Rising from the ashes

MARQUETTE – Walking onto Seeds & Spores Family Farm in Chocolay Township, the clean smell of Earth quickly mixes with the pungent odor of melted plastic, burnt metal and scorched wood.

But workers on the farm seem not to notice. Instead, they quietly go about their chores, washing recently harvested food, the charred remains of a Monday fire that raged through the farm’s center of operations still smoldering behind them.

“We’re all just focused on picking up the pieces and keeping on going,” said Jeff Hatfield, who co-owns the farm with Jeff Chiodi and their families. “The next day, the same day of the fire, there’s still produce that is ready to be picked and many people ready to eat it.”

The early hours of Monday morning changed everything for Seeds & Spores.

Hatfield said he was awoken by a phone call from a neighbor, letting him know the farm’s decades-old barn was burning to the ground, a blaze the families were helpless to stop.

The barn contained the heartbeat of the farm – its wash and pack stations, a walk-in cooler and freezer, the egg processing area, a milking parlor, the farm’s office and shop, its mineral and fertilizer warehouse, seed storage, everything and anything needed to keep the farm running.

“At the time (of the fire), I was not freaking out and in shock at all. I was willing to just stand there and deal with it,” Hatfield said, adding that problems happen every day in farm life. “Things happen. One year, the wind was blowing so hard two greenhouses flipped completely back and over on themselves, and we were standing here when it happened. So, stuff has happened. It’s just kind of like that – ‘Well, here’s something we’re going to have to fix tomorrow.’ “

Hatfield is guessing about $300,000 to $400,000 worth of equipment and product was lost Monday, and he doesn’t expect the farm to return to normal operations for at least two years.

But the Hatfields and Chiodis are not alone in this.

The same day of the fire, a crowd-funding site on www.youcaring.com had been set up, gathering more than $5,000 in just one day.

As of Saturday evening, that total had topped $11,500.

Other farmers in the area immediately converged on Seeds & Spores, bringing with them any supplies they thought might be useful sinks, cordless drills, egg cartons, soil.

They also helped harvest the food needed to fill Seeds & Spores’ Community Supported Agriculture orders, sending 130 boxes of food out into the community just two days after the devastating fire.

The farm was also able to fill its order at the Marquette Food Co-op just one day later.

A donation jar was set up at Saturday’s Downtown Marquette Farmers and Artists Market, as well.

Beth Millner, a friend of the farmers and owner of Marquette’s Beth Millner Jewelry, took over the farm’s online presence, helping spread the word about the fire’s devastating effects.

Randy Buchler, owner of Shady Grove Farm U.P. LLC in Gwinn and others helped the Seeds & Spores family set up a 20-foot by 40-foot tent Monday, which was serving as the farm’s temporary center of operations until recently.

“The fields are still loaded with food and it still needs to be harvested and it still needs to be put into the community. People are pulling together and making sure all of that is able to happen,” Buchler said. “The Marquette area has one of the strongest communities I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and it’s situations like this … that make us all realize how strong it really is.”

For many of the smaller farms in the area, Seeds & Spores is a shining example of how to be a sustainable farm.

“Seeds and Spores is the pillar of our local food system and we need them,” Buchler said.

DJ Finwall, steward of Dancing Crane Farms, said the lifestyle that is farming does not stop because of “something tragic like a barn burning down.”

“The community is heavily reliant on (Seeds & Spores) to produce food,” Finwall said. “It’s pretty amazing how far-reaching that the Seeds & Spores community really is. I think there’s going to be people from all over the state, out of state even, helping out.”

It’s not just the farmers helping, either. Others who feel a connection to the farm because of the food it provides are hoping to pitch in as well.

A Tuesday benefit at the Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette has been organized by a number of people, including local musician Kerry Yost, whose only connection to the farm is through its food.

“I don’t know that I’ve even ever met (the owners) … I just eat their produce all the time and am obsessed with their breakfast sausage,” Yost said.

The Barn Raiser Benefit and Silent Auction, running from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., will take donations at the door and offer patrons a full line-up of live music.

Yost said the idea to hold the benefit came up quickly and was soon spiraling into something much bigger, carried away by its own momentum.

“It’s turned into this beautiful beast of a benefit that’s just building upon itself,” Yost said.

“I’ve never lost anything in a fire, I’ve never had a loss as great as what they’re experiencing. I can only imagine that it would feel very great to see people out from the community, caring about something that has happened and showing support. That can sometimes be as important as recouping monetary losses.”

Still others have signed up online at www.mealtrain.com, choosing a day to take a meal out to the families.

Hatfield said the Seeds & Spores family is incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support from those in the community they’ve helped feed for so many years.

“That’s the only part that makes me emotional about it is the people’s response and not the fire and the stuff,” Hatfield said. “That’s just like a bad flat tire. You get out and you change it and you get in and keep going. But these people’s outpouring of community support is really humbling and just makes you realize what’s really important.”

For more information on how to help, visit www.seedsandspores.com, and click on “Fire Relief and Donations.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net.