Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Breakfast With A Cause

Janet and I emerged from our car onto the sunny residential street on the west side of Ann Arbor. It was Good Friday morning and a rare weekday off for me. Instead of sleeping in or starting up one of my many farm projects, we had set aside this time to try something new. We crossed the street together and made our way along the sidewalk. A little unsure of what was in store for us, we talked pleasantly about nothing in particular as a way to distract us from our nerves.

We were headed to the home of people that we had never met to have breakfast. I had emailed and talked briefly on the phone with our host but it felt strange to be walking up to their house on this early morning just the same. Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb are people of renown in our area for their knowledge and leadership in the local food movement. I heard of them through some of our CSA members who said we just "had" to meet them.

A search on the Internet revealed that the couple were the founders of an organization called "Repasts, Present and Future". Among the many other things that they do, each Friday morning they pull together a volunteer staff and open their home to the public as a local food cafe serving as many as 155 meals! They host these breakfasts, called "Friday Mornings @ SELMA", to raise funds for their efforts to rebuild the local food infrastructure in the Ann Arbor area.

As we approached the house we could tell something different going on. A steady stream of people were coming and going through one of the front doors. On closer inspection we could see that the front lawn was landscaped with vegetables and herbs growing everywhere! We made our way up the drive and walked right in.

We found ourselves in a small side-room of the house that was crowded with people who were waiting to be seated. The walls of the room were plastered from floor to ceiling with name tags and bits of masking tape with names written on them. We were instructed to see if we could find our names so we could reuse them. Janet managed to find one for herself and I made a fresh one from masking tape.

We were soon escorted through a room dominated by a large table where people were enjoying breakfast and into the front room where several other couples were waiting. A small display at one end of the room offered products from local farms. Before long Lisa appeared to welcome us and offer coffee to enjoy while we waited.

The house buzzed with a pleasant energy from the activity and dozens of conversations from those seated throughout. Janet and I stood there next to the couch sipping our coffee while browsing the decor including family photos and books. It was easy to see that this crowded waiting room functioned as our host's living room during the rest of the week. We quietly wondered at what sort of people could withstand this level of intrusion into their private space every week. To us it was a measure of their commitment to their cause.

After a short wait and a little small talk with others in the room, a young woman asked us to follow her to our seats. We threaded our way through guests and busy volunteers to a massive kitchen and dining area at the back of the home. We took our seats on the far side of a large, wooden breakfast bar that doubled as workspace for the volunteers who crowded the kitchen just opposite. Rapidly growing accustomed to the space and the friendly atmosphere, we realized that we were perfectly situated to observe the heart of the operation.

The large and nicely appointed kitchen was well-ordered chaos. Volunteers were washing dishes and chopping vegetables while a couple of cooks turned out plate after plate of delicious looking fare. Jeff was positioned to one side of the counter and was clearly keeping it all working smoothly. He and Lisa were amid a crowd of volunteers with orders coming in, plates going out, problems being dealt with and still the charismatic pair found time to greet an unending stream of acquaintances who couldn't resist saying hello.

It was exciting to be there and see all of this happen. We conversed with others around the bar and watched the volunteers busy at their tasks. Soon our plates were placed before us and we dug right into a delicious breakfast of cheese omelets with locally grown veggies, potato puffs, locally grown greens and bacon.

While we relaxed and savored our meal, Jeff made his way across the kitchen to the large meat slicer on the counter next to Janet. We introduced ourselves while he sliced pieces of his homemade prosciutto and handed us a sample. He told us that the money that they collected for their breakfasts went to local farmers for the breakfast produce and then the remainder (about $50,000 thus far) was being used to build hoop houses on farms in the area.

Hoop houses are similar in appearance to greenhouses. They are metal framed buildings covered in clear plastic and can be used to grow food year-round without heating...even in Michigan! The efforts of Jeff, Lisa and their many volunteers are beginning to rebuild the local growing capacity in the Ann Arbor area with the aim of reducing the need for gas-guzzling importation of food from warmer climes.

At the end of our meal we stuffed our donations into a mason jar on the counter and made our way toward the door. We waved from across the room to our hosts and thanked them for breakfast. We returned our name tags to the wall in the entryway and headed out.

As we drove home we talked excitedly about the new community of amazingly giving and motivated people we had met. We resolved to make it back to SELMA for another breakfast for a good cause as soon as we could.

Photos courtesy of Myra Klarman


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