Volunteering together

ISHPEMING – The Partridge Creek Farm held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday to celebrate the start of its Ishpeming incubator plot.

About 1,000 volunteer hours went into preparing the incubator site – on the corner of Euclid and First streets – since the farm’s Earth Day groundbreaking April 22.

“This is a culmination of a lot of volunteer hours,” said farm board chairman Dan Perkins. “We’ve had two very solid work weekends with lots of volunteers.”

The nonprofit farm will soon begin growing all organic food at the site, with the wider goals of bringing the community together and educating area residents about nutrition and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

On weekends since the groundbreaking Perkins said about 25 volunteers spent hundreds of hours building a hoop house, hauling in about 120 yards of fertile soil, constructing 20 raised planting beds for the farm and 15 more for a community garden and erecting a fence around the entire 100- by 100-foot plot.

The farm is leasing half of the plot from the Grace Episcopal Church, which Perkins said has already rented out most of the 15 planting beds built for members of the community to grow food. In previous years, church members said it had been hard to get residents to take advantage of the community garden.

But what Perkins said is “by far the shining gem” of the incubator, a prototype greenhouse called “Yoopertopia” – built and designed by Marquette artist and inventor Earl Senchuck – wasn’t ready for the grand opening, due to a problem with the farm’s order for parts of the greenhouse frame.

Perkins expressed disappointment over the delay, but said Yoopertopia would be built by next weekend, and his overall enthusiasm for the greenhouse was undiminished.

“It’s going make history,” he said. It’s an inexpensive, 10-month (growing season) greenhouse.”

The 16- by 20-foot Yoopertopia is designed so that more than one can be added end to end, Perkins said, like solar cells, allowing growers to expand their operations as needed. According to Senchuck’s website, it also features a skintight, sealed canopy that keeps in heat during cold months, with large, screened vents that circulate air in the summertime.

“The idea of Yoopertopia is to … create a whole other agriculture industry,” Perkins said.

The farm’s incubator will also be a “very scientifically controlled experiment,” Perkins said. His daughter, a biology student at Mount Holy Oak College in Massachusetts, and one of her fellow biology colleagues, received $3,000 after writing a grant proposal to spend their summer doing an internship with the farm. The students, with a farm board advisor, will collect a variety of scientific data – which foods grow best where, and next to what other crops (Perkins called it “companion planting”), as well as which of the three growing methods – hoop house, Yoopertopia, and outdoor planting beds – have the most abundant crop yields.

“We’re trying to see what processes work best in our environment, so it’s just a gigantic scientific experiment,” he said.

Perkins was proud of the community’s volunteer efforts, saying that the two biology students are the only people working with the farm who are being paid. He said finally being able to get the farm up and running is awesome.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done – we’ve ever done,” he said. “It bonds me with the community. It’s a bonding event … There’s no financial gain for anybody, it’s just a wonderful community builder here.”

Zach Jay can be reached at (906) 486-4401. His email address is zjay@miningjournal.net.