If you're interested in experiencing the back-to-nature movement and think the mother ship in Amery is too far to go, Chickadee Hills Homestead is just north of Spooner, and Sherry Sutton is not only deeply into the movement, she also loves to share it with everyone interested.
You can blame her grandparents for her love of the land. Even though she and husband Matt Zanadro lived in Wascott for seventeen years, it was during her childhood in mid-state Illinois that her depression era grandparents instilled in her the beauty of living in harmony with nature.
Grandma and grandpa didn't waste a thing. They recycled long before it was fashionable. They also foraged, raised ginseng, and mushrooms and had over one hundred free range chickens. They left their imprint on Sherry and had a large part of the person she is today.
You would never have thought the back to the land movement would be the path she would ultimately follow. She spent sixteen years in the Air Force and Air National Guard as an aircraft mechanic and then moving into an in-flight refueler.
Matt began his career in real estate and then moved into financial planning, now has three offices, one in Superior, one in Trego and one in Amery. His office in Amery is less than a block away from the Farm Table restaurant, so he understands what locally grown, sourced and cooked means.
Sherry and Matt lived the enviable “Up North” life for seventeen years in Wascott with lakefront property and room for a beginner's farmstead, two and a half acres. She had a bit of this and a bit of that' three pigs and Guinea hens, but in 1997, while they were visiting the area and staying in the Shell Lake Campground, Matt found a job in real estate without looking for it, and they started their country drives looking for property.
While on east County road A, they happened to turn on eighth street and found a tiny FOR SALE sign posted on a fence. It was eighty acres with a pond that was initially used as a pasture for dairy cows. It was love at first sight.
By the time they moved onto the property, they had built a beautiful three-story home, a barn, insulated farrowing buildings that were heated and had water and electricity, and they had put up acres and acres of fencing.
They came to the property with one primary goal; to create healthy soil in order to live a healthy life. That meant no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on anything. They would let the animals they raised supply what they needed for both their fertilizers and pesticides.
Sherry is an in-depth researcher and did the math that probably few before her had ever done when it came to researching manure. She quired information to see what components were in the chicken manure and what those components would supply nutritionally to the soil.
The results were eye-opening; it would take only seventy-one chickens to produce enough manure to fertilize one acre of corn. That's not terribly impressive until you think of it in dollars and cents. Seventy-one chickens provide enough potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous that, if purchased retail, would cost $1,130 and not only do the chickens do it for nothing, it's one hundred percent organic. They also serve as the world's most efficient bug catchers while laying lots of eggs. Sherry has one hundred and thirty chickens.
She sells the eggs along with some of the pullets, and the roosters.
Her eighty Guinea hens act as a gang of watch-dogs while going farther afield than the chickens do to eat bugs, especially ticks. The birds roost together in a coop with a ten-foot ceiling; the higher roosts for the Guineas who like height.
Sherry had ten ducks which she uses as meat and sells the eggs, or if there are more eggs than customers, feeds the eggs to the pigs.
That would be one hundred pigs, more or less, that she sells to the Pine Brook Restaurant for their famous pork chops and the Farm Table in Amery along with other professional outlets. When the pigs are inside their sty, Sherry collects the manure into a pile nearby. This pile contains the ultra fertile soil in which they plant their pumpkin seeds, which grow to enormous sizes. When the pumpkins are ripe, they're harvested, piled nearby and used as winter feed for the pigs making it a complete circle. Pigs, manure, pumpkins, pigs. By growing the pumpkins nearby the pigs, the pumpkins don't have to be transported very far for storage.
Because she's a spinner of wool, she is raising five Alpaca for their fiber. Eight goats and their milk will be the basis of their caramel making and trips to forage garner apples, hazelnuts, acorns and mulberries to be used as animal feed. Grandma would be proud.
If this isn't investment enough, Sherry is a first-class networker and has a summer loaded with cooking classes, how to cut up a hog class, a chef's class, a two-day seminar on bread baking and several community dinners later in the fall when the crops at their most abundant.
This year she will even have a class on one of the newest trends, charcuterie (shar-cout-a-ree) This is the art of preparing meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, pate's and confit, which is a mid-evil French dish, primarily from pork, all of which are salt-cured and brined.
The beauty of this new back-to-the-earth movement is that, unlike the movement in the sixties, this is not done on a singular basis. This one relies on networking. The kind of networking that's been going on since creation maybe even with Cain and Able; one supplied the meat, the other the vegetables.
Sherry finds contacts through the North House Folk School in Grand Marias for people who teach many of the old crafts like building and using wood-fired ovens and making mukluks from leather. She contacts them, makes a connection and opens her home or generous porch as a classroom so they can teach their ancient crafts to anyone who wants to learn.
She will have professional chefs come to teach the many classes this summer, and between she and her hired hand, Tim Kern, they will continue to look for ways to live in harmony with nature.
One of the ways they've already found begins with the three horses. These guys were initially purchased just to provide pleasure. Then Sherry discovered a guy who has made a hand press that takes horse manure and presses it into dung bricks. After more research, Sherry's found these have an extremely high BTU and no smell when used in the wood stove.
Sherry boils the bones of whatever they had for a meal, which creates a nutritionally valuable liquid for soups After the broth has been made, she drys the bones and pulverizes them, creating bonemeal for the garden.
Everything is a full circle at the Chickadee Hills Homestead.
Sherry is in the seed-saving program from the Farm Table initiative and will be raising crops specifically for their seeds. These seeds will be harvested, dried, labeled and sent to Amery to join hundreds of the other seeds in the program.
What so many people are doing now across the United States when it comes to farming isn't new. But it's new again now that we've depleted the soils while poisoning them too.
This new generation is changing the way things used to be and going back to eating 'clean' foods which are also organic and sustainable. They are leading the way with innovative ideas that result in healthy eating that does not come from the mass production of GMO laden products.
Farmer's Markets are growing along with the sale of organic produce in the grocery stores.
Sherry says this lifestyle is “more wonderful than she could ever have imagined.”
More people every day are starting to agree.
The Chickadee Hill Homestead is open to the public for tours and dinners and classes. You can contact Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can give her a call at 715-816-4103 to see what's cooking.