Home Grown: A Look Into Local Farming

Emma Machcinski and Katie O’brien

“Food tastes better with a story,” said Jeff Tenza. Tenza means that knowing everything that went into producing the food – the rain, the sun, the soil, the care, the commitment – makes the food more enjoyable to eat. Tenza is an apprentice at the Community Farm of Ann Arbor and a co-host of Arborama, a radio talk show on WCBN 88.3 FM that focuses on environmental concerns. “Your health and your ability to work and your community start with what you eat,” Tenza said.

Tenza is not an exception to the rest of society. Many other young people are becoming conscious about where their food comes from and how the process of growing it relates to their community as a whole.

“More people from our generation aren’t going into traditional jobs but into farming,” said Tenza. This is made clear looking at those who work on the local farms of Ann Arbor.

“I came totally by accident,” said Kristen Van Vliet of how she got to be at Community Farm of Ann Arbor, where she has worked as an apprentice for seven years now. “[I was] headed in the way of sustainable living.  I needed a job.”

“I’d never done physical hard work of my own volition,” Van Vliet said. Regardless of her lack of experience, Van Vliet was immediately attracted to the vibe on the farm.  “I saw all these folks doing hard work so joyfully,” Van Vliet said.

Tenza’s journey to ending up at the farm came as somewhat of a surprise as well. “I wanted healthy but easy-to-access food,” said Tenza. He discovered the Community Farm of Ann Arbor through a fellow alum of Huron High School, who was starting a business of turning crop shares into meals. The meals made it easy for Tenza to receive farm fresh food.

Learning about Community Farm of Ann Arbor, it was a “no brainer at that point”, said Tenza, who began volunteering at the farm. He left his job as an electrical engineer working on solar cells and was “just drawn to the farm.”

Students in high school are getting on the local farming bandwagon as well. Mishka Repaska, a sophomore at Community High School, is currently taking part in the Organic Farming CR offered by Tantre Farms. “I signed up for it . . . because I’m actually super, super interested in anything to do with food,” said Repaska.

Both Tantre and Community Farm of Ann Arbor are part of the Community Supported Agriculture model of farming. This means they produce a certain number of crop shares—a fraction of their crops—a year which the public can purchase. The CSA model allows the community to participate in the process of growing their food.

“They don’t take time to get to know each pepper plant,” said Van Vliet about conventional farms. With CSA it is a more personal connection that the consumer is able to have to their food, and an awareness of how what they eat gets from farm to plate.

The connection is something Repaska has observed during her time with the farming CR. “We go to the farmers’ market, and then the marketing bit of that is nice . . . the interaction between the actual people who grow your food and the people that buy it.”

“You get to see the whole process. I get to help it grow and watch it until I get to eat it,” said Ona Schneider, a summer apprentice from the Community Farm of Ann Arbor. Schneider worked on the farm over the summer after graduating high school in order to have a job outdoors. Schneider said the job gave her a “deeper level of appreciation” for the food she was able to help produce and eventually eat.

For these young farmers, sustainability—not instant gratification—is key. “The easy way is most likely not a healthy way,” said Schneider. Tenza says sustainability is “satisfying our needs without harming future generations.”

Illustration by Colleen O’brien