May 17th, 2013
As I read my first blog of November 2009, I realized how much has changed since that time. Many changes happened at Minnesota Harvest and for the most part very good changes. It is still the nicest apple orchard to visit in the area and the apple lodge has greatly improved and the buildings all around have been cleaned up and beautifed. Still I miss my dear friend, Topper Sponsel, but his orchard continues as a memorial to him and his family. Indeed, the orchard did not die!
My two older children have moved on and married and grandchildren are now a part of our lives. A couple months ago my mother died, so another mile stone in my life. She was my best friend and always a supporter and enthusiast for my farm and family. She will be greatly missed.
Animals have come and lived their lives out here and have blessed us and the guests who have been part of our lives. The two newest members of the farm are Tink and Lexi both sweet ponies. Hopefully, someday they will be giving children rides out here at Cherith Farms. So, this is a mediation of gratefulness and thankfulness for all we have enjoyed here at Cherith Farms. May this season be full of blessings for all who come here.
November 14th, 2009
Today I will begin my web journal. It seems strange that I would begin this with thoughts of sadness. This week marks the end of Minnesota Harvest Apple Orchard. It really had stepped back from my life on Feb. 26, 2006 when the owner, Topper Sponsel, died very unexpectedly of heart problems. Although, we visited Minnesota Harvest since 1992, my involvement there did not really take place until 1999 when we moved to our farm in Belle Plaine. It had been a life dream for me to move to the country and start growing food naturally. We had purchased a beautiful tract of land in Jordan on the east side by Lydia back in the early nineties and we had hoped to either build a home or my favorite, move an old house and restore it. We worked toward that end for 4 years and it seemed no matter how we cut it, we just couldn’t do what we wanted to, without incurring a sizeable debt. Also, by that time, our family had grown from two children to four, the last two being a year and half apart. My husband felt it was better to find an established farm than to try take on a major project with young children. His wisdom was probably correct, but it was difficult for me to give up our beautiful hilltop land, dotted with the most beautiful oak trees ever. Also, at this time, he was working for Excelsior Henderson Motorcycle Co. and they built a new place in Belle Plaine. We searched for a good place and to make a long story shorter, we finally settled on the place we now call Cherith Farms. We had previously lived in an old 1876 farmhouse in Minnetonka which we sold to move out here. It had been such a change for me. Even though it was what I wanted, the move took us to such a foreign place. I was used to all the lakes – especially Lake Minnetonka – which I loved and so many trees! Here it was lovely, but a different kind of lovely. Open spaces seemed to go on and on. Fields upon fields but not so many trees. The first days out here, I felt like an ant on the moon. I felt vulnerable and exposed. We were used to living where going to CUB or any store was within minutes. Now it was a major trip of 60 minutes to go to Shakopee for everything. Shopping was now becoming a 2x a month thing. We had to plan more carefully. But the hardest thing was having no family or friends nearby and no metro phones! Cell phones had not reached the peak that you see now, in fact, it seemed that few people in our circle even had them. I asked my husband, Dave, if I could have one to use only for travel since sometimes farms were far apart and I didn’t want to be vulnerable with driving in the country with 2 babies and have a breakdown or flat tire or something! We got a phone at that time and I think we had 15 minutes that were “free”. Needless to say, the phone didn’t get used much and certainly NOT for chatting to friends and family! So it was at that Fall season, that the kids and I went to Minnesota Harvest for some continuity in my life. It was a 9 mile drive to the familiar. At this particular trip, my daughter Jerusha who was 11, noticed that the few ponies that were kept for rides there looked kind of scruffy and she was wondering if she could volunteer there and brush them. So it was then that we sought out who might give us permission. The lady at the check out who later we referred to as Miss Helen told us to go up the stairs and talk to the owner, Topper. I never heard of such a strange name and wondered who this Topper would be. Some how, I imagined him to be an older man and I was quite nervous about our request. When we got to the top of the stairs, and looked into the office, there was a man there who appeared to be in his 40s talking on the phone. I wondered if this was this “Topper”. Soon he was off the phone and approached us with a friendly smile that calmed our nerves somewhat. I stated the purpose of our visit and he seemed somewhat amused and asked Jerusha how old she was and what her level of experience was. We really didn’t have ANY experience to speak of, but he still agreed that we could do this. After several weeks of pony grooming we became great friends and soon he became part of our family participating in our gatherings and prayer meetings. Knowing him really took our loneliness away. In the years to follow, he helped us get our farm business going. He brought people into our life that gave us advise on our raspberry and strawberry fields. Mr. Gene Kordner, senior of Belle Plaine was one of them. Topper gave us opportunities to sell our gourds and mini-pumpkins at Minnesota Harvest. He also gave me a opportunity to store some of my muskmelons in his cooler while waiting to sell them. As time passed, I volunteered to sell his apples wholesale after season was finished. I was proud to have sold a large amount of Honeycrisp apples one year to several stores including Beyerly’s. I was doing things I never did before and loving it. For years I have ground my own wheat and baked my own bread. Topper encouraged me to think big with my bread and start making it in larger quantities – which I did and started selling it a Cedar Summit Dairy and to the Curves in Belle Plaine. Topper helped me to see the potential I had in me and go for it. He even went so far as to help me prepare the ground for our raspberry fields in 2001. He was truly a friend. So his death in 2005 was a major quake in my life. However, the orchard had also become a home away from home all those 6 years and suddenly, it was as if the life had gone out of it. It seemed it was merely a business now. It was still the most beautiful place around but the heart was not there anymore. Gone was the cheerful greetings and interest in the children and all the visitors.
So even though it was still beautiful there, it lacked the joy and laughter and the difference was hard for me to experience each time I was there. But now with it closing down, it just seems another step in sorrow for me. What will become of the place? I hope and pray that God will bring forth an owner with the vision to make it a wonderful orchard again.
November 29th, 2009
I was out trimming raspberry canes again today. We have been so blessed to have a day where the sun was shining and it must of been close to 50 degrees! I did manage to finish my big first row, and my second row though less in plants. Toward the end, I felt it was a lesson in endurance. As the sun was dropping in the west, I could feel the chill again appear and my stomach was reminding me that I really hadn’t stopped for lunch! But I kept my eyes on the prize knowing that I only had another 20 feet or so before I could complete the row. It makes me wonder how many times we have prayed for something or someone and time goes on without any visiable signs that anything has changed, we grow weary and quit cause we can’t see the end.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galations 6:9
December 17, 2009
I have been reading about King Hezekiah in the Old Testiment Books of Chronicles and Kings. As I read, I realized what a difficult position he was in when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem with 185,000 soldiers. Assyria was the most powerful nation at the time, with a trained army of soldiers ready and willing to conquer all the countries and cities in that area. No one was able to stand up against Assyria. King Hezekiah was put in a very difficult position with the people within the wall ready to give up with fear and the soldiers of Jerusalem were no match for this army. King Hezekiah humbled himself and prayed to Jehovah to save them from these enemies. The King was assured in his heart and also had that faith confirmed by words of the prophet Isaiah that God would come thru for them. Hezekiah said that the Assyrians had only an arm of flesh, but that they (people of Jerusalem) had the arm of God on their side. This story took special significance this week when I went to Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest to pick up a few items I had won from their on-line auction. As I had mentioned earlier in my thoughts the special place this orchard had in my heart and my life. Coming up into the driveway area, it looked like a city that lost a war.
The buildings were being stripped and every last thing was being carried away. I had the impulse to want to stop everyone from taking the things out of the building or the grounds. My better sense won. I believe that the orchard is going to be “revived”. Right now, it doesn’t look good. But when you see the hopeless situation that King Hezekiah faced, you know that nothing is impossible with God.
I will eagerly watch for a new beginning!
April 15th, 2010
It seems that finally that long winter has past! By the looks of the buds on the trees, we are at least 3 weeks ahead of our normal growing season. I remember only one other year, back in 1984 that we had full leaves by April 23rd. Mostly, that occurs about mid-May. My apricot tree has blooms on it. It looks so much like snow on the branches since it doesn’t have leaves yet. My apple trees are ready to burst out in flowers and many other bushes and trees have green showing. Also, for the first time since I started this farm, I have ALL the raspberry canes trimmed before they leaved out. I added another 300 new strawberry plants to my farm this week as well. I checked the 400 new plants that I put in last year and over all most look good. I hope to have an increase of at least 3x what I had before. So many reasons to be hopeful. One goal I had this year was to finally finish getting the old wood shingles off the grass in my east bird runs. It is amazing how time consuming that project it! It has taken us 3 years to finish removing them. The kids and I took about 10 cartloads to our fire pit and then began to fine tune by raking the rest of the small debris out. There was plenty old weed stalks that had grown where we had nice grass before. It seems that when grass is compromised that it takes nothing for undesirable plants to take over. Soon they got so vigorous and plentiful that the whole run looked neglected. I felt strongly that this year it was going to look better than ever. After two days of working on this area, we have a decent area to seed desireable plants! I got to thinking how true that is in our lives that until we remove the junk there, nothing good can grow. The comforting thing is that we don’t have to do it alone. When we give those junk areas over to God, he reaches down in our lives and helps us to face the junk and takes it out with our permission. Now the good fruit can grow from our lives – just as it grows from our well prepared soil.
August 1, 2010 THE TALE OF TWO DOGS
This has been a full summer. At the beginning of summer two very big things happened. Over Memorial Weekend, I lost my sweet companion dog of many years. She was to be 14 over 4th of July weekend. It was a very sudden situation where she just began going into seizures and none of the medicine given to me by my vet did any good. She continued to have seizures for 3 days and died on the 4th day. I thought my heart would break! The timing on this wasn’t so good either with my oldest daughter getting married in a matter of days, my parent in-laws arriving on that Sunday of the weekend and a special dinner at my house after rehearsal coming up in a few days. Suddenly the wedding, the uncleaned house, company coming meant nothing. I was up day and night with my dear “Lady”. She had been a faithful friend to me and I was sticking by her to the end. My husband was also very supportive and helped with some of the care. Lady weighed 52 pounds and that was a little too heavy for me to lift. While staying by her side all that time, it occurred to me how much dying was like being born. When I gave birth to my children there was a lot of time spent in agony and waiting. I would note some changes as the baby moved to be born and I noticed there were different changes happening to Lady as I watched her die. Parts of me wanted this to be over NOW and parts of me cried out for her to hang on and stay with me. I knew that in dogs years she had to be in her upper 80s and most likely it was thought that her seizures were caused by a brain tumor. So it not a condition that I knew she could come out of. During the long vigil, my cat Burt, who had also been a friend of Lady came and sat on me keeping us company. He looked worried for lady and licked her ears. At one point a strange butterfly came and flitted around us. We were outside on the deck where there was plenty of air and a cool breeze. It was so odd because the butterfly stayed with me and later with my son who joined us for a while. It seemed that the butterfly was a comfort to us and often landed on my son! After Lady left us, I went up to my bathtub to just soak in hot water and try to recover myself and re-focus on my company and the upcoming wedding. As I laid there, I heard the screech of the circular saw as it drifted thru the open window. I was again reminded that my caring husband was building a coffin for my dog. He knew how much I loved her. I thought of those last moments as I held her in my arms. I didn’t want to forget her warm stomach, her soft curly hair around her neck – even her doggy smell. I held her until she no longer felt warm and my mother-in-law felt I needed to let her go, and come have some supper that was left on the table. How could I possibly choke any food down? My long time companion had just left and I wouldn’t see her again on this earth. My heart was so broken!!! I do believe though, I felt comfort come to me in a way, I can not describe. Perhaps, it was the touch of my angel or that the Spirit of God just held me in his hands – I do not know. But I did have the grace to enjoy and be a part of my daughter’s wedding.
Now, the story of Vanessa.
A month after Lady had left us, my daughter had been looking at different sites on the internet for a dog. She, too, missed Lady and wanted to fill that hole that was constantly there. We had left Lady’s food dish and toy in the same place as it always was. I even found myself putting little table treats in her dish – expecting somehow that she would come out of one of her favorite spots and snarf it right down. Instead, it sat there for a while, until one of our resident cats accidently happened upon it. One day we spotted a Border Collie mix dog on the Petfinder site. She was sitting in the Brown County Humane Society. Apparently, an unclaimed stray from Mankato. She had been at the city pound and scheduled to be put down, when a worker at the pound felt that this dog deserved a second chance. Blue Earth Co. shelter would not take her, but thank goodness Brown Co. would take her. Vanessa was a very timid and reclusive dog when I met her. Unlike all the dogs in nearby kennels that were begging me to take them, she just rolled up on her mat, in her own world. We took her out to the fenced run and we discovered she came alive when we threw toys for her. I had come armed with toys and treats. She loved the toys, but would not take any treats from me. I thought that was odd. I never met a dog that refused treats!!! But after spending some time with her and prayed about it, I felt she was the one to take home. Vanessa had been having some health issues, but I wasn’t really understanding some of the things I read. I knew she was on a steroid, but it was rather vague as to why. She was being weaned off the medicine so I had a bottle of pills that I brought home with me that I was suppose to give her every other day. So when the medicine was finished, I was very happy – believing this was now going to be all behind us. The day after I stopped giving her, her medicine. She had a poop accident on the carpet in my bedroom. I just cleaned it up without comment to the dog. I figured she was new and we hadn’t figured out a good communication system yet. Later, when I went to find my shoes, that were next to the bed, I realized that there was poop in them too! But I noted that it was very liquid like. To make a long story short, after a week of trying to figure out what to do with a dog with a severe case of diarrhea, who wouldn’t eat and was throwing up foam – I was beside myself. We couldn’t keep her in the house. So I kept her on the deck outside that had a gate. The gate was not a full 42 inches like the rest of the rail, so my eldest son built an extension to make it the same. We felt confident, she would not jump over that. We had caught her outside on the grass when I arrived home a day earlier, she had apparently tried to molest my footless rooster. I was relieved to find him alive under my greenhouse! Now with the high gate, we thought that we would be safe. But because she was still pooping out mucus and stuff, we thought maybe instead of washing the deck off several times an hour, why not hook the leash up to something outside on the grass so that we won’t have to be cleaning up so much. Well, I took my daughter to her summer school class and was back within 20 minutes and found her down by the road when I returned. She had chewed thru the leash. Thankfully, all my birds were ok, but I was becoming troubled as to what to do with this dog! The next day, she jumped over the high gate and killed my favorite duck! Now I was so angry. Here we rescued this dog from a shelter, were bombarded with diarrhea and more vet bills and then she kills our favorite duck!!!! It took me a day or so to forgive her as I felt ready to bring her back to the shelter. At least we found a temporary solution to the diarrhea and that was to put her back on the steroid until we could get the bacteria in her colon balanced. She was now eating and pooping normally so we had much to be thankful. Somehow, I think I have a very big challenge ahead of me. I have had so many “lessons” given to me while dealing with this dog. One, God does not abandon us when we unloveable. He patiently loves us as he teaches us the good path. The second thing that had come to mind was, during the time Vanessa wouldn’t not eat “normal” food, we tried all kinds of brands of canned food, trying to find something she would eat. She had lost 5 pounds since we had her home from the shelter. Yet, when I took her out for her walks, how often she would grab at a chicken turd or a dead mouse. How often does God give us a good gift and we reject it for some cheap thing that we want and then find it doesn’t satisfy??? Every good and perfect gift comes down from above – from the Father of Lights – in whom there is no variation or shadow in turning. (paraphrase of James 1:17)
OCTOBER 25TH, 2010
We had a lovely visit with my parents yesterday and had the very unexpected pleasure of seeing my three cousins – nephews of my father – there as well. They had stopped to visit him on route home to north-central Wisconsin where they live and my father grew up. He was from a small town called Ogema. I have not seen these cousins since my Uncle Dale’s funeral back in 2005. Before that, visits with their family growing up were usually just one time a year. Even though our visits were rare, it seems there is still a bond between us. But what made this visit so amazing to me was listening to my father talk about the different people from “his home town” where he left at the age of 17 to come to Minneapolis the land of opportunity. Now at age 85 his memory is still quite clear concerning names and dates and places. Watching him smile and laugh and share all these stories made me so grateful to God that his mind is so sharp. I hope I inherited some of those good genes.
Vanessa our sweet rescue dog had been doing so well. She had been off medicine for 2 weeks and then pow on Saturday morning, it was back to the diarrhea AGAIN. We are trying the medicine again and hopefully, we will be able to wean her off this stuff. We had every test imaginable on her to find out what is wrong and everything comes back ok. I stopped giving her any beef products, thinking perhaps she had a food intolerance. But I did slip up with giving her a “raw hide” bone. I don’t know if that did it or not. But her obedience training is getting better. I can have her off lead and she comes back to the house and pretty much hangs out with me in the fields. She actually put the brakes on the other day as she was headed for the road and I yelled “STOP”. She turned and came right back. So progress is being made.
Last night, Minnesota Harvest was back on my “re-run” agenda of my mind. A friend and I visited there a couple weeks ago to pick some apples (varieties that I don’t currently have), and to re-live our memories there. It has indeed been a banner year for apples for them. Topper would have been so pleased. But the place still looks like a city that lost the war. While Topper was alive he had some very big financial challenges, but did his best to keep the place looking pretty respectable. Minnesota Harvest is a working farm and like most working farms, it has its issues with weeds and building upkeep. Most apple places out there are so suburbanized in what they present as a working farm it is really out of touch with what is mostly a reality when it comes to real farms. However, I was very disappointed with the way the place is run now. Certainly, I can understand that becoming the owner of the business by default would be difficult – particuliarly if there is no interest in running the business. But it is indeed a sad thing to fire the fatal shot by selling off all the supplies and equipment before the lease was up! It seems to me that the blunder is often covered up by misrepresentation of facts and cries for sympathy. The orchard is worth saving, operating and I believe can become a thriving, prosperous business once again with people who truly believe in its worth and value.
NOVEMBER 16, 2010 – Random Thoughts.
Ah, tis the end of our growing season. I have potted some of my plants and hope to extend the season somewhat in my greenhouse. This is the first year with my greenhouse and I really don’t know how long it will stay above freezing in there. During the day – on a sunny day, it gets up to 95 degrees in there and I open the door to the house where it is attached, and it heats up the back rooms, but at night, it plunges to 35 or a little lower. I hung a brooder light above the planting table in hopes to keep the temps above freezing.
Over the weekend, the kids and I peeled and sliced about 40 pounds of apples. Most of them were from my own Haralson. I was able to freeze several bags, make apple sauce and from the peels and cores, made 9 half pints of apple jelly. Since my apples are not sprayed, I can use the peels without worry of pesticides.
Have you ever wondered “What is in your cup?” I never really gave it much thought until one night, I was thirsty and went into the bathroom to get a cup of water. Normally, I do not turn on the light, but this night I did. Just as I was about to pour water in my cup, I realized that a small spider had made a web in it. I stopped and put it down, and took someone else’s cup and seeing no spider poured water and drank from it. The next morning I looked in the cup and no spider. I guess it packed it’s bags and left by morning. How many times have we drank stuff in our cups and didn’t know it? I know, it is a random thought.
Today my son announced that our cupola on our barn roof blew off. That was a big disappointment since we got our barn re-roofed 3 years ago and all the cupolas re-fastened. The funny part of it was it survived the gale force winds of 2 weeks ago with NO damage. Now when there was no wind, it came down. What do you make of that??? The worst part, it is not easily replaced. We still have to move our barn back on the foundation. June 26 brought us a small tornado that not only twisted off my favorite Zestar apple tree 6 inches below the ground under the graft but lifted our Northwest corner of our barn off the foundation. It is only about 7 inches off, but it really needs to be realigned and set back on it’s footings. Hopefully, it will still be fixable come spring now that we have been surprised with snow.
A couple weeks ago, we procured a second hand trampoline. It has been a great source of entertainment for my kids and I have been going on it regularily too. One night, everyone was gone but the dog and I, and I wanted to just go outside and enjoy the night. It was one of those “forever” nights. That is a night that I wish could last forever. The temp was around 60 and the stars were so bright! I laid on my back on the trampoline and looked at the stars. For a while, it seemed as if one of the stars was moving around, but perhaps it was just my eyes. Suddenly, I heard a very loud shrill like sound. I wasn’t sure what it was. As I laid there considering what it might be, a loud chorus of dogs started howling and barking. I freaked out! I tried to get back into my shoes I had laid on the grass and yelled for my dog to come. I felt panic as we ran to get into the house. I am sure it was a sizeable group of coyotes, but still I remember the story on “Little House on the Prairie” where a bunch of ferral dogs got together and hunted in large packs going after domestic animals. Since that night, many times during the night, I hear many yaps and barks coming from the woods behind us. I am always glad to be inside when I hear them!!!! This week also has been one of great bird migration. I have seen thousands of Canadian Honkers grouping up in the reservoir by our home. One evening I was mesmorized by so many geese going down to the water, it looked like a huge tornado as they swirled to the water’s edge. This was followed by some kind of blackbirds that came in huge groups and rested on our maple trees. They were so loud! They seemed to be all talking at once – maybe shouting! Suddenly, as if on cue, they all stopped and it was almost an eery quiet. After a brief silence they all started up again. Such sights are too amazing to describe! Then today as we were heading north down Raven Road, I wondered what this big blob was in a dead tree, about a block from our home. As we neared the tree, we realized it had a white head and a large black body. It was a bald eagle. They are very regal to behold but at the same time it made me nervous since the ducks and geese were out in the yard. I think the eagle prefers fish, but would they pass by a dinner walking so close by?