How do I farm from 80 miles away?
I hear it at the farmers’ market nearly every week when folks ask where my farm is. I have to take a deep breath and wonder if I should respond. I think they’re telling me that isn’t “local” enough for a Chicago farmers’ market. I can’t move my farm any closer and 80 miles from a sprawling city isn’t that far. I can justify the distance by saying it’s only 30 miles across the lake.
When my dad bought the farm in 1962 he commuted on weekends, pre-expressway, from Chicago to the Michigan farm where he left my mom and three brothers to milk the cows, make cheese, raise chickens and sheep, and grow vegetables. He was still working at the Medina Temple back then, earning money to pay off the mortgage. Years later I went to college in Chicago and stayed on to work at the Chicago Reader, interestingly enough, only a block away from dad’s old workplace. I went back to the farm on weekends (or days off) to work on the farm. Eventually I developed a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for my co-workers who demanded fresh veggies after hearing me talk about what I did on the weekends. So for 20+ weeks a year I was packing dozens of boxes and delivering them before coming back to a 40+ hour workweek.
Every spring I’d trudge the 80 miles to start with trimming and spraying my fruit trees in March. I started planting trees with my dad when I was a little girl. Each spring I add one or two more. Manchurian apricots are my latest. In April I’ll start on the lettuce garden. The little plot is a sandy patch that once held several giant oaks that fell in a nearly forgotten storm in the’70s. The sand drains well and thaws early for those early spring greens and radishes. Later, in May, I work on the larger two-acre garden to plant the “real” crops. You know: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes. . .
Now, in the sub-zero season, I stay in town. With my computer next to my spinning wheels I work more long hours, creating yarn from last year’s sheep shearing. The farmhouse, old and neglected, waits for the spring thaw.