Grace and the family
What yellow fruit is commonly used to make a meringue-topped pie and grows in Michigan? It can’t be lemons; it’s too cold in Michigan…
Trick question! Grace Phillips grows productive lemon trees at Loving Dove Farm in nearby Bear Lake. In fact, with the wood-burning stove that heats her greenhouse during the cold season, Phillips has created her own hardiness zone 9 right here in hardiness zone 6 of Northern Michigan. In addition to lemons, Loving Dove Farm produces pomegranates, figs, blood oranges, and ruby red grapefruits, all of which look pretty happy in the heated greenhouse. Other vegetables that Michigan summers are not always so kind to — eggplant, basil, and peppers — also prosper in the greenhouse. At the back, just past a bin of homemade potting soil, is the ebb-and-flow hydroponic project, with peas, broccoli, radishes, and watercress growing.
The entire greenhouse — the whole farm really — speaks of life, both quality and quantity. Running down the middle of the greenhouse is a row of tomatoes that climb up nearly 100 ropes. The tomatoes are mainly heirloom grafts, many already with blossoms and all with very sturdy stems. Phillips has the ruthlessness of all good farmers, tearing off lower stems and leaves so as to prevent disease. By the end of the season, these plants will touch the roof of the 10-foot-high greenhouse and they will look a lot like Dr. Seuss characters — tall; not very many leaves, except at the top; stems, as thick as broom handles, propped up by their clips to avoid falling under the weight of the abundant fruit.
Phillips looks around and notes she wants to move up the cross planks around the side so that she can raise the side flaps higher as the season gets warmer. Originally they were just the right height, but she has added great soil with each season, thus raising the floor. There is no need to ask where she gets her good dirt — huge compost piles sit next to the cow paddock. The cows are standing in dirt that most gardeners would kill for. If cow manure isn’t enough, she can always get it from her goats (who like to be rubbed behind the ears, just like a golden retriever) or her sheep.
Looking at the myriad livestock, the flats of seedlings inside the greenhouse, the well-kept rows of plants outside the greenhouse, the fresh-baked breads in her pantry, and the shelf of homemade tinctures and lotions, the unavoidable question arises — how does Phillips do all this?
“I have lots of help,” she answers. And she does, all homegrown.
Phillips and her husband have five children: two grown and not living at home, and three others, Magdalena (19), Amos (17), and Zephaniah (15) pitch in. (Oh yeah, add home schooling to Phillips’ schedule.)
Phillips has not set out to train her children to become farmers, though they certainly know a lot about it. But she does take satisfaction in knowing that her older sons both work in healthy food-related jobs, and they come home to get healthy food from Mom when they can. Meanwhile, the others have taken on food-producing projects that they want to do: Amos raises the goats, Magdalena raises rabbits and has built a flower garden to sell flowers, and Zephaniah is raising laying chickens and ducks.
Given all this, one can’t help but ask — do you ever eat junk food? Sure, she answers, but when pressed, not very much — an occasional soft drink, s’mores maybe. In fact, the older boys went on something of a sugar spree after leaving home but found they didn’t like it and came back to healthy food after a few months.
Loving Dove Farm is one of very few — sometimes it’s the only — farm to offer produce at the Frankfort Farmers’ Market year-round. The family can be found at the Elberta Farmers’ Market throughout its season, too. To prepare the day before, most of the vegetables are harvested and packed into crates. Some go into a large walk-in cooler and some into the root cellar. Phillips bakes bread the day before and scones the morning of market day.
Market days start early — loading the trailer starts around 6 a.m. Zephaniah was doing most of the loading on the day that The Betsie Current visited, while Phillips pulled together containers, harvested some last-minute basil, found a place for fresh flowers in the truck, and got some food together for the family to eat while at the market. When asked why he was the only one loading, Zephaniah said that the others were doing chores. Market day or not, animals still need to be fed, cows and goats still need to be milked, and pens still need to be cleaned. Loading the trailer for market day rotates for the kids, but no one is idle. Even the cats and dogs have jobs — chasing mice and scaring off wild rabbits (though, unless you’re a rabbit, I wouldn’t take the ‘Beware of Dog’ sign too seriously — both dogs are real leaners).
So does having all three kids up and working early in the morning mean Phillips doesn’t confront the age-old problem of parents of teenagers — them sleeping until noon whenever possible?
“No,” she says, “We are just regular people. None of us loves to get up early. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if farm markets opened at 10 instead of 8.”