In late 2019 I became the steward of a piece of farm land acquired by my great grandfather over a century ago...
At that time, and throughout my childhood, it was a part of a larger parcel of about 250 acres, which included adjoining land. The property was eventually inherited by my father, Frank Gruler, and his twin brother, Albert, and in the late 1950s my parents moved here and built their home. My uncle Al and Aunt Helen lived in the farm house next door. In time there were eight children between the two households, four in each, and we all grew up here on “the farm,” as it has always been known in my family. The Gruler kids shared other connections in Petoskey, where our fathers were third generation owners of the family business, Frank Gruler & Sons, a feed and farm supply store (now Gruler’s Pet & Farm Supply - and so there is no confusion, there is no current business affiliation).
The large fields on the farm were leased by a local farmer, Jim Sterly, who grew corn, wheat, and alfalfa in rotation. While my family did not farm commercially, my mother, Mary Gruler, loved her plants, flowers, and ornamental trees. Some of my fondest memories of her are of times spent together in gardens, and it was she who introduced me, at an early age, to the mystery of seeds and plant cuttings. My parents included me and my three siblings in the annual planting of the vegetable garden, which produced fresh peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, and sweet corn during the growing season, and my mother froze or canned the surplus to see us through the long northern Michigan winters.
A new venture was introduced at the farm in the early 1960s, when my father and uncle collaborated on a chicken egg business. A building was constructed, the birds arrived, and “the chicken house” operation was up and running. My mother and Aunt Helen were soon engaged as egg collectors, a task they accepted with characteristic grace and good humor. Along with chickens came a steady procession of family pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, and especially horses, for which my father had a special fondness. For many years my life centered around caring for animals, which helped to keep me focused and grounded during times of hardship and loss. I’ve been pleased to discover, more recently, that caring for wildlife and plants has similar benefits.
My mother nurtured all living things, and every plant or creature that entered her sphere was made better by the experience. She expressed her love by doing for others and sharing whatever she had to give. A nurse by training and instinct, she began by caring for patients in hospitals, then went on to teach others as a college nursing instructor. Later in life she thrived in her new role as innkeeper at her beloved B&B, the Gingerbread House, where she loved to prepare delicious food for her guests and spread joy with her beautiful flowers. I know it would please her to see sprigs of her blossoming branches and stems tucked in with our bouquets and going home in bunches to be enjoyed by our neighbors.
Despite the many years I have lived elsewhere, this farm has always been my home, the place where I feel a deep sense of connection and belonging. It has been a great source of comfort and peace to return here, and to have an opportunity to shape the future of this place. It is a privilege to be responsible for land where my loved ones have lived, worked, and dreamed over the course of their lifetimes. Caring for this property is my way of honoring my family's story, respecting the land, and preserving it for future generations. Working with this intention adds depth and meaning to each day.
Sharing this home with my husband, Michael, has enriched the experience of living here again. It has been my good fortune that he is often enthusiastic about the very tasks that I find overwhelming, and is willing and able to work through an endless “to do” list with seemingly effortless efficiency. He has transformed previously neglected corners of the property by creating access trails, reviving old apple trees, and building habitat for birds and other wildlife, in addition to countless other projects. I benefit daily from his ideas and recommendations, and as a result we have accomplished more in a short time than I would have thought possible. Together we resurrected the abandoned vegetable garden, now our cut flower garden, and excavated the former chicken house site, where three new bright red sheds now stand. We have many more plans in the works for 2021 and beyond.
In this time of uncertainty and loss, we’ve given a great deal of thought to choosing a path forward. Like many others, our work has been redefined as a result of the pandemic. Some doors have closed, but others have opened to new opportunities, including a new chapter here at the farm. We invite you to join us on this journey and hope to see you in the days ahead.
Monica Gruler Farrier