Tending the Garden at Rentschler Farm

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 05/28/2014 - 19:44

John Bauman stood in the garden with a hoe, tamping down a row of parsnip seeds he had just planted. For the past few years, he and his wife, Kathy have kept the garden at Rentschler Farm Museum productive, attractive and authentic.

John is a retired engineer, having worked with the firms Townsend and Bottum for 30 years and Barton Malow for 10 years. Kathy is both an artist and a master gardener. They have lived in Saline since 1973 and recently celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.

“We just do this as a hobby – and to get a good tan,” said John. “As you age you start doing different things and this has been a joint hobby of ours.”

Photo of the garden courtesy of John Bauman.

It is quite a hobby. Last year they put in over 600 volunteer hours planting, weeding, cultivating, harvesting, and packaging produce.

John’s engineering background influences his hobby. He keeps extensive records of planting times, when the first produce was picked, when the harvest was complete and how much of each garden product was harvested. He also keeps track of where things were planted to be sure that the crops are rotated. Last year they harvested 2,465 pounds of vegetables.

The garden is planted in a way that enhances the museum experience. The Baumans plant seeds that are representative of what would have been planted in a 1930s farm garden. Seed is from by Saline Town & Country Supplies. Recently Kathy decided to include flowers intermixed with the vegetables, adding beauty and authenticity.

The Baumans are not alone in this venture. John stressed that Taylor Jacobsen and Geraldine Peters also contribute many volunteer hours. In addition, there are several helpers who work one day a week during harvest season. More volunteers would be welcome, John said.

The farm chores also include animal husbandry. The farm currently hosts 12 sheep (including lambs) that John cares for and a gaggle of geese that Jacobsen tends. They have had chickens, turkeys and hogs in previous years.

The garden is first and foremost an educational tool.

“We got the second graders coming out for three weeks in a row,” John said. “We let them plant the potatoes and onions. So they get a demonstration of the full facility up here, washing clothes, cutting the grass, seeing the animals, they spend about three hours up here. Three weeks, a different class every day. So we let them do some of the stuff then come back and see the end result later on.”

But the farm also provides food for those in need. All of the produce is donated to Food Gatherers, Washtenaw County’s food rescue and distribution organization.

Unlike other contributors, the Baumans provide food that is cleaned, sorted and packaged. There is an old milk house on the farm that is used for processing the vegetables. The food crates look like high-priced ornate gift boxes, decorated with flowers and herbs at the top. They reflect the artistry of Taylor Jacobsen and Kathy Bauman.

The parsnips that John was planting may not be harvested until next year. Last year the heavy winter delayed the parsnip harvest. They were dug up this spring after the snow melted. They were huge and delicious.

Bob Conradi's picture
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.