Experiencing Northern Michigan: Teaching Peace Poetry on Earthwork Farm at the Skill Swap in Lake City
It’s nearly summer in Northern Michigan! Have you celebrated early yet? I got to enjoy a whole Saturday outside on Earthwork Farm in Lake City earlier this month. It was—to put it simply—divine. Add the awesome live music, fresh food, dancing in a barn, camping, more than twenty hands-on workshops (at which you can learn about various topics: Earth, Art, Tinkering, and Real Home Ec.), plus a farm full of people eager to learn something new, and you’ve got yourself the Skill Swap, an annual event made possible thanks to Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology, Earthwork Music, the Human Nature School, and Title Track.
The best part about these unique, hands-on workshops is that they’re taught by the community for the community. It’s empowering how so many people with diverse skill sets are able to find each other and come together toward common goals in such a grassroots way. To feel a genuine sense of community in Northern Michigan is something I’m so grateful to experience here. Last year I attended the Skill Swap for the first time, wrote about it, shared all my photos, and embedded a handful of videos from the memorable event, which has been called an “intimate and invaluable experience.”
On Saturday, June 1, people traveled from near and far to the farm for this favorite annual start-of-the-summer event, where it’s easy to meet new friends, connect with old ones, eat what might be the best food you’ll have all year, and experience the healing power of music in a beautifully rural setting. Tickets for the day of Skill Swap sessions were $75 for early birds who registered online and $100 for on-site registration ($30 for youth ages 12 to 17). This family-friendly all-day event (sessions go from 9am-6pm with lunch in-between) is so much fun—rain or shine—because you get to spend the whole day outside, under a tent, or in a barn, which (particularly for those of us who don’t regularly reside on a farm) is a treat.
Northern Michigan musician Seth Bernard led a “Songwriting for Social Change” workshop, and I was excited to be part of it for the second consecutive year. I’d been listening to one of Seth’s albums, Eggtones for Peace, cranked up on my car stereo driving to Lake City. The music rings true, and his lyrics really resonate with the vibe of the times these days. What’s incredible about Seth’s songwriting class is that it’s totally collaborative, so everyone has a hand in writing a song, which the class then gets to perform together at the end of the night. For starters, each of us contributed a little lyric, a line of poetry. The words “the sun on my hands” came to my mind, then Crosshatch co-founder/co-director Brad Kik offered up “the rain on my face,” and those two lines became a cohesive unit in the song’s structure as our volunteer scribe jotted down all our ideas, which we then reordered and reorganized to create a flow and the melody.
At the beginning of the workshop, Seth asked each of us to introduce ourselves and share with the group the name of a song we love that inspires us to be better people. Everyone shared a different song title, and I picked “California” by Joni Mitchell—listening to it makes me want to be a better human, writer, and artist overall. I have a feeling that each of us has experienced this truth: A song has the power to change the way people feel, which has the power to change the world. “Music has always been a part of movements to make the world a better place,” Seth told the four in a recent interview. A great song has the power to bring people together, and that might be just what our world needs right about now.
For my second workshop of the morning, I took a class called Visible Mending, led by sewing and mending extraordinaire Tina Bury. Tina is an excellent teacher, and she encouraged each of us to embrace the “wabi-sabi” Japenese aesthetic, to accept the imperfections in nature, the transience of life, and the beauty of it all. I love this so much! Within an hour or so, I had lovingly sewn a little wallet-sized pouch out of fabric scraps, weaving in all the wabi-sabi vibes. I’m pretty proud of the final product! It’s not much, but I’m into it, imperfections and all.
A phenomenal lunch—made up entirely of organic veggies and flavorful spices—was served up fresh by chef Loghan Call of Planted Cuisine. It’s not every day that I photograph food, but when I do, the food must be good—and this was good food! After lunch, I got to learn all about making your own hard cider in a workshop led by Keith Kintigh and Jason Stephens. It’s surprisingly way simpler than I thought it’d be! It’s funny how, when you take a chance to try new things, sometimes you come to discover it’s easier than you’d made it out to be in your head. So if you want to learn how to make hard cider, research it, reach out to Keith or Jason, and just get started!
As that class ended, I gathered all my materials to teach the new Peace Poetry workshop, one of the final sessions of the day, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. My invented theme for Peace Poetry: “Come unprepared, open for spiritual exploration.” After a quarter-century penning poems, I’ve found this is a promising, adventurous way to write from a place of presence, authentic creativity, and inner peace. I brought with me a stack of poetry books I love, books that inspire me, so I laid them all out on the table in the artists’ back room of the barn, where I led the Peace Poetry workshop for ten students. Everyone had their own style, unique background, and raw creative genius to share. It was such a gift to experience new words written in ink on paper and listen to each poet’s heartfelt works of art.
There were more than twenty classes offered at this year’s Skill Swap, including DIY beeswax food wraps, functional knot tying, tea foraging, therapeutic art journaling, knife skills, chainsaw operation, garden irrigation, wayfinding, DIY home bitters and elixirs, firemaking, and tanning deerskin, among other unique skill-building workshops. New this year were “circle sessions” for knitting as well as for learning about non-violent communication, eco-psychology, and tea ceremony. I’m so happy I pitched the Peace Poetry workshop idea (after I had such a positive, perspective-shifting experience at last year’s Skill Swap) and grateful that I was invited to make it a reality. I loved spending the day on Earthwork Farm learning from all other artists, makers, tinkerers, and groovy folks with skills to share with us here in Northern Michigan.
Following the full day of workshops, Planted Cuisine also provided a locally procured, vegetarian phở bar dinner on the farm. Every bite was delicious, and even better was the company. Sitting in one another’s presence, talking, sharing, and learning from each other while enjoying such healthy meals together is an experience worth noting, because it’s truly a special, communal, sometimes even rare opportunity to connect. Like: when it started raining—okay, pouring—we were all just happy to be sitting together snugly, safely under the tent.
The evening concluded with an energizing contra dance hour followed by a full concert in the barn, featuring music from Samuel Nalangira and the evening’s headliner, Mady Kouyate. Learn more about Earthwork Music and all the talented artists their collective supports, including music by Seth Bernard, and be sure to check out my Experiencing Northern Michigan column from last year’s Skill Swap event to see what this fun day outdoors has been like in the past! Also be on the lookout this fall for Northern Michigan’s iconic outdoor music festival, Earthwork Harvest Gathering, coming up September 20-22 back on the farm in Lake City. See you there!