Over the winter, Ecocentric interviewed farmers across the country from our Eat Well Guide in an effort to highlight both the challenges and triumphs of sustainable farmers across the country. Join us as we delve in to discover what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century.
Mary Brower grows vegetables and raises pigs and chickens on 80 acres at Bluestem Farm in East Jordan, Michigan. Read on to find out why Mary's favorite aspect of farming is the community it creates around her and her family.
What do you grow/raise on your farm?
Bluestem Farm is a four-season, diversified farm, dedicated to producing a huge variety of food straight through the year. We are proud to raise heritage-breed pigs, chickens for both meat and eggs, and a large variety of indoor and outdoor vegetables. Our focus is on providing food to our community straight through the long winters of Northern Michigan.
How many acres do you farm?
Some of the 80 acres which make up Bluestem Farm are currently in cultivation or serve as pasture-lands for our animals. Other areas are the beginnings of orchards. Still other areas such as woods, rolling grasslands, and wild spaces protect pollinators, wildlife, and birds in an interconnected and vibrant patchwork.
What’s a typical day in the life on your farm?
It is the time of year of late dawns and clear nights of great beauty, of forking hay down the chute to the animals, of breaking the ice out of the troughs and watching snow rise around the barns like a tide. It is the time of year when the color green can make me physically hungry, and when I can find myself wondering if the circle feels so small because it actually is. Yesterday was a pretty typical day. Since the birth of our daughter in January, our son Peter, 3, describes his father as an "outdoor farmer" while the rest of us are "indoor farmers." Aaron, the outdoor farmer, spends a portion of most days harvesting root vegetables from under snow, collecting eggs from our barns, and caring for the pigs and chickens. Yesterday we welcomed a litter of heritage-breed piglets to the world, and Aaron made sure the new mother and piglets had everything they needed. And as for the indoor farmers among us, we washed and packaged eggs for sale at a local co-op, and helped prepare CSA shares for our winter members.
It is the time of year of late dawns and clear nights of great beauty, of forking hay down the chute to the animals, of breaking the ice out of the troughs and watching snow rise around the barns like a tide. It is the time of year when the color green can make me physically hungry...
Describe your local food community in four words.
Devoted to real food.
What is your favorite aspect of farming?
In choosing to make a life out of farming, Aaron and I ply the one trade we felt we had the most to learn from. Of all the things we might have done with our lives, farming has a way of ever offering us something new to study, and the endless potential for building strength through community. At least once a week and all throughout the year, our farm's members and neighbors are the people we see, the folks we know, the stories that fill our thoughts. And though these relationships are new, they still show the signs of becoming a community that is abiding and real. On any given day, we might have visits from neighbors who offer to help us prepare that field they know we have no tractor for, or who bring a gift of heating wood they know we've been too busy to bring in ourselves, or baby clothes for our new daughter. We trade pork for apples, chicken for money, and ideas for putting up grapes the fastest. When there is an illness, people bring food. There are birthday flowers, cheers for babies just learning to walk, concerned conversations about the health of aging parents and young children. And as our farming project matures and we are able to offer better and more, we also expect our life's project to go forward alongside new stories of the travails and successes of children going off to college, photos of weddings, new family resemblances and, of course, favorite recipes handed down.