Where Does the Gene to Grow Come From?

50th wedding celebration Donald and Mildred Maile jpeg

My grandparents and their five children. My mother is on the far left.

My great grandparents and grandparents, Donald and Mildred Maile farmed fulltime on the Prairie Rhonde (the former prairie) in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Their farm was called Mill Brook Farm.  They raised milk cows, sheep, chickens and crops as well as their five children there. While no one in my family seems to remember how many acres they owned or how many acres they farmed, my mother and her four siblings all grew up on that property.

It seems so sad to me that no one in this third generation of farmers wanted to continue the legacy and that they could not wait to get off the farm and move into the city but that was the way it was then. My grandparents retired, sold the farm home and had a big auction and moved into nearby town of Schoolcraft to a small home on Duncan Ave. the farm left our family at that time.

As it so often does the desire to farm slipped a generation and my cousin Tomee Maile and I inherited the gene to grow in our family. While our parents could not wait to get off the farm we dreamed instead of moving back to the land and growing our own food and keeping animals.

This is how the Small House Homestead began.


The Small House Homestead in the autumn.

When we move from our small city home to our current country property in the fall of 2000, I knew I wanted to grow our own food, keep chickens, have large dogs and spend as much time outdoors in the soil as I could. I didn’t know to call it homesteading then, I just knew what my soul yearned for.  It took the breakdown of a 27 year marriage and an eventual divorce to make me question my life and figure out what I wanted to do with what time I had remaining on this earth.

Our Courtship 1995-1996

Our courtship years.

While many homesteaders begin while they are young and full of energy, Gene and I waited until we were older. We had both had previous marriages, raised our families and had un-fulfilling corporate careers to make this retirement dream come true. We were ages 50 and 55, not your ideal age to start a homestead by the way!

We own a 5-acre corner lot of former oak savannah forest with lean sandy soil that nestles up against a hardwood forest near the 50,000 Allegan State Game Area. The game area and surrounding forested lands are a showcase for Oak Pine Barrens (also called oak pine savanna,) a unique community of plants, animals adapted to life on the dry, sandy soils of this area.  The land around us also features lowland hardwoods, oak pine forests, wetlands, ponds and open fields.


The lupine meadow in the Allegan State Game Area.

This land is a central focus for our life here as well as a place where we hunt, fish, hike, kayak, explore, photograph, bird watch and generally enjoy the beautiful wilderness areas we find here.


Gene and our furry kids, Sassy on the left and my Spirit on the right.

Not only is our county, Allegan County, the largest agricultural county in the state of Michigan, with 1,833 sq. miles of land this geographic area is a hotbed of Permaculture, gardening, yoga and outdoor enthusiasts with a holistic viewpoint  – as well as the more traditional farms, farmers and farmlands.

Yes, we do live an hour’s drive from the biggest nearby city with a modern hospital, feed store or mall. But the woods and the feed store and its offerings interests me much more than a mall any day! This is a great place to live in retirement with as much “entertainment” in retirement as the time we have to spend in it.

Where I once worked in the city in business, wore a business suit, nylons and heels every day that way of life was so unsatisfying to me. It was a scratching out a climbing the ladder of success way of life of status and money that just did not interest me all that much.  It was fast paced, stressful and demanding way of life that not only did not interest me for the long-run, it made me sick.

Donna High School Senior portrait

Myself at a much younger age.

I had been asking myself what was the purpose of life and of work. Was it simply a means of making a profit and accumulating wealth? What about happiness and right-livelihood and working to build community and nurturing the land? Were these not important values to me and how was I going to go about making them part of my life?

I also began to question how the land was being treated by those taking out all they could get vs. care-taking the land as stewards so that future generations could also receive the blessing of the good land.

As I processed all of this I realized that there were many answers I did not know but I trusted that they would come as I worked. I did not have all the answers but I knew without a doubt was that I wanted to engage in organic growing practices to improve our own health, the health of our grandchildren and the health of those whom we came into contact with.

That was enough to begin.

Small House Homesteaders, Donna