Garden of Eben doing well the old-fashioned way

EBEN JUNCTION – You probably won’t hear loud motor noise coming from the Benson Road farm of the husband-and-wife team of Dan Rabine and Mary Kramer-Rabine. If you listen hard enough, however, you might pick up the sound of dirt being turned over.

The couple operates Reh-Morr Farm, or the Garden of Eben, as they like to call it. It could be said it does resemble the biblical Garden of Eden as the two grow vegetables of all kinds, keep honeybees and even let the wildflowers grow tall on their 52-acre farm.

Two Percheron draft horses and one draft mule are used for the field work, and hand tools are the mainstay with other farm duties.

“We don’t use any rototillers or lawnmowers or any of that kind of thing, just to have a lower impact on the environment,” Dan said. “We believe it’s a healthier way to farm.”

Mary agrees with that philosophy, the goal being to have a low impact on the environment and to be sustainable.

“So we want to be able to make it without relying on outside resources and grow the healthiest food possible and protect the environment at the same time,” she said.

For instance, they keep fuel and fertilizers off the farm, Dan said, plus they rotate crops so the soil isn’t depleted.

The farm is in its third full season of products being sold on a larger scale. Although the couple doesn’t have hundreds of acres to farm, keep in mind they rely on implements such as the sulky plow, pedal stone grinder and hand scythe.

“It’s really physically not that much more difficult, but it’s more time-consuming, much more time-consuming,” Dan said. “There’s a lot more involved with bringing the horses in, getting them fed, getting them watered, getting them harnessed, and then get them out and get them hitched, whereas with a tractor you just go up, turn the key, jump on and away you go.”

However, they’ve honed farming methods to maintain a healthy farm based on organic principles.

Irrigation and weeding are important, Dan noted, plus they use succession plantings to keep a steady supply of produce throughout the season.

Hoop houses also are maintained on the farm, which extends the growing season.

“It pretty much adds close to four months to the growing season because you can get it planted earlier, and you can take things well into late November or December without any protection,” Dan said.

People can buy Reh-Morr food at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market and the Marquette Food Co-op. Rock River Cafe in Chatham and Paladino’s Cafe, located in the basement of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, also use their produce.

In the meantime, Dan and Mary continue to use their low-maintenance methods and enhance their farm.

“We’re actually working towards being a garlic grower where we’ll be able to supply garlic seed to the farmers in the area,” Mary said. “There isn’t anyone right now that’s doing that.”

That garlic will be organic, she pointed out.

Continuing to grow its seed stock every year, Dan said, will allow them to sell garlic specific to Eben.

“It should thrive and do well in the U.P.,” Mary said.

The couple believes the local food movement is growing, so to speak, but more efforts need to be made, particularly in educating the public.

Mary also acknowledges a lack of connection between kids and local food.

“I really think that so much is being lost,” she said.

One unsettling incident took place last summer at their Marquette farmers market booth when a child inquired about the identity of a vegetable: a common carrot – not a kohlrabi, rutabaga or other more unusual food item.

“Because it had the greens on it,” Mary said. “It was a big, one-piece carrot. It wasn’t one of those little ones that are in the package.”

Still, Mary appreciates the support the community has given the farm.

Then there’s the taste of a fresh vegetable pulled right from the ground.

“The flavor is there,” Mary said. “There’s just no doubt that when you bite into a carrot that it is a carrot.”

Reh-Morr Farm has its share of good-tasting crops, but that didn’t happen by accident. It took a balanced ecosystem with the birds, insects and other wildlife, Dan said.

“You can’t push Mother Nature around,” Dan said. “I mean, big agriculture has been trying that for a long time, and it’s been a failure.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.