Farming to School
Growth is kind of an important goal when you’re talking about farming and gardening.
Perkins spoke with The Mining Journal about the farm’s latest efforts near the community garden located behind the Ishpeming Elks building, a site PCF maintains.
One effort of which he’s particularly proud is a school-related project involving Ishpeming Elementary School students getting away from their desks and going outside to get a taste of the agricultural world.
“Our Farm-to-School program is increasing,” Perkins said. “We’ve got the whole fifth grade now, but we’re taking on the sixth grade next year and preschool.”
All the students involved in growing and harvesting these vegetables when the school was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic said they missed the program, Perkins said.
In his interview with The Mining Journal, Perkins said Partridge Creek also is creating a career technical education/ag program for Ishpeming High School next spring, which means college credits for kids pursuing a career in agriculture.
This program, he noted, could range from indoor growing to Northern Michigan University’s medicinal plant chemistry program to simply farming.
“We’ll keep it sustainable agriculture so that we’ll be training how to do agriculture without polluting the Great Lakes,” Perkins said.
Partnerships important to mission
Expanding PCF and its programming takes planning.
So, Partridge Creek Farm is applying for a $100,000 strategic planning grant and developing a two-acre site next to Jasperlite Senior Housing in Ishpeming, he said, which will be the big Farm-to-School site. The grant would be administered through the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency.
Perkins noted the site will be an intergenerational effort between Ishpeming Public Schools and Jasperlite.
“We’re going to have students and seniors involved together in some of our programmings there,” he said.
Perkins acknowledged Partridge Creek Farm is a small nonprofit, but it’s not going to stay that way.
“We’ve got a $67,000 budget this year, but next year it’s going to be probably closer to $200,000,” he said. “We’re trying to grow it by about a factor of three this year.”
Perkins said the organizations with which Partridge Creek Farm has worked, such as Great Lakes Recovery Centers, MARESA, IPS, Michigan State University and NMU, like the programming and how it can benefit them as well. So, they’re willing to administer larger grants for zero to little fees.
For instance, GLRC is administering a Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes and Energy grant for Partridge Creek Farm to get a new tractor/trailer for free.
The collaborations, Perkins noted, can help Partridge Creek Farm become a much larger program than what it would normally be.
However, it’s not just grant administration that makes up these partnerships; PCF performed a lot of soil testing this summer with NMU student interns in the hope that amending the soil will result in top production.
Whatever forms the collaborations take, they bode well for the farm.
“The Farm-to-School programming is exponentially increasing in 2021,” Perkins said. “And then, actual garden sites — the food production sites — are more than doubling this year, and we’re expecting to triple the food production this year.”
Perkins said PCF maintains 68 raised garden beds as well as 36 Hugelkultur mounds, which are long mounds built on logs that are an example of sustainable permaculture.
“As those disintegrate, they provide food for the berries and the perennial agriculture we put into them,” he said.
Some of these special mounds are at the Ishpeming Elks site.
“As we get these berries established, this will become a huge city berry patch,” Perkins said.
May Tsupros of Ishpeming, founder and collaborator of Sun Tree Collaboration as well as cofounder and former executive director of the Gardeneers, is heavily involved in PCF.
The Gardeneers, a Chicago nonprofit, worked with 20 schools in low-income communities on that city’s south and west sides, teaching them how to grow their own food, she said.
“I have seen the benefits first-hand of how growing your own food and connecting with the earth can really change lives, can build happier and healthier communities and individuals and youths,” Tsupros said.
When she moved to Ishpeming, people told her about Perkins and his work with Partridge Creek Farm.
She walked into a PCF board meeting in February, and the “rest is history,” said Tsupros, who was a teacher for seven years and has a master’s degree in education.
Tsupros, who works between 25 and 30 hours a week for Partridge Creek Farm, believes her skills set can help PCF, especially as it pairs with Perkins’ abilities.
“Dan is a visionary and a ‘big picture’ guy and I am more of the ‘get ‘er done’ kind of person,” she said.
Tsupros said it’s “crazy” the impact such an endeavor has on people.
“There’s just tons of data out there saying this sort of education, this hands-on experiential education outdoors, especially growing food, is really beneficial for health outcomes in low-income communities,” she said.
PCF needs public help
Partridge Creek Farm is involved in other programs, although sustainable agriculture still is the focus.
Its fall giving campaign allows people to donate money to support the cause. A $20 donation will provide harvest tools for three students, while $50 will provide materials for two new Farm-to-School lessons.
A donation of $100 will give a classroom a “healthy feast” with garden produce, and a donation of $300 will sponsor a student for a full school year of COVID-19-compliant Farm-to-School education. A $500 donation will sponsor a COVID-19-compliant Farm Fresh Friday.
PCF’s Resiliency Garden Bed Project put 24 raised bed gardens in the hands of local residents this spring, with Eagle Mine providing funding to sponsor families in need with free beds for their yards.
The project continues with fully prepared garden beds — constructed from locally milled wood, lined with landscape fabric, and filled with local compost soil and PCF vermicompost — available for purchase. The prices range from $360 to $925.
To make a tax-deductible donation to the fall giving campaign or learn more about the Resiliency Garden Bed Project, visit www.PartridgeCreekFarm or mail a check to Partridge Creek Farm, P.O. Box 4, Ishpeming, MI 49849.
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