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“This abundance of berries feels like a pure gift from the land …You could call them natural resources or ecosystem services, but the Robins and I know them as gifts.”-Robin Wall Kimmerer


Spring is inching its way toward the Eastern UP. It’s a mild April and puddles replaced snow piles. Birdsongs fill the air, crocus flowers push through mud, and grouse drum.


The small, fall-planted trees—tamaracks and white pines—along the farm’s border have survived. But it’s one tiny tree back at our house that I’m watching closely.


We planted a couple young Saskatoon (Serviceberry) trees last year. In late summer my wife and I enjoyed a harvest of one berry each. It was a damn good berry.


The trees, which can grow a couple dozen feet in height, have become a pet project for me at the farm, starting with 100 Saskatoon saplings this spring.


Why Saskatoons?


Their white blossoms are an early sign of spring, and their berries—which look like a blueberry but taste a but nuttier—are delicious. Birds and pollinators agree. In her essay, An Economy of Abundance, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes this “gift relationship”—the berries fill the birds bellies, and they poop out the berry seeds, giving Saskatoons a chance to expand their growth.

“Without gift relationships with bees and birds, Serviceberries would disappear from the planet.”


We want to welcome the birds and the pollinators to Three Dogs Seed Farm not only for the sake of the Saskatoon trees, but for the sake of our farm and our individual health. After staring at a screen all day, sitting amongst the birds and bugs will do wonders for you. “All flourishing is mutual,” as Kimmerer writes.


There’s also an uninhibitedness associated with berries. To pick wild berries is to have scratched hands, crawling near the forest floor; to eat one for every three you throw in the bucket; to meander around trees in summer sun with friends and stained fingers.


It’s a reminder that packaged, processed snack foods can never rival nature’s sweet desserts.


Our farm’s first batch of Saskatoons arrive later this month. In scouting where to plant them I’m thinking about sun, dirt, and moisture.


But I’m also daydreaming about nieces, nephews, parents, grandparents, siblings —and our extended family of waxwings, robins, grosbeaks, bumblebees—all gathered around these gift-giving trees.


-B

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Three Dogs Seed Farm was established in Fall 2020 by myself, Dani, and my husband Benny. For us, this farm is a dream realized. Benny and I have been involved with growing and seedkeeping in some form for about a decade. It had been our hope that some day we would be able to start a seed farm of our own –perhaps within the next decade. As the universe would have it, twenty acres of land a mile and a half from our home was put on the market last summer. I can remember riding my bike past the new “For Sale” signs and turning around to take a picture to send to Benny. At the time, I didn’t think we’d actually end up starting a seed farm now, but I also couldn’t believe that this opportunity had presented itself. We were both drawn to the land. We knew how great the soil was and we had some idea of who had lived there the past few years-- namely a couple cows in the spring, a handful of horses in the summer, and the visiting gyrfalcon that decided to claim one of the ash snags as their hunting post in spring 2017. This spot was so close to home, too – it was on our bike route. We could walk there! We decided to seal the deal. By the end of 2020, we were the proud new human caretakers of a future seed farm, which at that point resembled a field of grasses, goldenrod, and asters.

We began by planting nearly 400 cloves of heirloom garlic, twenty-five species of native plants, and a few dozen white pine and tamarack trees within days of closing on the farm in fall of 2020. We will plant 60-80 additional varieties of foods, medicinal plants, native plants and shrubs, and flowers in 2021.


We are focused on seeds because we believe seed sovereignty is crucial for food sovereignty. We aim to serve as a source for locally adapted and respectfully grown seeds. We also aim to provide seed stewardship education in our region and look forward to hosting on-farm seedkeeping meet-ups.


While we’re currently working to stay warm with the single digit high temperatures, we are so excited to share everything that we have in the works for 2021! I’ve been busy poring over our seeds, considering isolation distances and growing needs, planning plantings, sketching out field plans, and thinking about the potential for this growing season.


I’m excited. I’m excited to think about the incredible variety of beans that we’ll be planting and wondering how the squash and watermelons will do. I’m excited to see which insects and birds decide to visit. I’m anxiously waiting to see how our first-year growing efforts will be received by the soil, which has played home to perennial grasses for quite some time. Will we get much rain this year or have an extended droughty period? Will there be early frosts or an extended summer? Will we be able to come to some sort of agreement with the current animals that know the field and den up in the forest to the east? What seeds will I be able to offer up to our community a year from now? This is the dream realized.


-D



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Our farm’s name was always going to nod to our consistent source of inspiration, love, and happiness—our dogs.


We moved to the eastern Upper Peninsula in late 2016 and, like a furry “Brady Bunch,” merged a miniature dachshund only-child (Louie) with a rescued lab mix (Mo), an Alaskan malamute (Kobe), along with a pair of cat sisters (Hope and Faith).


Louie used all 11 of his pounds to exert dominance. Kobe, roughly the size of ten Louies, looked at his new roommate as something of an odd, long curiosity. Mo bridged the two—peacemaker and friendly to both. The cats mostly stayed out of the way.


The dogs were a convenient excuse for exploring. We’d take Kobe on nightly walks down our street, where we’d meet new neighbors and start to understand the rhythm and habits of the wildlife that share our space.


Mo, built for longer treks, would join us on snowy trips to the shoreline of Lake Superior and deep into the interior of the Hiawatha National Forest. Mo witnessed some of the magic of our new home—walking upon a bear cub scampering down a trail, and once interrupting a fox on the heels of a snowshoe hare. He’d sprint like hell in the woods, and sleep like hell on the drive home.


Louie, preferring car rides to walking, would perch on a lap when we’d take long, coffee-fueled drives, looking at new lakes, rivers, forests, and dreaming of buying some of the abundant land we’d see to start a farm. He’d more often than not lose interest and fall asleep in a lap.


Season change brought spring (which often waits until mid-May to arrive here) and the planning of what would become the centerpiece of our next few summers—our garden. The backyard garden, along the shores of the St. Marys River, started modest that first year and has since grown to include raised beds and additional space.


The garden provided shade in the summer for Kobe, a place to chase new critters and smell flowers for Mo, and a place to sprint to and hide for Louie.


The garden also provided some of the first seeds we saved.


For a couple years, there was a lovely cadence to our time with the three. Quiet winters in the woods with Mo, in front of the fire with Louie, and in the backyard with Kobe. Long spring and summer days soaking up sunshine and getting dirty in the garden with Mo and Louie, while Kobe would seek shade. Autumn was a bridge, getting in a last swim with Mo in Lake Superior.


Seasons change, years pass, and dogs get older. We lost Mo too soon. Louie has a few more gray hairs around the muzzle. Kobe still perks up for walks, but they go much slower. Our seasonal rhythm has changed, as things tend to do.


Some change is for the good. We were fortunate to find 20 acres of former horse pasture to purchase and pursue a dream of small-scale farming and seed keeping.


And when it came to naming this dream realized, the answer was simple. The dogs have done and continue to do so much for us. We want our hard work and mission of working in harmony with the natural world to honor them.


In our hearts, in our garden, and now on our 20-acre farm, the three dogs are more than companions—they are our identity.


They teach us patience, loyalty, and the beauty of curiosity. They teach us that sometimes the best way to spend the day is sitting peacefully and watching the world move around you.


When Mo was nearing the end, he would take short walks around our backyard. He would walk the perimeter and chase the frogs, who were frantic to get out of his way. The sun would set, and he’d slowly make his way around the garden, chomping at frogs, smelling wildflowers, and joining in the subtle summer night melody of spring peepers, bees, shore birds, and lapping Great Lakes water.


These are bittersweet memories, but interwoven with a hope and resilience that is the core of Three Dogs Seed Farm.


-B



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