Category Archives: Zoning

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:


Farmer Girl


I grew up in a sturdy four square house nestled in the middle of a cherry orchard that spanned every horizon. The only tall trees I knew as a child were the two lone maples that framed the face of the house. Their canopies provided the shade that was my summer fort, where I could gaze into the hallowed depths of those infinite rows.

On the occasion, beautiful children wove their way between trees, while their parents worked, speaking in a language that was foreign and magical, picking cherries, and dropping them into buckets. How I longed to run amongst those children, but so foreign were they, I do believe, I thought them imagined.

Though I wasn’t supposed to wander from the yard, the dwarf trees ripe with red, sparkling cherries, standing in neat, tidy rows, were an irresistible attraction to my four-year-old curiosity. I ran down the rows until I could only barely make out the broad arches of the maple trees, and then back home again.

In May, the planes would come, dipping low from their perch in the sky, blanketing the orchards in a fine mist. On these days, my mother would lift me from where I played in the yard, and take me back into the house. From the front window, I watched the planes disappear over the horizon, listening to their motors rev and whine as they looped and lifted for a return pass. The air tasted strange, but the sight gripped at me and held me to the window.

My mother wandered the house, closing windows and cursing the men in the planes.

Later, before the cancer had settled into my blood, whenever someone asked me my idea of heaven, I explained to them the tidy lines of trees; my idea of heaven was the farm. What a perfect place; the natural pallet painted by the hands of humans and machines. It was the beginning of a life-long love of farming. There has never been a period of time when, like most of us who live in the greater Grand Traverse region, I have not in some way been connected with a farm.

At 26, I saw a photograph of a young woman in the newspaper. She was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood while running for Cherry Queen. Something in her smile radiated out from the page. I sat with her photo for some time. Behind her, cherry blossoms clouded their branches. There, the neat rows beckoned.

Later that winter, I learned that the young woman had died. I ran a query for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer about which I knew nothing. Lauren had died of diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of the cancer, dubbed “the pesticide cancer” for its prevalence among agricultural families.

Before long, I was knee-deep in research into the links between the increased incidence of NHL and the use of organochlorines and -phosphates on cherry orchards. I studied DEQ maps of water samples taken in Peninsula Township, where Lauren had grown up, spoke with the Old Mission school that neighbors an active orchard, where the branches of trees overlap the playground, questioned residents, learned of the prevalence of NHL and leukemia among families living on or near the orchards, and suddenly the sweetness of those beautiful, perfect orchards had soured.

Two years later, at 28, with three young children, I began having dreams that I was dying. In each dream, I was on a ship in the Straits of Mackinac. In the dreams, my girls stood on the deck reaching out for me, but I was leaving them. My heart ached as I turned each time and walked into the light afforded by sun filtering through spray forming off the bow.

In a final dream, I looked down upon a body resting in a bed on the second story of a house. The house didn’t have any walls and large, fierce animals were trying to get at the body to eat it. The body was naked, and an intense light emanated from the right armpit. The light was so bright, you couldn’t look directly at it. I fought off the animals, to protect the body, and awoke shaken and crying. That morning, July 19th, 2006, while in the shower, I discovered a large lump within my right armpit. The lump felt dense and smooth and it sickened me to feel it.


In September, I was diagnosed with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, the same cancer that had killed Lauren. My treatments began immediately.

Fighting cancer involves the poisoning of the body to destroy the cancer, while managing the extreme side-effects in a simultaneous battle to keep the body alive. Over the winter, I began chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy. I met with my darkest fears about dying. I accepted it might happen, but chose instead to focus on my babies. By the time farmers were gearing up to spray their orchards, I was completing my radiation treatments, and feeling a renewed commitment to farming.


In 2007, we established Healing Tree Farm in response to concerns over the use of chemicals on our food-supply. So began an adventure in farming using the principles of permaculture, a method of farming that mimics natural forest succession, in urban and country settings. Since then, we’ve helped build school gardens, began the first permaculture courses taught at NMC, and have held free workshops to educate and inspire people to question the system and make changes according to the lesson book nature has provided.

Today, divorce has uprooted the farm, but seeds have been planted in three different counties, and we will never stop helping others achieve their goals of growing food without chemicals. This year, Healing Tree hopes to locate land to plant an orchard. This orchard we hope will represent the future of growing methods, using innovative thinking, rather than relying on biocides to solve problems, and growing food that is truly healthful, not only to those who eat what the land provides, but for those who work the soil and live nearby.

It is our hope to heal the old orchards, to restore magic to a place I have loved for as long as I can remember. This is what is meant by our name Healing Tree. In teaching, we are healing, and in healing, we hope to inspire.

Farming and Food Security

According to a United Nation’s report, more than two billion people live in poverty and are without food intermittently. Worldwide, seventeen thousand children die each day from starvation. And those of us fortunate enough to have access to food, are threatened with pink slime, traces of antibiotics, hormones, and even excrement.

Agriculture is industrialized and no longer seeks to integrate into the natural rythyms and patterns of the existing landscape, but scrapes the land, amends the dredged topsoil, sprays it with biocides, and plants genetically modified plants that can tolerate this extreme environment.

What remains is a sterilized food source and an industry that is exposing people to known carcinogens, while utilizing massive amounts of petroleum and water to sustain their practices. Today, we face a greater threat from within our food producing system than from any threat of plant disease or infestation.

How do we protect our food supply? Firstly, we must stop contributing money to companies and growers who factory farm, utilize product like “pink slime,” or genetically modify their crops. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Nearly all corn is now GMO contaminated and companies like Monsanto are moving to other crops like soy, cotton, and rice – staple crops.

Secondly, grow and buy locally. Consider the first and second principles essentially observing and conserving resources. Examine your food system on a local level. What exists and is working currently? Where can improvements be made? Is there access to community space for growing food? What is your local government’s policy on gardening? Chickens within city limits? Etc.


Next, consider seed saving. Save seeds from plants that grow best within your microclimate. Create a community seed bank. Or share within your neighborhood. Host discussions on this and other crafts, including soil-building, water catchment, and free resources within the community that can aid in these and other objectives.

Seek out the advice of farmers – even if they grow using conventional methods. These growers still have a considerable amount of wisdom to share. And hopefully you can bestow a little of your own farm-savvy back ’em.

Just as the food forest represents an interconnected web of diverse plantings, networking within your community is equally beneficial. No bat signal needed here; just a few smart folks getting together to initiate change locally.

Healing Tree: the website

I’ve been brainstorming ideas to make this blog more effective and I’ve decided to build a website around topics discussed on the blog while maintaining the blog as a central forum for discussion and ideas.  The website will offer resources to folks new to permaculture and also those more familiar with the “do no harm” approach to farming, including helpful links and articles written by me and those more familiar with the process.  

Since we’re landless, we’ll be propagating a new kind of garden – with vital seeds of change – online!

Soaking news

I’m working on guilds this morning. We’re nearly to the end! Six more to go and I’ll likely finish two to three of those tonight. Erick picked up a huge load of manure yesterday, so we have lots of good stuff with which to work.

Things I’m noticing about the land: clover is springing up all over, the landscape is greener with returned fertility, more birds, butterflies, insects, and even deer.

Work on the guilds continues as normal, but I’m using the wagon and have loaded it with a tub to soak the paper in before laying it out for the first layer. This makes the process much faster and easier and allows for work in windy conditions.

There’s some land for sale just down the road and we are looking at making an offer. It would add five acres and is zoned ag and residential. It would take a miracle, but we’re hopeful as always.


Today I called Long Lake Township to inquire about chickens and zoning for one-acre lots in our township.  The township will only allow chickens on lots larger than five acres irregardless of zoning.

I have a problem with this.  Hens (not roosters) are fairly quiet, require little and give lots to the garden.  Their fecal matter is far less noxious than any dog or cat and makes a wonderfully rich fertilizer.  Chickens also claw and till the soil while munching on bugs and weeds and leaving little presents of natural fertilizer in their wake.   In addition, hens lay eggs and eggs are a wonderful food source for humans.

We are fortunate to live in an age when people and townships are beginning to consider the benefits and necessity of sustainable farming practices.  As I mentioned to the township official, laws that prohibit practices that benefit families and dependencies on ourside sources are out of date and unwarranted.