book I have just begun to put together. I’ll tell you more about it as it begins to take a more compact shape. In the meantime, I would love to hear from some of you with comments for what you would like to have in this blog. Stories from you of a friend or relative who is composting or involved in issues that will help protect and heal the land, clean the environment, new recycling opportunities, or any number of interesting items.

Ginny

Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s

By Virginia Johnson

A WWI veteran with a young family, Ira bought a sixty-acre farm in the rural community of Harlan Michigan just ninety days before the October 1929 stock market crash and its ensuing financial crisis.

He fashioned a living with a team of horses and a never-give-up work ethic on land his wife often called “sand banks” when a harvest failed. This memoir covers a thirty-year span of farming through the eyes of Ira’s daughter who went from a bare-footed carefree girl to a “hired hand” when her older brother joined the Navy in 1942. She drove horses, hauled hay, picked up stones, bagged milkweed pods and a myriad of other tasks. For senior citizens it may bring back childhood memories. Young readers will perhaps experience a tinge of fantasy or a scene from TV’s Walton family. An easy read about rural farm life in the thirties and forties.

You can buy my book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s on Amazon.

The 21st Century

In this 21st century now nearing its first quarter, we are reminded almost daily that the world around us is fraught with change. Drones, robots, rockets and satellites bespeak of almost unimaginable methods of communication, warfare and industry unheard of a century ago. Changes welcomed by some populations and decried by others now appear in the midst of daily living.

It seems perhaps a time to ponder the ramifications of the wide utilization of these man-made instruments of power. Has it brought sustainable progress that will assist our earth in the premise of life, of abundant life, of continuing advancements for the good of mankind even as we learn of problematic concerns over which there appears little ability to control? Can we find solutions to non-disposable waste, to disappearing glaciers, to smog-filled cities of mass populations? Can we comprehend the outcry of this generation as developed and under-developed nations, alike, are affected?

This globalization now seems to be touching and disturbing the status quo in each part of the universe and breaking into the integrity of daily expectations. Each of us as a member of this mass humanity called earthlings affect a space, a place, a day, an hour. We affect persons we touch, the care of our possessions. We are individually and corporately bound in the throes of life. We touch good or contribute to lesser. We give or take from the universe daily. No one escapes their moment in time. We share a planet.

The Hills Are Alive

The hills are alive with the sound of music in northern Michigan. Well, perhaps
not music, literally, but there is reason to sing and rejoice and celebrate. The
natural beauty of rivers and lakes and streams flowing throughout the region now also include fields of lush green row crops grown by organic farmers concerned about the environment. Organic farms are introducing to the area a natural form of raising crops—natural fertilizers, innovative soil preparation, weed control using natural means. This pioneering movement is bringing healing to the land. It produces nutrient-dense vegetables and organic apples and all manners of healthy local foods in addition to soil regeneration.

From the tip of lower Michigan’s mitten where Mackinac Bridge blends into
the north edge of the village of Mackinac City, the greening panorama unfolds
south to Kalkaska and west to Frankfort. Encompassed in this area are the
counties of Antrim, Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Emmet. White
fenceposts often mark the borders of farms where front yard signs proclaim the
information that this is a Certified Organic Farm. Cattle grazing in grass-covered
pastures attest to the practice of raising free-range stock. Chickens thrive in
outdoor moveable pens covered for safety. Kiosks filled with just-picked
vegetables lure passing motorists along country roads. Summer outdoor markets
abound. Truly a lifestyle to sing about – this promise of a reverence for nature
and a vision for the future of northern Michigan.

Come join me now as I walk, in print, through a journey of change
blossoming among the hills of nearby villages such as Leland, Northport,
Interlochen, Traverse City and Petoskey. I write from a vantage point of
observation and interest because as a young girl in the 1930’s, I walked many a
time barefooted through fields of wheat and corn with my dad on his small, rural
farm. I am enthralled at the thought of small farms becoming a way of living in the world of today and especially in the area where I am spending my retirement
years. If you feel the urge to dig around in the dirt after you close the pages of
this book, do it. Let the sweet, rich soil slip through your fingers. Sense the need
to protect it. The greening of the earth lies therein.

A Holiday: Fourth of July Memories

From the “Around the Kitchen Table” Guest Blog Series

Guest blogger: Alvina Valencourt

(Alvina is the cousin I mentioned frequently in Ira’s Farm. Her dad was Uncle Mike who brought the Monopoly game on New Year’s Eve in 1937.)

A Holiday

It’s getting around the 4th of July time of the year, taking me back to a childhood memory of the one time of the year when we did anything together as a family.

Dad was a hard-working farmer, often bragging that “the day wasn’t long enough or the work hard enough” to suit him. Consequently, a day of leisure together as a family was rare. The 4th of July was the exception. So, with his brothers and their families who lived nearby, we would all converge on Green Lake near Interlochen for an all-day picnic.

We would scurry around getting ready which necessitated I go upstairs into the attic to retrieve my bathing suit from a large black trunk that reposed there. The attic was dark (no electricity then) and smelled strongly of mice. But thinking of the treat looming before me, I opened the trunk and retrieved the green knit moth-eaten bathing suit inherited from my cousin and ran downstairs to help Mama with the food,

The family piled into the Ford and our holiday began! Upon arriving at Green Lake, Dad would treat us kids to ice cream cones, a real treat in those hard times. Then into my bathing suit, plunge into the sparkling green lake. It was cold to my skin at first, but soon became pure joy as we splashed about.

At noon we had the picnic lunch and later in the day made ice cream the old-fashioned way – turning a handle on the wooden freezer. So delicious!

And so, back to the farm, never knowing that some eighty years later the memory of that simple pleasure would remain with me.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

I am sitting in the spacious dining room of the Senior Independent facility where I have lived for the past five years. It is a beautiful sunny day. I’m looking out the window which faces our pond, a pond often teeming with nature’s activities. A mourning dove sits quietly perched on the patio railing, perhaps wanting to be sure he is mentioned in this review.  Redwing blackbirds nest in the high bushes there. If you are watching, you can catch glimpses of cardinals and goldfinch and robins and doves and chickadees flying around. Ducks come and go, landing at will on the pond for a swim. Frogs and snakes and butterflies live among the cattails and bushes. A Canadian geese ‘family’ strutted around the area in late May with five little goslings trailing along behind them – hatched in a nest well-hidden in the brushy areas around the pond. Occasionally a muskrat is sighted swimming there, and a skunk delivered her offspring among the cattails close to the walking path this spring, which caused a flurry of excitement for a few days! A red fox was sighted running across the lawn last fall. Black squirrels and gray squirrels fearlessly roam across the outdoor patio where coffee and local gossip are enjoyed around the wrought iron tables on many a summer morning.

In addition to the animal life, plants and trees of every sort abound in the pond area. There is a mature sugar maple tree across the way that resembles a large mushroom and its round sphere is a sight to behold in the fall when autumn colors appear. Vibrant green pines and flowering crimson ornamental trees, flowering shrubs and a few tulips planted in a small flower bed tended by a resident add to my window view with shades of colors as varied as crayons in a Crayola box… All is well with my soul.

Last week, an unusual incident happened near the patio, witnessed by the morning coffee hour regulars — usually ten to twelve of us. We had noticed a redwing blackbird laying very still on the patio and realized he must have hit the window so hard it caused his death. We became aware almost immediately of a number of blackbirds flying back and forth from nearby trees, flying directly over the bird on the patio in a distressed manner. They continued this commotion for an hour or more before leaving. They must have been aware that the bird on the cement patio was no longer alive. Could this have actually been happening? Have any of you witnessed a ritual of this sort with birds?

But I must move on… (My friendly mourning dove still sits atop the railing, as I turn my thoughts to other news.)

I recently visited the newly-opened Blue Vase book warehouse in Interlochen, about ten miles from Traverse City. And found a treasure! Have you ever looked at a book cover and known you had to get this book before you even opened its pages? Turn Here – Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works by Atina Diffley had me hooked. Published by University of Minnesota Press, Atina Diffley wrote a 335-page book in story form of her passion for the land, the soil we walk on and plant gardens in, the soil that constitutes acreage for farming and forests and beaches and gopher holes. Soil often pocked with stones and rooted perennial grass clumps. This woman loved soil. Loved it enough to endure drudgery, crop-destroying storms, fifteen-hour work days, years with no profit as she and her husband put all available resources back into healing the land on their farm. What a teaching, compelling page-turner Diffley created as she told of her honest endeavor to live the dream and, in reality, answer the urgent call of her heart and soul. I learned in the most elemental terms of the almost impossible demands of creating a certified organic farm. It is an incredible tale.

At approximately the same week that I ‘had my nose in that book until late in the night’, I received an invitation to a writing workshop June 27 at Providence Organic Farm in Eastport to speak about my efforts of writing, self-publishing and marketing the book Ira’s Farm: Growing up on a self-sustaining farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Have a good and productive summer, friends. Happy gardening. I’ll write more later.    Ginny

Photo by John Duncan on Unsplash

From Suburbs to Soil

From the “Around the Kitchen Table” Guest Blog Series

Guest blogger: Mallory DeVries of Woodside Acres in Charles City, Iowa

The year was 2013 and I was deep into learning how to cook. I’d been learning for a few years, mostly through practice and America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks. Growing up, we lived out of Hamburger Helper boxes, bags of cereal, and Nutter Butters. But I was determined to feed myself and future husband something more satisfying and complex. It wasn’t until I watched Food, Inc., however, that I really began to think about where our food was actually coming from. I began grocery shopping in an entirely new way: by seeking out food. Real food. Local food. Ingredients rather than ready-made meals and condiments.

It was in this same documentary that I was first introduced to Joel Salatin and his work on sustainable agriculture and holistic management of livestock. I very quickly began questioning every aspect of food; not just what was on my plate, but what was on America’s plate and why. I found some answers to the “why” a few months later when I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by (my now favorite author) Michael Pollan. This book impacted my life and future in ways that I couldn’t begin to fathom.

Having grown up in Iowa, you would think that I would have been exposed to lots of farming, but I was not. It wasn’t something young people really talked about. We knew that the combines driving down the highway were a huge inconvenience to us and that there were cornfields EVERYWHERE, but I didn’t even know what that corn was used for. I just didn’t care. But just before my husband and I turned 30, we made the decision to “go back to the land” and purchased an 11-acre property in Northeast Iowa.

Fast forward to now, Spring 2019, and our very first large-scale gardening adventure is in full swing. Our fifteen Wyandotte hens are busy preparing and fertilizing our garden area just to the East of our new home in Northeast Iowa. Our flock is also tasked with converting our food scraps into compost. An entire room in our home has been converted into a “garden room” filled with very eager tomato, pepper, onion, herb, and flower plants. The asparagus patch and rhubarb have sprung into production. There are buds on the existing apple, pear, peach, and cherry trees. Two new pear trees just went in the  ground. There are beet greens popping up in a large tub near the front yard. The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

It is my hope that other “young” people will begin this journey with us and start questioning everything around them. I hope the next generation will be drawn to the land. To care for it and receive care from it as well.  I see it working when our toddler asks to go dig for worms or help daddy mulch the fruit trees. And when she laughs at the chickens doing funny things. She wants to be outdoors, rain or shine. It is working.

If you want to follow our journey to sustainability, follow Woodside Acres on Facebook!