Thursday, March 14, 2013

One-of-a-kind jams, foraged foods keep elder fires burning

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
March 14, 2013

Heather Colburn (Photo by Erik Holladay,

Elder Fire Farm Arts is a small, grass roots operation that says its revolutionizing the food system--through jam. Zinta Aistars talks to Heather Colburn about jams, kimchee and preserving the harvest as long as one can.

Wind your way over ever smaller and smaller roads, from asphalt onto dirt, passing herds of black and white spotted cattle, then a small barn, its boards weathered and gray, showing slices of sunlight between, then still a little farther, a little farther still, bumping along a long two-track driveway, grasses brushing the undercarriage of your car. 
There. A house. Two stories built in sections around what was once a one-room cabin. Woods to one side, sloping land to the other, the garden awaiting spring thaw, and the chickens by the coop pecking the earth between clumps of stubborn snow. 
This is Elder Fire Farm Arts on 10400 South Gurd Road in Barry County. To Heather Colburn and her three children, this is home. 
Inside, the kitchen is fragrant with fresh baked bread. Colburn is lining up jars of jam next to the bread, cut into thick slices on a wooden board. Each jar is different, although all have the wood-cut label of Elder Fire Farm Arts. Atop each jar, handwritten, are the mystical names of the jams inside: Vanilla Ambrosia, Maiden's Voyage, Sunset Spread, Heart of Summer, Elders' Orchard Jelly, Tropical Melon Moon. Shelves in the kitchen are lined with more and more, and also chutneys and marmalades. 
Bite in. See if you can do so without humming mmmm. 
"We focus on organic and sustainable farming," says Colburn, pulling up a chair. "Although we aren't yet certified." That takes a lot of time, paperwork, and funds, Colburn says, but it's a goal. All the farming practices at Elder Fire Farm Arts, she says, qualify as organic, and the members of her CSA (community supported agriculture) who purchase shares know and trust in that. 
In the warm months of gardening, the farm is sustained by the CSA shares, but in cooler months, the jars of jam, of chutneys and marmalades, along with jars of fermented kimchee, kraut, pickled turnips and various other vegetables keep the family fed and the market shelves full. 
"We're a family farm dedicated to reclaiming the farmsteading arts and keeping the fires of our elders burning by engaging in skill sharing, minimizing our reliance on industrial systems and distribution, and living well," says Colburn. 
The jams, she says, are a kind of food activism. Colburn's "revolution" happens by rescuing food that might otherwise be thrown out or wasted. That is, she gathers what is left unsold at the farmers market, what is left behind in the garden, and what grows in the surrounding woods that can be foraged.
"It may not sound appetizing," Colburn says, "but I am capturing waste. I am trying to ..."

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