Category Archives: Healing Tree Farm

The felted, matted mess

imageLast year, I purchased a beautiful Suri alpaca rose-grey fleece from a local farmer. It was the most beautiful natural colorway I had ever seen in a fleece, with hints of autumn-rose and oatmeals and grey. I handled the fleece with extra care, checking the temperature of the wash and rinse water carefully, handling it gently, quietly contemplating at each phase of the wash-rinse cycle all that might be made from these gorgeous fibers. And then I did something stupid.

I don’t like that word stupid, but it’s the word that really works here. Fiber demands its process. You can’t rush fiber. You can’t tell it to hurry up and dry or get clean. You can’t shear an alpaca and make socks within the next five minutes. If you could, we crazy fiber nuts would find something else to fawn over.

Eager to begin carding, I decided to place the washed fleece in a pillow case and put it on air dry in the dryer for a good 15 minutes. This is something I had done with other fleeces and without issue, but I did not check the air temperature in my eagerness to dry the fleece. Anyone who works with fiber knows the most fundamental of rules:

Heat + agitation = felt.

By the time I realized my error, I lifted a matted piece of felt the size of a corgi out of the dryer. And yes, there were real tears.

I tried in vain to make something useful from the felted monstrosity. I even hung on to the fiber for months, hoping I would come up with something useful to somehow make up for the error. But what I realized was that this felt was destined to compost, as beautiful as it was. And that I had learned a lesson worth 10 times the price of the fleece; that process is important and, in instances like this, vital.

It’s so easy to try to take the short-cut, or to give up when someone tries to throw a wrench in your plans, but when you look at life as a process of growing, of moving from this raw, dirty fleece to a clean, organized useful yarn, it’s easier to see that those little bumps in the road aren’t there to deter you, but to help you broaden your awareness.

There’s a reason Gandhi was so wise; he was a hand-spinner! 🙂


Getting there is half the fun, right?

photo 1 (1)Well, this week we’ve moved out of our rental and in with family, packed our belongings at the farm (still a bit more to do), and rented the first of two large moving  trucks for our trip out next week. This was the first week that I found myself feeling quite emotional driving around the familiar places like the farm, or walking the shores of Lake Michigan, knowing we were soon to be tourists more than residents.

‘Topher and I sat down under the big old Roxbury Russet at the farm, where he reminisced in his adorable four-year-old chatter about sleeping in the camper or playing with the chickens. “Me going to miss the farm, Mama” tore at my heart-strings, but yesterday some of the awesome folks at the LC reminded him that the farm is forever protected and he can visit whenever he wishes.

It feels really special to have been part of the history of this beautiful, incredible place. Wecampbelltree are so appreciative to the Conservancy and to the Campbell and DeYoung families along with those individuals who had memories of working or frequenting the farm, who visited and shared many beautiful stories. What a magical place!

In the spring of 2013, we planted three apple trees, all of which have survived. One was Topher’s first apple tree and the other two were wedding gifts from the year prior (we were married on the farm). They will remain and I’m excited to see how they progress in years to come as they will always carry some very happy memories for us.

For now, we are trying to make time to visit with friends and family and to frequent those places we know and love about Michigan. The girls have been adventuring and discovered a huge toad last night on the front porch. And they’ve already braved Lake Michigan for a swim.

IMG_9537As much as I’ll miss our northern Michigan “home,” I’m equally as excited to finally settle in New York. We’ve been planning this move for well over a year and it feels good to be this near the big move. The plumbing and electric have been completed, so now all the house needs is its people.

“Where we love is home; home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”                    

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Farm News and Reflections

Received a wonderful donation of a beautifully crafted nesting boxes from Burning Barn Farm for our new coop in New York. I was so excited, I completely spaced on taking a photo!

This week has been dedicated to work on cleaning at the farm in preparation for our departure. Lot’s of reflection, and honestly, loads of relief. It’s simply been too much for us to manage a project like DeYoung at a distance. And as much as I love the farm, I know it will find the right person or organization to make it great again.

We breathed life into the barns with the addition of chickens, ducks, sheep and alpacas, but the farm really breathed new life into us. We are now embarking on the first leg of a journey to open a fiber mill and tree nursery in New York state.

Many people have asked us about the departure date. It’s been tough to answer because we’ve been moving belongings out ahead of the big move, so many trips back and forth right now. Tentatively, we should officially be NYers by June 14th.

In the meantime, please enjoy some of our favorite photos from the past four years.

Sheep’s Wool and Apple Trees

Last year, we bagged ram’s wool and hung from our remaining apple trees. The thought was that prey animals (namely the ones who love to nibble our tree buds) will avoid areas in which prey scent is strong, and likely attracting predators. We didn’t know whether it would be successful, and it’s still a bit anecdotal with only one year under our belt, but… the apple trees show zero sign of bud damage and are thriving! And no need to milk a coyote for its urine…

photo (4)

Trying to decide

I’m trying to decide what to do with Healing Tree Farm. It has been a remarkable part of my life and has really helped me come to a genuine place of healing after a difficult health ordeal. And while the move out to New York doesn’t constitute starting over, it does feel like a refreshing next step in the direction of a dream. Do I owe that next step a renaming or re-branding? Part of me yearns to step away from the connection to illness, but another part of me feels I owe that process some ongoing recognition.

At the same time, I feel like we’ve outgrown the name, heading into a direction so well-photo 1 (5)rooted in fiber, despite our continued adoration for apple trees. I have no intention of giving up fruit-growing; I just want to broaden the scope to include a full-scale fiber operation.

When people have asked in the past about Healing Tree, I find myself feeling obligated to share the full story. In NY, there’s a kind of freedom from that, if that makes any sense. I’m no longer the girl who got cancer and started a farm out there. I’m the woman who wants to launch a fiber business.

And it’s purely psychological. Naturally, I don’t have to launch into the full story every time I’m asked about the significance of the Healing Tree, but even if I don’t share the story outwardly, it runs through my mind.

So, as we pack up the fencing and materials at the farm this week, I am engrossed in this ongoing dialogue. Remembering, reflecting, and thinking about which elements to carry on with us, and which to leave behind, both literally and figuratively. And I can genuinely say, it’s a healing process.

Dream a little (big) dream

photo 2I’ve started my new job in New York, from Michigan, which makes for a nice transition to a new house in a new community within a new state. We leave at the end of the following week for closing on the house and we’ll make a few trips out prior to the big move with the kids in June.

This whole process was kicked off by a series of events in the deep of winter early in 2015 with a serious evaluation of our long-term goals.

Chris and I have similar goals across the board, save for the one about opening a burger joint (though the food would be fantastic, I can attest), which made the envisioning process easier. Some things were immediately clear: 1) We were not living the life we dreamed of in the way we hoped to live it, 2) We could not alter the situation without a change in location, and 3) We have two kids quickly approaching college-age and one not far behind those two.

It was early February of 2015 when Chris showed me a farm for sale in Western Massachusetts. I said, “There’s no way I’m leaving Michigan.” And he said, “I think you’d really like it out there.” The rest is history. Eastern NY is very similar to Western Mass. And the land is affordable, the soil profiles are outstanding, and the people are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After five trips out East, we finally located the right property in line with our five-year plan, right in the middle of the Schoharie, with an agricultural college just minutes from the front door, and universities scattered within a three hour radius in every direction. It isn’t a farm, but there’s enough land to grow food and a large field adjacent to the property, so who knows. We will keep chickens and bees, tend the Shiawassee Beauties, and continue gardening, while growing our savings to accommodate dreams of opening a fiber mill in Upstate NY.

Moreover, I hope the girls can finally feel the satisfaction of being part of a community, rather than living in the outskirts. Apart from college, there is so much to experience in New England, from the history around every corner, to the natural features of this old, old land, to the simple joy of riding your bike to the movie theatre on a summer afternoon.

And you bet, I’ll still be processing and spinning fiber. It likely won’t be local Michigan fiber, if you can forgive me, but I can promise some local Schoharie Valley fiber to keep our friends in beautiful northern Michigan warm.

This is succession.

Small Town Post Office

It’s great living in a small town again. The Glen Arbor Post Office impressed me from Day One. As soon as we paid for our box, the woman behind the counter gave us not only our number, but the history of the box. A family had rented that small slot for decades, but the last owner had recently passed, something I’m reminded of each time I insert the key into the shiny lock, amid a lake of patina finishes.

photo 1It’s also the place where I was gifted a recipe idea, as I collected my first seed catalog of the season a few weeks back. “Have you ever made stuffed acorn squash?” the woman behind the counter asked.

I told her that I had often baked acorn squash with a little butter and brown sugar as a dessert, the way my grandmother used to do, but had not tried stuffing the acorns with anything.

She recommended a vegan recipe, which sounded good, but in the last few weeks I’ve been making adaptations to the original recipe which included toasted quinoa, black beans, and corn, toward something more akin to our flavor palette. This combination is my favorite photo 2and includes lentils, sweet corn, a bit of diced onion, and ground turkey sausage.

Cut and hollow the acron squash (cut the tips so the squash sits upright on a baking pan). Preheat to 350 degrees f. Saute the onions in butter, then add the sausage until lightly browned, then add corn (I use a small bag of organic frozen sweet corn), and one 15oz. can of lentils, drained. Cook together with some fresh, crushed thyme. Add sea salt.

After ingredients are heated through, spoon into squashes. Add a Tblsp butter to top each squash (this will melt into the ingredients and help soften the squash). Bake for one hour, if squash is small. If larger squash, I would recommend baking the squashes upside-down for a half hour before righting and stuffing.

Pairs well with 45 North Oaked Chardonnay.

Leftover stuffing ingredients go well with omelettes in the morning!