After spending the past years interning at organic farms and leasing land in Grand Blanc to offer CSA, Jacob, Katie and their four year old son Forrest (broccoli boy at top of webpage) are excited to begin a new journey in their life as they begin the transition onto their newly purchased property in Mayville, Michigan. The 20 acre parcel, which previously served as grazing ground for galloping horses, will finally provide the family a space to create their homestead. The family is extremely grateful to the wonderful community that supported the establishment of their farm through organically grown vegetables, friendship and love.
The couple met while attending Western Michigan University. Katie was an active member of the biodiesel cooperative when she overhead Jacob saying that he had converted a few diesel vehicles to run off straight vegetable oil. Sparks flew. The couple completed their studies, converted an old Mercedes to run off straight veggie-oil and headed east for an archeological job in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
The month after their son’s birth, Katie and Jacob began a one-year service as AmeriCorp VISTAs (Volunteers In Service To America) at a small, education-based, non-profit, organic farm in rural Pennsylvania. Serving at the Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living was a transformative experience for them, both as individuals and as a family. During the year of service the trio worked alongside the Orner Family at Quiet Creek growing fruits and vegetables in raised beds with two movable high-tunnels (greenhouses heated with passive solar), which serve as the foundation of the integrated pest management the farm practices. They also manage a four-season harvest, which gave Katie and Jacob the delight of eating Strawberries in November and the hands-on experience of growing greens for continual winter harvest. Making cheese, yogurt, kombucha, kefir, fermented vegetable preservations, herbal soaps and medicinal herb preparations like tinctures and salves were only some of the skills the couple acquired at the farm. Additionally, they helped build an earthen oven, wrote grants and educated school groups on worm composting, organic growing, alternative energy and natural sweeteners. This is a small snapshot of the Quiet Creek learning experience. The non-profit’s mission of increasing the public understanding of the importance of conservation of natural resources, ecological thinking and healthful sustainable living permanently imprinted onto the personal and professional lives of the inspired and forever-grateful family.
As Katie and Jacob made plans for transition back to Michigan to be closer to family and their roots, they knew they wanted to replicate components of this farm they had so much respect for. However, they also wanted the experience of growing organic produce on a larger scale. This led them to the Eaters’ Guild, a 40 acre, organic farm in Bangor, Michigan. There was one problem though; they needed a suitable home for their young family to grow into. They decided to build a yurt to serve as housing both at the Eaters’ Guild and for the possible nomadic years ahead.
Family and friends were invited to a joint “Yurt Raising” and vow renewal ceremony (or legal marriage, whichever way one wants to look at it). The hands of their kin and kindred spirits sanded all the rough wood, bolted the lattice walls together and erected the yurt’s frame (most of it) before the evening ceremony commenced and the rain began to fall.
Firmly believing that one’s strongest vote is cast with the dollar, Katie and Jacob built the yurt using the most local and natural materials they could find. The rough-cut lumber for the 22-foot diameter home was purchased from the saw mill located a ½ mile from the herb farm. Eighty yards of 6-foot wide, raw, natural canvas was purchased from a supplier located 60 miles away, and sewed by Jacob and family with an industrial strength sewing machine. Vegetable oil (origin unknown) and beeswax, purchased from the local apiary, was made into a salve and applied over the outside of the canvas as a water sealant. Insulation included 4 and 5 ply cardboard boxes donated from a local factory and used burlap coffee sacks purchased from a local supplier. The total cost of their 384 square foot home, including woodstove, piping, platform, extra material for building counters and shelving, and the above materials totaled $2,600. Not bad for a home whose walls permit the melodies, beats and rhythms of Earth’s serenades to flaunt its beauty into the presence of the moment that is. The family appreciates the size of the home not only for the efficient warmth it has provided through the cold winters, but also for the family bond it strengthens with concentrated living space. More than anything, Jacob, Katie and Forrest appreciate and love the energy their home carries from the family and friends who helped build and erect the yurt for its first time in Pennsylvania.
Fortunate to be greeted with a week of beautiful, warm weather , they arrived at the Eaters’ Guild farm in early March for yurt raising number two. The following week 18 inches of snow plummeted down adding insulation and the assurance of a warm, dry year to come. Life soon busied on the farm with seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting and packing. With over 200 CSA shares, a major wholesale account and four farmers’ markets to harvest for, the family’s perception of the intensity of time and energy necessary to run such an operation greatly expanded. In addition to learning about large-scale, organic vegetable production, the intern experience unexpectedly became an opportunity to learn about animal husbandry. The number and diversity of livestock on farm steadily increased throughout the year. At the time of their departure a myriad of barnyard talk could be heard from heritage turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese to goats, cows, cats, dogs, a bunny and a mule.
Receiving farm education as payment their previous two years of work had left the couple with non-existent funds to purchase property of their own to begin the educational farm they dream of. Instead, they tried sharecropping on a certified organic farm close to Katie's home and alma mater, Goodrich High School. Sharecropping in the 21st century is a bit more complicated than perhaps the 20th and quickly the realization came that the situation would not suit the family. Having already spent funds from investments from 35 CSA members, the couple needed to find alternative land to fulfill their CSA agreement. They leased land down the road from Katie's parents in Grand Blanc and pulled off an excellent season of bountiful produce. If you would like to hear more about this somewhat chaotic first year, click here to read on.