Rex Dobson and the Ruby Ellen Farm

I just finished up the new website for the Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation. It’s a 160-acre farm on the Leelanau Peninsula that was preserved in perpetuity by owner Rex Dobson. Rex was certainly an anomaly : a single farmer who was successful in what is definitely a family dominated field. What’s more, he was one of the pioneers of farmland preservation and collected a TON of farming artifacts.

One of the coolest things about the project is that I was able to bring back to the internet a video produced by my childhood friend and bad-ass photographer Carl Ganter (now the mastermind of Circle of Blue) called With These Hands. Rex had a starring role – enjoy!


Sap, Syrup, Spring

Tap in Big Maple, photo by Allan L McFarlane

Today I blogged a photo from Jim Sorbie to Michigan in Pictures.

Bucket of Sap, photo by Allan L McFarlaneI looooooove maple syrup.

We used to make it when I was a kid, tapping the maples on M-22 by our house. The whole process is one of my favorite memories, and I can’t begin to describe how good it felt to bring a metal cup our and drink cup after cup of sub-freezing sap before school while I waited for the bus!

Here’s a NYT article about what the South Koreans feel about drinking maple sap:

Unlike North Americans who collect maple sap to boil down into syrup, Korean villagers and their growing number of customers prefer the sap itself, which they credit with a wide range of health benefits.

In this they are not alone. Some people in Japan and northern China drink maple sap, and birch sap has its fans in Russia and other parts of northern Europe. But no one surpasses southern Koreans in their enthusiasm for maple sap, which they can consume in prodigious quantities.

“The right way is to drink an entire mal” — 20 liters, or about 5 gallons — “at once,” said Yeo Manyong, a 72-year-old farmer in Hadong. “That’s what we do. And that’s what gorosoe lovers from the outside do when they visit our village.”

But how can you drink the equivalent of more than 50 beer cans of sap at one go?

“You and your family or friends get yourselves a room with a heated floor,” Mr. Yeo said, taking a break under a maple tree in Hadong, 180 miles south of Seoul. “You keep drinking while, let’s say, playing cards. Salty snacks like dried fish help because they make you thirsty. The idea is to sweat out all the bad stuff and replace it with sap.”

For more about how syrup is made, check out The Cycle of Sweetness: From Sap to Maple Syrup. You can also read a little about how Native Americans made maple sugaron Michigan in Pictures. Absolute Michigan has more Michigan maple syrup features & links.

The photos were taken by my dad, Allan L. McFarlane.

Michigan in Pictures … and some asparagus

empire asparagus festival 2010

Been kind of busy, but as usual I have been having a great time on Michigan in Pictures. It’s pretty much my favorite thing about the internet.

Recent highlights are Ernie Harwell, Banksy, Obama’s address at the Big House and the Asparagus Festival (where I was today!)

Seriously though. THE Banksy was in Detroit!

Even more seriously though, what part of the soul of Michigan rests in Ernie Harwell’s voice on a summer night?

What I’m doing instead of blogging…

Traverse City Wine & Art Festival posterI know that I totally blew the “Ben Wallace is back” NBA Comix … I probably could have done a whole week’s worth on that topic. Sorry about that.

I’ve been working on the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival.

It’s the first annual of what I hope will be many and happens Saturday August 22 from 5-10 PM at the Grand Traverse Commons in front of Building 50 on the lawn under the big tent.

The evening will feature wines from 22 wineries from the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas and a selection of Traverse City and Leelanau restaurants serving food & desserts along with fantastic music from Rojo Loco, Jay Webber and Thom Jayne and the Nomads.

I’m amazed at how much work there is involved in putting together a major festival and so grateful that we’ve been able to assemble such an amazing team of volunteers and staff to put this event on.

Things are really coming together and I think everyone who attends will have a fantastic time – hope you’re there! Here’s the headliner:

Boss Farmer: Michael Pollan and the Department of Food

Food writer Michael Pollan has a letter to the next Farmer in Chief in the NT Times. Pollan – a writer who has been floated as a dark horse candidate for Secretary of Agriculture – says that food policy will be a major (if unforeseen) focus for the Obama Administration, not only for for soaring food prices contributing to shortage and hunger but also due to the impact of our food policy on our energy policy:

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

I was hoping for Bill McKibben as Energy secretary, but maybe Pollan will bring some “next wave” visionary cred to the cabinet (though after watching the video below, I’m thinking maybe not). 😉 Here’s Michael Pollan’s web site, his blog at the NYT and  The omnivore’s next dilemma video talk at

The Washington Post lists a few safer candidates that are not at all exciting to me. Bill Kristoff isn’t too excited either. He suggests that with just 2% of people engaged in farming, we focus on the 100% that are engaged in eating and rename it the Department of Food. He links over to where you can see 6 more interesting candidates and sign a petition to encourage the President-elect to think outside of the bigbox.

The photo is Striations by Nicholas_T. Be sure to view it bigger and/or in his New Jersey Skylands slideshow.


Hmmmm. overstocked? Yeah. by April

I am tired of looking in my refrigerator and feeling guilty about the amount of food in it, not to mention the amount of food I will throw away, not to mention the fact that I even have a refrigerator.

As long as nothing changes every time I close that door on all that food and all that cold and all that bounty that 9 out of every 10 souls aboard this world will never taste, I should feel guilt … and shame … and not a little fear.

I sometimes feel that we (well, at least “I”) treat this whole “life” like some cheap, throwaway novelty. Who cares, what the hell, no big deal, I’ll buy another.

I have no doubt that the contents of my refrigerator could feed five families and still feed my own, and I’d really (truly) like to work with anyone and everyone to make that happen.

This refrigerator photo is by April, who takes a lot of great photos. Check it out.