If there’s one basic need most of us enjoy satisfying, it is for food. And the fresher and healthier that food is, the better off we’ll be. For most us here in the U.S., our food is shipped in, often from across the country and even across the globe, and we purchase it in supermarkets by the box and bag-full, some of which has added ingredients and processing we know little about.
While the number of small, community-supported farms in the Upper Peninsula supplying fresh, quality produce is growing, there’s still much room for improvement. Food security is an issue here, with the U.P.’s harsh climate and shorter growing season, longer distances for rural residents to large supermarkets with affordable fresh produce, and one-quarter of our children living in poverty (KIDS COUNT, 2016). In fact, our area has a significantly higher than average rate of obesity, diabetes, substance abuse and poverty. All of these issues point to the need for better health-physically, emotionally, and economically.
Partridge Creek Farm (PCF) aims to address this. Founder and director Dan Perkins describes, “Partridge Creek Farm is a community organization working on social issues through the backdrop of a farm.” The non-profit organization not only aims to increase local access to fresh, affordable, healthy food, but also to help us connect back to its importance both nutritionally and socially, teaching how to grow it in our challenging climate, and also how to prepare and preserve it. PCF intends to “invite the culture at large back in, especially those who’ve been disenfranchised, trapped, isolated.”
Perkins believes it’s vital for people to connect with one another and with the land, and that farming can help accomplish this. “Agrarian community is built into our genetics. It’s very odd for us to be separated from that part of our genetic make-up. This has only happened in the last few generations, and we’re experiencing the fall-out health-wise and socially to be disconnected from this part of our make-up,” he explains.
Ten years ago, Perkins began engaging kids in his neighborhood while gardening in the yard behind his property, and sending them home with bags of food. This led to forming Partridge Creek Farm. “I just thought it was a great model for doing social work at zero cost to the taxpayer.”
But the potential benefits are greater even than Perkins had thought. He says MBA Jessica Glendon’s research for PCF’s business plan revealed “If you live in a low-access food zone, which Ishpeming and western Marquette County are, or a low income area, you have a much higher risk of being diabetic, obese or drug addicted. That risk level goes within 5% difference throughout the rest of the community. ‘You mean my kids have just as much chance of becoming addicted as those of that drug addict down the street?’ Yes. Conditions in your community have an equal effect on everybody.”
“It blew my head open! This means we’re not just doing this for the poor people in our community, we’re doing this for our own self-preservation! It’s for our own children and our grandchildren. If we don’t fix our problems as a whole, then we’re all going to suffer the consequences. . . If we all work together, we’ll be a whole lot better off.”
Partridge Creek Farm is collaborating with AMCAB and the Headstart staff to engage kids and their families in the growing, preparing and consumption of local foods. PCF also ran a program with very young children at the Carnegie Library’s summer reading sessions painting word stones pertaining to growing food and placing them in the PCF Incubator Garden nearby. Children from Michigamme Youth Services Camp worked hard weeding and spreading horse manure at PCF. Youth from the KBIC received worm castings and support in preparing a garden from PCF.
This winter, PCF will continue working with students in an Ishpeming High School Life Skills class on an indoor growing project. Next year, these students will mentor 200 fifth and sixth graders, passing on their agricultural skills and building common bonds. PCF is working with Great Lakes Recovery Center’s youth on a courtyard garden program, adding lots of compost this winter for full-scale growing in spring. Preparations have also been made for maple tree tapping with them this spring.
PCF was able to quadruple its food production this year, offering it at local farmer’s markets while educating the public about its mission. Perkins credits PCF’s successful headway thus far to the dedication and high-level research of Farm Manager and scientist Ray Bush; great mentorship, research and work ethic from PCF’s first group of NMU interns; a strong community volunteer base; and significant financial support from the Western Marquette County Health Foundation, Green Mountain Foundation of Vermont, and many individual donations, PCF memberships and business sponsors.
The Ishpeming Elks Lodge has offered some of its land by Partridge Creek as a growing area for PCF, and Bruce and Cathy Houghton of Ishpeming have even offered PCF the use of their apple orchard next to Lake Angeline by $1/year long-term lease. PCF will maintain and use the orchard for its programs.
But there is much more that PCF intends to do. Right now the organization is looking to secure land near the Ishpeming schools where greenhouses can be built so growing with student involvement can go on all year. More staff is needed—a community outreach and volunteer coordinator, a business manager to manage its grant budgets and pay vendors, and an educational coordinator.
Perkins adds, “As we grow, we’ll need other locations as well. We want to address the food and social issues of our entire region.”
More volunteers are always welcome, as well as more corporate and individual sponsorships and new members. For more information, visit http://www.partridgecreekfarm.org or contact Dan Perkins at (906) 361-6628 or Ray Bush at (906) 204-5442.
*Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine is pleased to announce that its 2016 donation will go to Partridge Creek Farm’s children’s programming.
Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2016 – 2017 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.