May 21 • 03:01 AM

A sisterhood of farm girls

February 06, 2008
I was born into a sisterhood. Like it or not, need it or not, I have four sisters who have rescued me, sheltered me, guided me, annoyed me and misunderstood me for 58 years.

While raising my three girls, it was women at church. Their powerful band stretched beyond the unthinkable, indescribable when my firstborn daughter died.

And when I leaped from empty nest to journalism 12 years ago, Jane Briggs Bunting (former Director of Journalism at Oakland University) cheered "You can do it!" Members of Detroit Working Writers skillfully rescued me, sheltered me, guided me through publication landmines. And yes, sometimes annoyed and misunderstood me.

Along came my poetry tribe and herb study group. I was content, writing in a room of my own; learning about herbs in the intimate village of Seven Ponds Nature Center.

But like it or not, need it or not, a wild vision of a lavender farm fell from the sky four years ago while gardening. Two acres of lavender, and I didn't know the difference between a lavandula angustifolia and a lavandin (true, English lavender versus a hybrid of English and French or Spanish lavenders).

I began my crash course on lavender farming and learned the small farm in Michigan is on the rise.

The primal urge to dig, to plant, to grow, to harvest a fragrant, homegrown lifestyle consumed me from sunrise to long after sunset.

As my farm grew, mentors appeared in mystic visitations upon sweeping vistas. Jenny Depa Karl served in my gardens as a docent for the Romeo Garden Walk in 2004. Jenny operates Sheepy Hollow Herbs LLC in Armada with her husband and teenagers. This gifted fiber artist had pity upon me, the new farm girl on the block, and returned this summer as a volunteer for my second annual lavender festival. A former Ford employee in environmental engineering, when sprite-like Jenny speaks, I listen. There's much to learn about agribusiness and sustainable living.

And what would I do without Hannah Stevens, agriculture agent for Michigan State University Extension? She led me to "Tilling the Soil of Opportunity," an Extension class. There I wrote my business plan and met Almont's Teemie Eschenburg, wife of a third-generation dairy farmer, mother of four, and owner of Teemie's Blooms.

Goodhearted, Teemie delivered two cold frames to my farm two springs ago, cradles for growing lavender "babies." Also a creative needle artist, herb and flower farmer, she loves her darlings: roses and rosemary. Teemie's business plan includes building a floral studio and classroom, and surrounding her state-of-the-art greenhouse with heirloom roses.

"You need to meet Jill Hough," Teemie advised. "Sustainable living is her mission in life."

Like it or not, I needed to postpone planting lavender another day and drive out to the Hough farm in Almont. Jill, a bridge from the old world to new, is fourth-generation farmer: Organic flower farmer, known for the zinnias she sells at the Almont Farmers Market she and Teemie co-founded.

"Dad and I are learning about growing organic. It just gets to you at one point or another. There's something about growing your own food, about living independently. I can't imagine raising my girls without a pantry," she told me.

I remembered when I canned applesauce, tomatoes, green beans and corn relish with my mother and sisters. Delicious, bygone days.

Yes, I've always been supported by a sisterhood. When I needed someone to take a risk and set up natural soaps, lotions and organic lavender honey for my first lavender festival, Amy Oliver of Country Bee in Richmond pitched her tent. She put out her sign with no guarantee of sales or profit from my grand experiment.

That's the spirit of the farm girl: To live for the rightness and beauty of work, art and craft. Dedicated to handmade and homegrown, master teaches apprentice what she has learned, what she has invented.

Like Marjeanne Showalter, Imlay City soap maker and herb farmer, when she instructed me how and where to plant my first handful of lavender plugs. Much like Teemie, when she trusted me with the trade secrets of propagation.

These rights of passage are sometimes intangible, invisible, but always magical and holy, not to be trespassed. Ancient Guild principles of trust and integrity connect us, cross-promote and pollinate our art and business through modern marketing: Business cards, brochures, Web sites, referrals, Guild meetings, on-site farm workshops, and collaborative events to spread the farm girl lifestyle.

The senior farm girl, I'm thankful for these wise, young guides, for my peers who have labored in my lavender fields and validated my transformation into a farmer. Pleasantly surprised, I've discovered there's at least an ounce of farm girl in every woman who has supported me throughout my life.

I love them. Need them. And they need me. Even when we annoy and misunderstand each other. Like it or not, I learn best under the influence of a resilient sisterhood. And there's no one more resilient than a woman who has dirt under her fingernails.

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 21 - 19
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