A Slow Food Farm Tour August 4, 2007

Old Pine Farm – oldpinefarm123@yahoo.com

One of the things that I’ve spent the most time examining in my food habits is the morality and economics of eating meat. We don’t eat a lot of meat, but when we do we want to be conscientious about it. Especially regarding the treatment of animals who are raised for meat in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs or factory farms. Because these places are immoral, polluting and hazardous (and because CAFOs are where most of the meat now sold cheaply in stores come from), we’ve stopped buying meat and chicken from traditional groceries. So it was wonderful to learn that there is an alternative that is both sustainable and humane. Old Pine Farm is on a tree-lined country road in Manchester. Kris Hirth raises chickens, cows, pigs, and emu for meat and offers a meat CSA – a monthly box of 13 pounds of meat.

Scratching the back of a pig with an old corncob, Kris’ regard for and connection with her animals is undeniable. She raises these animals with care for their well-being and with feed grown on her family’s farm. She demonstrates her care for her animals by giving them comfortable conditions both during and at the end of their lives. Believing that it’s kinder to them when it’s quick and they don’t know it’s coming, Kris hires an expert butcher come to the farm to slaughter the animals. It’s important to her to avoid the stress animals feel when traveling to an unfamiliar place and waiting in the harsh conditions at a slaughterhouse – usually without shade, food or water. So Kris doesn’t allow her animals to be sent to a USDA processing facility, even though it would be cheaper for her and she could sell the meat in local groceries if she did. According to Kris, the main thing the USDA inspection does is verify that an animal is alive before it is slaughtered, for which the criteria “alive” is demonstrated by the ability to blink.

The Blueberry Patch – (517) 522-4796

Like Kris Hirth, Steve Toth could sell his beautiful organic blueberries for twice the price if he were willing to work within the established food system. But he doesn’t want to deal with the hassle. So if you want delicious organic blueberries, you have to go to his farm in Grass Lake and pick them yourself. For $3.50 a pound you strap on a berry bucket and walk into berry heaven. His forty-year old blueberry bushes are at least 8 feet high. The entire patch is covered in berries and completely netted to protect it from birds. I heard one woman exclaim that she had heard about having berry-picking experiences like this, but had never seen such a gorgeous profusion before. It truly is blueberry nirvana. And Steve is a character with a Grizzly Adams beard and silly stories that will entertain the kids.

As great as it is, the Blueberry Patch is just a sideline. Steve’s main business is de-constructing ancient barns to rescue wood that we don’t have any more – oak planks 3 inches thick and 15 feet long, mahogany boards an inch thick and 3 feet wide, things like that. He talks about the ancient forests that once covered Michigan, with trees that rivaled the redwoods and were probably 3000 years old when the first European settlers arrived here. He says that by the 1850s those trees had all been cut down, and now only the oldest barns still have remnants of those lost and mighty giants. Steve and his brother re-purpose the wood to make furniture and mantle-pieces. They don’t use stains because the wood color is so dark and rich by itself. So visiting the Blueberry Patch was really a 2 for 1 deal, getting great berries and learning a little bit about Michigan history in the process.

Tantre Farm – tantrefarm@hotmail.com

Around a bend in Hayes Road in Chelsea around 15 years ago, Richard Andres bought 50 acres of land, owned by sisters, that had long lain fallow. He quickly got organic certification and started Tantre Farm, growing mostly potatoes and peppers for sale in local markets. When he and Deb Lentz married around 5 years later, they were able to expand the operation of the farm to grow even more produce and start an organic CSA. The Tantre Farm CSA now has about 240 members who, each week, get a box of gorgeous, locally grown organic produce from June until mid-October.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and participating is like getting a subscription to a particular farm for a “farm share.” You pay a fee at the beginning of the season and then share in the seasonal produce from the farm as it comes. Lettuce, asparagus and lots of greens in late spring and early summer; tomatoes, melon, corn and basil in high summer; and finally things like brussels sprouts, root crops and hard winter squashes as the season ends.

Along with flowers, herbs, and a few u-pick berries Richard and Deb grow about 80 different food crops that go in the weekly CSA boxes. Although Deb sends an email alerting members about what will be included, each week is a fun surprise to see what will be there. Deb sends recipes along with her weekly update to give ideas for what to do with things like kohlrabi and extra summer squash.

Deb and Richard welcome their members to come to the farm almost any time and for almost any reason. They just ask that you call ahead. You can visit to help out with whatever is happening that day, or just to have a picnic in a lovely, bucolic setting. The people who seem to love it the most are the scores of kids who get to run around barefoot, feed the cows and the goats, swing on the high, high tree swing, sit in the hammock, or hide in a sunflower teepee.


When a visiting relative reflected recently that I know personally the family who grows our vegetables, the man who provides our meat, and the lady who get us our eggs, I was surprised and happy to agree. I hadn’t thought about it like that exactly. The unexpected bonus of eating sustainable and real food has been learning the faces and knowing the names of real people and nearby places where our food comes from. It’s all connected. As I read in the paper this morning, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I think the food system is included in there.

To find more contact information for these farms and others in our area, look on the wonderful Local Harvest website: http://www.localharvest.org/