food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Posts tagged “Michigan

Springtime in Michigan

Alright Michigan, I get it.  I was feeling a little too excited about my first sunburn of the season last week.  That muggy 80 degree day last Sunday was over the top, it’s true.  We were getting ahead of ourselves, looking past Spring right towards Summer, and it’s only natural you’d want to put us in our places.  With 4 inches of snow…  in mid-April.  As that picture up above shows though, it melted as quickly as it fell – a thick white blanket turning to muddy sludge in no time.

So what’s a farmer to do (besides gnash her teeth a little bit) when the snow makes fields untillable, spinach unharvestable, and weeds unhoeable?  Well the good thing (and sometimes the bad thing) about being on a farm is there is always work to do: spring cleaning, building the trusses that will support our greenhouses, weeding hoophouses (and enjoying the diversity the weeds – lambs quarters and mustards – will offer our spinach salads), turning frozen tomatoes and berries into canned sauce and jam, sharpening tools, making cheese and yogurt, transplanting peppers and tomatoes into larger pots and flats, willing those seeds that have already found their homes in the soil to bide their time, and hoping that Spring – when it decides to show itself – will be generous.


As Seen On Tantre Farm

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Food and Community at Selma Cafe

For the past 5+ years I’ve lived in a bubble.  A bubble filled with people who love food, from its beginning as tiny seeds tucked into soil to the many incarnations it can take in the kitchen, and love too the community that springs up around a dining room table.  In moving to Michigan, I wasn’t sure if I would find that bubble popped or just shifted.  While the familiar faces around the table, some of the ingredients in the dishes, and, who knows, maybe the levels of recovery from butter-phobia may be a bit different, I am so happy to find a thriving food community in Southeast Michigan.  And last Friday (at the advice of both my mom and my friend Jill), Neil and I sat down to eat at what has quickly become a hub of the local food/community movement in Ann Arbor: the Selma Cafe

Their blog explains it better than I can, but the basic idea as I understand it is that Jeff and Lisa, the visionaries of Selma, started the cafe in their home a couple of years ago as a place where people could come and share food, conversation, ideas and inspiration for a few hours on Friday mornings.  The food would be local and prepared in-house and the proceeds would go towards funding the construction of hoop houses on farms in the area.  With a mission of creating a community space and evolving a community and food consciousness, the Selma Cafe is clearly off and running:  an article I recently read said that upwards of 150 people eat breakfast at Selma every Friday.

Neil and I walked in to find the place brimming with people, most of them sitting around the huge communal table in what must have previously been Jeff and Lisa’s living room.  The kitchen was buzzing with cooks, super friendly volunteer staff, a live folk band and more dining nooks.  We filled our tummies with biscuits and gravy, a delicious fried egg, local hoophouse greens, a scone from a local bakery, and Michigan cider.  In the process, we chatted with our neighbors, all of us outfitted with name tags we’d later stick to the wall in the entrance.   A beautiful way to spend a Friday morning and a comforting continuation of my bubble.

I’m so glad to know places like this exist here, and will definitely be a return visitor.  If you’re in the area, check Selma out.

Well if you’re really in the area, there’s no reason not to check these places out too:

Jolly Pumpkin Brewery

Arbor Brewing Company

The Grange

Zingerman’s Deli

People’s Food Coop

The Brinery

Retirement Continued: Trying on the Mitten

There’s nothing like a road trip to remind you what a vast country the United States truly is (a vast country that seems to be 99.9% covered in snow in early March).  After moving out of our Bellingham abode (complete with a really sweet send-off from friends and neighbors) and spending a few days at Cloudview to get Neil a bit more moved in, he and I drove from Royal City, Washington to Chelsea Michigan – 2,145 miles, give or take – and we did it in just 3 days!

When it looked like some heavy winter weather might be gaining on us and when some frigid night-time temps forced us to get a hotel in Minnesota (the night before we spent a pretty comfortable night on a platform Neil built for the bed of my truck), we decided CHELSEA OR BUST!

Even though it was a (relatively) quick drive, we still made sure to take in some of the highlights of the middle stretch of the US: things like flocks of wild turkeys, beautiful farmland, hot drinks at a sweet cafe in Sundance Wyoming (where the barista, after seeing my license plate, told me that she grew up in Coupeville Washington of all places!) and a CHEESE shop in Wisconsin (of course) that supplied us with the cheese that would fuel the last bit of our drive and the beer that would reward us once we arrived at my mom’s door.  All of it local and delicious!

The road trip had a beautiful symmetry to it; 4 and a half years ago, Neil and I made the trip across the country after our year at EarthCorps.  Unlike his last visit (a time when I was pretty anxious about an upcoming 3 months in Japan), I was determined to be a better host and give Neil a good look at what my little slice of the MItten has to offer.  A week of long walks, local brewpubs, Indian restaurants, museums, cooking, parks, tours of both Tantre Farm and the Jiffy Mix factory (a mom and pop business started in my hometown) and lots of time spent with my nutty family brought to a close the month-and-a-half long celebration that has been our shared retirement.  And following what was certainly the hardest airport send-off of my life, we’re starting in on some pretty exciting seasons this year.  Of course none of it is that easy or seamless (otherwise my brain wouldn’t be in the total whirlwind it’s in right now), but it is truly a new adventure.

love from Michigan,


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On Becoming a Townie – and a Farmer

In a couple of months, I’m conducting an experiment.  I’m hopping into my truck and, leaving a 5 year relationship with my friends, partner and the state of Washington behind me (literally, not figuratively), I’m moving back near my home town of Chelsea, Michigan to work at a farm.  While my apprehension about the move comes far more from what and who I’m leaving behind than what and who I’m heading towards, I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about being back in Michigan – particularly so close to where I grew up.

For one thing, I don’t really know many people in the area anymore; the fact is that most people I went to highschool and college with left the immediate area, if not the state.    I certainly did.  And despite legislative efforts to encourage college graduates to stay around, Michigan is losing people right and left.  There’s certainly an economic element to this exodus; Michigan has long held the notorious honor of being at the top of state unemployment rates.  But that wasn’t as much of an issue 5+ years ago when I left the state – and the issue of young people leaving is not isolated to Michigan.  While I can’t completely channel my 20 year old mind at the time I moved west, I’m sure it was thinking something along the lines of  ‘I’ve gotta get out of here – I’ve gotta see something new’   And so I went – and in doing that, I put about 2000 miles of distance between myself and my old home – and most importantly, my family.  This is a gap we’ve narrowed with phone calls, e-mails and train rides, but one that has been nagging me since I moved to Washington.

Ok, so this isn’t meant to be as much a “dear diary” entry as a chance to take a look at  1) why so many young people, myself included, choose to leave their home towns/states  (is it about better opportunities, a change of scenery, a shift in perspective, the stigma of being someone who never left home?)  2)  is there any way to reverse the trend (if it seems worth reversing)?  is it a matter of waiting for an economic upheaval – or a grassroots return home to create something new ourselves?  which came first – the return of young people or the return of jobs, entertainment, opportunities that appeal to them?   And  3)  when- if at all – is the right time to return home?  Though we’re not a culture that sees multiple generations living under one roof much anymore, as we watch our parents age from a distance while beginning to start families ourselves, this question seems more and more relevant.

As for me, my mom turns 60 this year, and my siblings, still in the area now, could likely be on the move soon.  The time felt ripe for a move home (one that I’m looking at initially as lasting for the farming season, but it will be as temporary or as permanent as I make it).  I’ve been farming in Washington now too for a few years now, and I’m excited to see what the organic farming movement looks like in Michigan.  Admittedly, moving back to southeast Michigan at a time that just so happens to coincide with my 10 year high school reunion in order to make about 2 bucks an hour working a job that draws blank stares from most people I try to explain it to – well, it’s hard to make that look good on paper.  But I’m a girl who has Dollywood buried in her resumé – when did I get so concerned about looking good on paper?  I don’t know where those insecurities come from – the fact is I take a lot of pride in the work that I do and the state where I grew up.  This year should give me the opportunity to deepen my understanding of both while actually getting to see my family on a regular basis.

That 2000 mile gap is still going to nag me in the opposite direction now – a lot – but this is what happens when you fling open pandora’s box and create a bunch of homes for yourself.  It has never been more obvious to me that home is moreso a collection of shared experiences feelings and ideas that connect us to the people around us than any physical space.  One day I hope to give it walls, a roof and a woodstove – a barn and a chicken coop too;  for now, my experiment in mobile homes continues.

To the mitten!

** Where is home for you?  How have you gone about defining and creating it for yourself?

** Are you living far from where you grew up?  If so, why did you choose to leave?  Do you think you’ll ever move back?

the MItten

A Primer
Bob Hicok (2008)

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.