Monday, June 13, 2011

Farm Life Suits "City Girl"

Farming and rural life wasn’t the easiest transition Kim Sanwald ever undertook, but she is one “city girl” who is convinced that moving to the Cloverdale truck farm was by far the best decision she’s ever made.

The first-time book author shares the process of her transition—along with 80 fabulous recipes—in her new book, Basics with a Twist:  Life and Food at Brickyard Farms.

Although Sanwald never imagined herself a truck farmer, she finds it “suits” her quite well.

After 36 years as a manager for a dental office, she admits it was a little scary to give up financial perks and benefits for full-time farming with her partner, Valerie Lane.

“Our life here is modest but it feels authentic,” she said.  “I feel calmer and more passionate about what I do.  I’m totally in love with the market and in working with food.”

Selling healthy, flavorful food and sharing recipes excites her and has become a way of helping to enhance other people’s lives, she said.

“We want to see more people sitting around their tables and eating good food.”
A partial view of the 5.5-acre Brickyard Farms in Cloverdale

Brickyard Farms is a five-and-a-half acre truck farm whose success is attributable to the production of fresh, flavorful vegetables including 17 varieties of tomatoes, seven varieties of potatoes, hard garlic, three varieties of beets, seven varieties of carrots as well as different greens:  collards, kale, Swiss chard, spinach. 

“Many people want the perfect tomato, with no blemishes,” said Sanwald.  “When you grow heirlooms, you have to get over that.”

Brickyard Farms vegetables are grown in good clay soil that has “some amazing minerals” that enhance their “shocking taste,” she said.  This is all done without chemicals or sprays, although the farm is not certified organic.

Last year Sanwald and Lane grew 4,800 tomatoes from 1500 plants.  They planted 650 seed potatoes and harvested 7,000 pounds.

On Saturdays Brickyard Farms participates in the Fulton Street Farmers Market, the oldest and largest market in Grand Rapids and it’s the host of loyal customers whose enthusiasm, support, and interest in eating healthy vegetables provides the “biggest payback,” for the hard work they do, said Sanwald.

Val Lane and Kim Sanwald with dog, Bleu
Sanwald and Lane’s daily routine begins at 8 a.m. with coffee and a walk around the fields to check on the plants.  They are accompanied by their two dogs, Bleu and Ella.  By 10:30 they are out planting, cultivating and/or harvesting vegetables up to six hours or only four hours if the summer heat is too exhaustive.  They cook and eat their evening meal together, which consists of homegrown vegetables throughout the year thanks to the graces of their hoop house.  Then, they settle down to an evening of relaxing or reading with their nine cats in a beautiful custom-made house that Lane built.  During this quiet time Sanwald also manages to write her blog as well as essays and reflections on farm activities.

“We have a list a mile long of things that need to be done,” said Sanwald, 57, “ but I don’t want to kill myself doing them.”

The couple also has two farm hands who assist with various chores on this self-sustaining farm that includes chickens, ducks, a goose and a soap-making operation.  They also rely on family, friends and neighbors who barter their skills and services in getting many things done. 

“This works beautifully in rural settings where there is less of everything:  less money, less employment, less affluence in general,” she said in her book.  “It preserves a feeling of self-respect in a community and the feeling of there being enough for each of us.”

Sanwald’s self-published book took two years to write and six more months to prepare for publication.  It came about because she found herself giving out hundreds of recipes to customers at the market.  Lane suggested she put them all together in a cookbook, however, Sanwald was anxious to write about her new life as a truck farmer and what it meant to her.

Kim writes frequently on her blog as she prepares another book on farming
“The book is a validation of who we are and who I am,” she said.  “I love to write and cook.  It’s my creative outlet and this book stretched me and my learning process.  By combining both of these things, I am able to help others as well.”

She has plans to write a second book that encourages people to grow their own gardens.

One impetus for the book actually came from a teenage memory.  Sanwald had just received a vanity set that made her feel beautiful and “classy.”  However, her mother reacted harshly to her by saying:  “who do you think you are?” It was a hurtful question that Sanwald carried with her throughout adulthood. 

As she composed Basics with a Twist, Sanwald found that the answer to her mother’s question was “yes, who do I think I am becoming!” 

Her journey involved an 18-year marriage, divorce and years of depression and therapy.  It ended up with Sanwald coming out, realizing her need for a more authentic life and eventually partnering with Lane.

But the farm has impacted her life tremendously.  Being close to the land and close to her source of food has awakened something in her that continues to unfold.

One day as she was harvesting kale she suddenly broke down in tears realizing that she was connecting with the earth in a deeply spiritual way.  She found she genuinely enjoyed growing things. 

“I’m home,” she said.  “I felt like I had arrived.”

Sanwald first started working on the farm in 2007 when she and a group of friends came to Lane’s aid after her partner, Cate Burke, had died unexpectedly from a blood clot at age 46.  Lane had purchased the farm in 2001 after leaving a career as a building and remodeling contractor for Womyn’s Touch. 

Sanwald has always loved food and she usually purchased healthy food from the grocery store in the city.  Working at Brickyard Farms, however, has changed her whole relationship with food and it has enhanced her life physically:  she shed 30 pounds and two dress sizes.

“I feel better,” she said, “and the better I feel, the more I want to do [this work].”

Basics with a Twist is available for purchase at the Brickyard Farms website, Schuler Books, Kazoo Books, and Amazon.

Sanwald will give a book talk at Kazoo Books (2413 Parkview, west of Oakland Drive) on Wednesday, June 22 at 7:00 p.m. 

For more information about the book, see the website:

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