Guilds and the Power of People

Written by Jen Schaap, Food & Farms Programs Coordinator

I love this food and farming community. Who knew that the ground work that Yvonne Stephens laid six years ago, organizing mushroom-growing and beekeeping workshops through Crosshatch for handfuls of NW Lower Michigan folks, would fruit into hundreds of people gathering in small groups in their communities around farming topics? What started out as a dozen people wanting to stay in touch after learning about a new practice has turned into 30-50+ like-minded folks showing up in one place on a regular basis to find answers and resolutions to sometimes heart-breaking challenges in what we are calling, just like in the old days, Guilds.

Some of these guilds meet-up monthly, with agendas and focused topics of discussion around things like raising northern queens to survive through our hard winters. Other guilds meet with drop spindles and knitting needles at a pub for monthly craft-focused happy hour. Guild meet-ups can even take place on a field trip, like a recent trip to a downstate flour mill to investigate how grain guild-members can grow, process, and market local flour here in our communities up north.

Guilds don’t just talk the talk, though, they walk the walk, too. Kicking off at the end of this month is the third season of Twilight Tours, which originated out of the Small Farm Guild. These tours are for and by farmers to learn from one another and share ideas on the ground. I’m particularly excited about the Workshop/Twilight Tour combo on solar and geothermal energy at Coveyou Scenic Farm, a partnership with Grow Benzie, a sister org we love. Coveyou Scenic Farm was one of the first tours we ever did, and now we’re going back to dive deeper into energy.

And the Petoskey Beekeepers Guild—a guild that squeezed over 50 people into a college classroom this past winter—is partially responsible for bringing almost 2 million bees into the Emmet County area just this spring, which, by late summer will more than double in number! And the good folks in the Fiber Guild are working to plan a Fiber Fair in May of 2017 to bring back a full-loop textile system in northern Michigan. Power to the people!  

The guilds keep evolving, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. I envision a day when we have, what Ontario’s farmer group calls, Mega Days: collective work-bees where farmers travel to different farms over the course of a season and knock out big projects together. Engaged, interested and capable collaborations like this often get more farm projects done than expected. Plus, skills are shared and mutual support goes a long way for mental stamina in an already hard profession. Just ask a guild-member.

The lesson I take from all this is to start where you are. Engage with those around you. Talk through challenges and successes. At the end of the day, guilds are simply people working together, and the more people that get involved the better we’ll be — look at how far we’ve come in 6 short years since the guilds were first getting together. What’s in store for the next 6 years? Join a guild and see.