Experiencing Northern Michigan: Creating Culture at the Crosshatch Skill Swap on Earthwork Farm in Lake City
To start this summer off right learning new skills and meeting new people, I attended the Skill Swap hosted by Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology—a Bellaire-based non-profit that provides unique programming all around Northern Michigan and is dedicated to building “strong communities through the intersections of art, farming, ecology, and economy”—on Saturday, June 2, in collaboration with the Human Nature School and Earthwork Farm, where the full-day event took place from noon to 6pm on the beautiful farm property there in Lake City.
Hundreds met at the farm to experience 20 one-of-a-kind workshops taught by the community for the community. From across Northern Michigan and beyond, artists, makers, tinkerers, and activists for the Earth, social justice, and sustainability gathered together for a celebration of community, learning, and live music. An “intimate and invaluable experience” lit with inspiration, kind people of all ages, and hands-on education about practical survival and self-reliance, this celebration of community togetherness and resilience motivated me to consider my presence in the world as a driving force for positive change.
Skills shared and swapped at this year’s Skill Swap covered five important categories: Art, Earth, Real Home Ec, Tinkering, and Human Nature School. “Culture isn’t just something we consume,” Northern Michigan musician and Earthwork Music founder Seth Bernard told the group part of his “Songwriting for Social Change” workshop at last weekend’s Skill Swap on Earthwork Farm in Lake City. “We create it.” Seth has a knack for creating culture through his art and community activism. He recently launched the Clean Water Campaign for Michigan, “a diverse social movement empowering advocacy for lasting change through storytelling and music.”
The 181-acre Earthwork Farm—a place for creation, growth, healing, and togetherness—has been owned by Seth’s father, Bob Bernard, since 1977. It’s a “thriving center for hands-on experiential education in agriculture, the arts, and a variety of artisan crafts and trades,” where the community can gather to network, learn and make together. Earthwork Farm hosts field trips for public school kids (thousands of students have visited the farm!) as well as “workshops, festivals, retreats, and camps for the public,” cultivating “a treasured nurturing environment, with great respect and reverence for the natural world.”
I started my experience on the farm with art at the “Harmony Singing” workshop in The Barn on Earthwork Farm. Students in this beginner-friendly class, taught by Traverse City native Sam Cooper, built up their “harmony muscle memory” with guided breathing exercises, interval listening, pro tips, and pitch matching games. After everyone had a chance to give each part of the three-part harmony a try, Sam led the group of singers toward a “full-throated deep harmony finale” to close the workshop. It culminated in a moment resonating throughout the barn where everyone harmonized in unison. It’s miraculous how transformative something as simple as singing aloud and harmonizing with others can be.
More art workshops offered throughout the afternoon included a screen printing class taught by Will Thomas, who covered DIY screen printing concepts and techniques for both fabric and paper. Through the medium of screen printing, you can make your artwork, album packaging, T-shirts, totes, zines, and more! Jasmine Lace also led a mini-tapestry weaving workshop in which students learned the foundational teachings of basic weaving and were able to weave a small tapestry or coaster on a mini-loom in the class, which also covered different types of yarn and fiber for weaving. The best part: everyone got to take home their finished projects!
The Skill Swap’s Earth-related classes included a “Bitters and Elixirs” workshop taught by Angie Jackson, the “elixir fixer and brand ambassador” for Grand Traverse Distillery, a micro-distillery in Traverse City. In this workshop, Angie introduced Skill Swap guests to the wild-crafted herbs used to create bitters and showed everyone who attended how to convert those bitters from plants to liquids. Angie’s workshop also included an overview of the history behind distilling powerful elixirs, and every guest got to take home a pocket-sized botanical kit for crafting their own bitters as home. What’s incredible about Grand Traverse Distillery is that they revel in crafting a truly made in Michigan product—meaning “local grains, milling, mashing, fermenting, and distilling, all in-house”—to expertly create “grain to bottle Michigan-made spirits” and award-winning elixirs” since 2007.
Other Earth workshops at this year’s Skill Swap featured a class on seed saving taught by Brenin Wertz-Roth as well as an herbal first aid workshop taught by herbalist and creator of Bear Earth Herbals, Sierra Bigham—where students learned how medicinal plants growing outside can be used to address first aid situations like bee stings, sprains, bleeding, infections, and more—and a plant walk Sierra led, through which participants practiced identifying and utilizing edible and medicinal wild plants and trees found in the Northern Michigan region.
Tina Bury taught a “Hand-Sewn T-shirts” class as part of the Skill Swap’s “Real Home Ec” workshops. Through her business Kinship Handwork, Tina knows how to sew her own clothes by hand—a practice she finds to be both “meditative and hugely empowering.” Skill Swap students got to learn Tina’s techniques and leave with their own custom-designed organic cotton t-shirt! In another “Real Home Ec” class, taught by Pepper Bromelmeier, students learned about the seasoned preservation technique of fermentation as a way to “amp up the nutrition and digestibility of our foods” and were given “master recipes for fermenting” and tips to try their own styles of fermentation at home.
Other “Real Home Ec” workshops at this year’s Skill Swap included a home dairy workshop led by Jen Lewis—where participants were instructed on how to make soft cheeses, yogurt, kefir, and other cultured milks, creams, butters, and even ice cream—and a “Homebrew Kombucha” class, taught by Courtney Lorenz of Traverse City’s Cultured Ferments Co., in which students learned how to brew kombucha at home and nourish themselves with nutritious probiotic recipes dating back thousands of years.
Workshops for tinkerers included Nick Carlson’s tool sharpening class, Soul Springs Permaculture Farm‘s workshop on Hugelkultur Construction, and a “Tool Petting Zoo”—led by woodworker, builder, and carver Tim Pierce of Hornbeam Craft—at which students learned about tool safety, selection, and technique. A class on “Body Tinkering: Reflexology” taught by Pam Luce focused on how “reflexology can bring stress relief, relaxation, and improved circulation of oxygen, blood, and energy” to those who practice it. The only tools you need to try reflexology are your hands and your heart, and it can be “combined with other healing and health modalities for synergistic benefits.”
The Human Nature School also taught classes during the Skill Swap, including “Natural Fibers: Working with Basswood, Nettle, and Cedar,” in which students learned how to spot and harvest their own natural fibers from plants and trees, practicing “the highly versatile and centuries-old reverse wrap cordage technique.” Students even got to make their own rope and necklace to take home! The school also led workshops on how to make your own chap-sticks and salves, uses for tree bark (from making rope and baskets to medicine and food), and “The Many Ways to Make Fire,” teaching all ages both ancient and modern ways as well as what plants and trees will aid you in fire-making.
The last workshop I visited at this year’s Skill Swap was “Songwriting for Social Change,” led by Seth Bernard. The process of writing a song—lyrics and music—together with a group of over a dozen men, women, and children is something I never imagined I’d get to experience, especially in the beautiful artists’ corner of The Barn on Earthwork Farm. Writing a song by oneself is quite a process as it is! I was intrigued by the title and description of the workshop, and I wondered what it would be like to share in the process, to be present within an egoless space, open to ideas and change, and open to the poems we tend to keep hidden in our hearts.
We began by taking five brief minutes to write a poem about healing. Seth told the kids in the room to draw something that makes them feel free, then write about it. We each picked our favorite line from the poems we wrote to contribute toward the song, and we noticed common themes of love, nature, and perspective emerge. By the end of the 75-minute class, together our workshop had written almost a finished song, which we titled “Hand-Me-Down Hearts,” and sang in unison as a band (our name: No Ego and The Healers).
A farm-fresh dinner, waltz hour, concert, and camping followed the Skill Swap afternoon of workshops, with live music by Seth Bernard opening for the headliner Vespre, a band based out of Detroit (stream some of Vespre’s music for free on Soundcloud). An educational and celebratory gathering with curious folks from all around Northern Michigan, the Skill Swap supported Crosshatch’s mission to build “strong communities through the intersections of art, farming, ecology, and economy” and created a space for culture, change, and growth to thrive. A long night on the farm concluded with moonlight dancing and late-night music by the bonfire.
Throughout the year all around Northern Michigan, Crosshatch is hosting more culture-creating events, including their evening Artist After Hours write-in with Blackbird Arts at L. Mawby Vineyards on July 19 in Suttons Bay, full-day summer Field School on July 21 at Providence Farm & CSA in Central Lake, where the Artist After Hours veggie sketch on September 3 will also be. Many events are free, though if you need to purchase tickets in advance, you can do so easily online. Tickets for this year’s Skill Swap ranged in price from $35 to $90, depending on if attendees wanted to stay for dinner, an evening concert, and camping overnight on the farm property, or simply attend the afternoon-long Skill Swap for the grooviest day of community learning and activities where art meets Earth.