White Yarrow Farm grows organic Japanese vegetables in Marcellus
As I drove up their long driveway, lined with white yarrow, I understood where Dale Hasenick and Jo Beachy had found the name for their farm, a name that also suits Jo’s thriving flower-growing business: White Yarrow Farm.
When I arrived at the top of the driveway, I spotted Dale in waders washing ikokabu (small white Japanese turnips) with a garden hose, and Jo in the barn arranging buckets of huge blue delphiniums and fluffy pink peonies. When I learned that Jo and Dale had created White Yarrow Farm—house, barn, greenhouse and fields—from scratch, I was amazed. Although the well-tended vegetable and flower fields take up five or six acres, the entire property is much larger, made up of woodland, wetlands and pasture, creating a peaceful setting and a natural buffer for their organic-style farming methods.
Discovering Japanese Vegetables
Charter vendors of the Goshen Farmers Market, Dale and Jo had been raising and selling Japanese turnips and daikon radishes—along with potatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuces, broccoli, basil and other farm produce—for several years when they met Kyoko Chapman at their market stand in the fall of 2011. Dale thanked Kyoko for her purchase in Japanese (a language he studied in college), and they struck up a conversation that soon turned to food. Dale showed Kyoko a catalog from Kitazawa, a seed company based in Oakland, California, started in 1917 by a Japanese family, and asked her to circle the vegetable varieties that interested her.
In the spring of 2012, Dale acted on Kyoko’s suggestions and added kyuuri (cucumbers); nasu (eggplant); shungiku (edible chrysanthemums); greens such as komatsuna, mibuna and mizuna; negi (green onion); shiso (perilla) and shishito peppers to his repertoire. According to Dale, the climate in Michigan is not much different from that in Japan, so Japanese vegetables require little adaptation. The greens, turnips and daikon grow better in the spring and fall, with shorter days and less pest pressure, and shishito, eggplant and cucumbers thrive in summer heat. The greens Dale raises are all quite frost hardy.
Chigako Pifer, another Japanese customer, found the Goshen Farmers Market in her quest for organic vegetables. After discovering White Yarrow Farm’s stand there, she now gladly drives an hour each way on Saturday mornings to buy vegetables from Dale.
“With his help growing Japanese vegetables, we can make lots of Japanese dishes we couldn’t do before we met him,” she told me, saying that he frequently asks her if there is something new she’d like him to try growing.
A Very Different Kind of Farming
Before they bought their land in Marcellus, Michigan, in 1995, Dale and Jo were urban gardeners in Chicago for 15 years. But they share a farm background. Dale grew up on a traditional dairy and grain farm in Michigan, now run by his brother and family, and Jo, who was raised in Florida, has fond memories of visiting her Amish grandparents’ farm in Kalona, Iowa. Although the move to Michigan was, in some sense, a return home for Dale—though to a very different kind of farming—Jo became a passionate gardener in Chicago.
Both Jo and Dale have had long-term interests in cross-cultural exchange. Jo has worked as an ESL teacher and Dale spent two months in the Osaka area of Japan during college in 1978. He recalls a vivid memory of passing a large terraced garden in the fog as he walked from a small village to the train station, stair-stepping up the slope with trellised peas and cucumbers in the background. Dale says he often jokes that he would love to be an intern on a Japanese farm.
The dream was rekindled in 2010 when a Calvin College student majoring in Japanese served as an intern at White Yarrow Farm. Dale says, “We would practice speaking (I attempted, he instructed) about the vegetables we were working on. Since then I’ve informally studied the language on my own through Japanese films, NHK language programs and online resources.”
When I asked Dale whether he could grow the delicious bright-orange “Japanese pumpkins” I had found in Germany a few years ago, he handed me a catalog from Kitazawa seeds to take home. In addition to selling produce and flowers at the Goshen Farmers Market, Dale and Jo also sell CSA shares in Kalamazoo, Marcellus and Three Rivers, Michigan, and Jo sells flowers to local florists. They also raise chickens and eggs during the summer and fall.