Winter in a Pandemic

From the “Around the Kitchen Table” Guest Blog Series

Guest blogger: Mallory DeVries (my granddaughter) of Woodside Acres in Charles City, Iowa

It’s that time of year again. The Fodder’s in the Shock and farmers in the Midwest are ready to rest their aching bones. What a season it has been. At Woodside this year, we had a large garden for our own consumption and focused on crafting tasty, pastured poultry. I’m happy to report that we sold every last bird before they were even mature.

Meat and grocery shortages were not exactly what the country had in mind at the beginning of 2020, but here we are again, weathering a third peak of a deadly pandemic. It’s feeling quite dire here in Iowa. The kids have been home since March and we’re all getting a little irritated with one another.

A great source of entertainment has been our laying flock. When the crops are all out of the garden, the laying flock goes from “free-range” to “walk to town if you want”, meaning we open up their already large enclosure and they go to work, cleaning up the garden, fertilizing it, terrorizing the dog and the mailman, and entertaining the entire family with their antics.

As we settle in for perhaps the longest winter of our lives, we take time to reflect on the season and prepare ourselves for the next in a different way: by storing up on the feel-goods! We spend a lot of time preparing our homes and pantries for the cold; why not our minds and hearts as well? A winterizing of the mind, if you will. I’ve brainstormed a few questions to get us started:

  1. What habits can I create right now that will get me through the gloomy dark days of winter? 
  2. What promises will I make myself? 
  3. What can I get rid of? 
  4. How can I be more present during the holiday season? 
  5. What brings me happiness? 
  6. How can the rest of the family participate?

How are you preparing for winter? Leave me a comment!

And don’t forget, my Grandma’s book, Ira’s Farm, makes an excellent gift for the upcoming holidays! Buy it on Amazon and have it delivered (no-contact) this year!

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

Stewards of Northwest Lower Michigan

Northwest lower Michigan farmers are among the growing number of concerned and committed stewards of the good earth. Organic farms are spreading and thriving in the counties of the area—Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Antrim.

Northwest lower Michigan is located globally within the 45th parallel and is a part of the Great Lakes area of the United States. Being in the temperate weather zone, the growing season is fairly short, extending roughly May through late September, a period of five months. In recent years, hoop houses have extended the growing season.

Hoop houses, sustainable land use, polyculture, regenerative farming, micro-sprouts, green manure, portable pens, hugelkultur, foraging, ugly fruits, CSA’s and community gardens—just a few phrases noted in recent articles about land use and crop farming—phrases which describe current farming techniques.

Numerous educational and community action groups now tout the environmental problems being addressed. Professionals, school children, food pantries and programs for the elderly are among the beneficiaries of these efforts. Local sources in northwest lower Michigan for a more in-depth exploration of today’s fine farming techniques can be found at Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology in Antrim County, Grow Benzie, Leelanau Land Conservancy, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities based in Traverse City. All are based in within the 5-county area mentioned earlier.

The majority of these and other subjects of today’s farming techniques could be explored under the all-inclusive title of Sustainable Land Management or by visiting an organic farm in the region. Find a market near you:


Photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

The Process of Producing Food on a Family Farm

A Personal look at Labor-intensive food production – yesterday and today
In reality, my parents spent their entire working years focused entirely on farming in such a way that those sixty acres would provide food and other necessities of life for themselves and their family of two sons and two daughters. No other income in those thirty-one years, just what was grown on the farm, would qualify my mother and dad as creating a ‘sustainable farming operation’ in today’s lingo. Still recovering from the catastrophic nation-wide financial failure in 1929 commonly known as the Great Depression, small farms like my dad’s had few resources. But we had food to eat, a house to live in and clothing on our back because of their land, mortgaged though it was. Growing vegetables, fruit and meat for a family with four children was very labor-intensive in the 1930’s and I want to describe the process of producing food on a family farm in comparison to today’s food markets. Mega-size grocery stores are within minutes of our homes and most of them offer home delivery. Gas stations carry convenience foods, Pizza shops, ice cream drive-throughs. Buffets at restaurants stretch out from wall-to-wall with seemingly hundreds of food items to choose from.

A winter morning in 1936 on the Mack farm in Wexford County, Michigan begins: Even starting a fire in the cookstove means there have been prior days in the woods cutting and hauling wood for heat. Dad puts the coffee pot on to percolate so it will be ready when he comes in for breakfast after milking his herd of six cows. He brings in the milk, fills a pitcher for the day’s use and pours the remainder in the separator for cream to sell and skim milk to feed the hogs. Mom probably has warmed up potatoes which we raised, and bacon or side pork along with eggs fried in the meat grease—meat that was butchered in late fall and eggs that were gathered from the chicken coop. Before we had electricity, the homemade bread we served with the morning meal was just sliced and buttered with home-churned butter, no toast. Some days we had pancakes made from ‘scratch’ and slathered with maple syrup which had been harvested from a nearby woodlot and canned for year-round use. Probably Dad has also brought in a bucket of drinking water (pumped by hand) before sitting down to eat.

Lunch was always a good hearty meal, as well as the supper meal. After the supper meal, back to the barn to milk those six cows and separate the milk, etc. Probably 80-90% of all three daily meals were grown, harvested, and canned over the summer months. In addition, we picked morel mushrooms in the spring, and wild blueberries and blackberries in the summer. Year ‘round day after day food gathering, raising animals for meat, chickens for eggs, large garden for vegetables, a fruit orchard to care for. Cucumbers to pick consumed about six weeks of back-breaking harvest. Pickling dills, with dill from our garden, stored in crocks in the cellar and sweet pickles canned. Apple pies to bake while the fruit was ripe. Potatoes to dig and store in the cellar for the winter. Labor-intensive meals, for sure, but good, healthy foods year-round. Even as little kids, we knew where most of our food came from. Our family was raised with ‘sustainable land management’ and ‘farm-to-table’ meals before the phrases became popular!

My parents sold the farm in 1960, thirty-one years after the first field was plowed. The property was totally debt-free, a little savings in the bank, had made improvements to the house, sent two daughters to business schools, had two sons join military service, had a modern pickup truck. My mother had health problems and died nine years before dad. Dad was still in good health, had a garden with the help of his grandchildren, and walked the rows of that small garden until his death at age 83.

My book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s goes deeper into my history. You can purchase it here. Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

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.

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 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 that wasn’t the case. 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!