MILAN, Iowa — Drive south of Milan on Ridgewood Road and you’ll see lots of new homes with nicely mowed lawns and tidy flower beds.
You also might spot a small, older house set back from the road, nearly hidden by giant ragweeds. Nearby are a hoop house and flowers, shrubs and tomato plants growing in rows. Turn in the driveway and you’ll encounter a flock of chickens, cackling as they scratch at the grass, and a number of kittens.
Welcome to Beacon Woods Farm, home of Gary and Chris Nordick, and their children, Ben and Ally. It’s not the usual farmers-market farm, if there is such a thing.
The Quad-City Times (http://bit.ly/2bF1Wg4 ) reports that Chris is a nurse practitioner with a doctorate whose “day job” is teaching at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. The instruction is primarily online, but she also drives there about once a week during the school year. Husband Gary is a clinical psychologist, practicing at Southpark Psychology, Moline.
But when they’re not doing those jobs, they are out here on this place planting, tending and harvesting vegetables, fruit and flowers. They also keep 15 bee hives for honey, chop firewood and raise chickens for meat as well as eggs. Yes, they butcher! It doesn’t get much more hands-on than that.
It’s what they love.
“People ask me what I did all day,” Chris says, sitting on a metal lawn chair under shade trees by her house. I say, ‘I weeded.’ They say, ‘All day?’ I say ‘yes.'”
While the couple raises many different types of produce, they hope to become known for their blueberries.
Ever since the widely known Finley’s blueberry patch near Colona closed nearly 10 years ago, there’s been an area-wide yearning for another source.
The Nordicks already have 1.5 acres of blueberries, and by the end of next year they’ll have 2.5 acres, with a total of 4,000 shrubs.
“I had four hundred people on my ‘you-pick’ list this year and couldn’t keep up,” Chris says. “Next year, I’ll have a thousand.”
Blueberries take several years to reach full production and the soil needs to be amended and constantly tested to keep the soil acidity in sync with plant requirements. Japanese beetles are terror; Gary keeps them in check with a “vacuum that sucks up the beetles, and then we feed them to the chickens,” Chris explains.
She’s hoping to plant varieties that will extend the season from the end of June through to mid-August. The farm also sells blueberry plants.
None of this was in their plans when they moved to the Quad-Cities in 2000 because Gary landed a residency at Southpark Psychology.
They bought a “fixer upper” home on 2.2 acres in Taylor Ridge and poured themselves into a top-to-bottom remodel and addition. After tiling, painting, insulating, drywalling, siding, roofing, framing, resurfacing and installing windows, they found themselves with a 4,000-square-foot house with five bedrooms and four baths. They thought it would be their “forever” home.
But meanwhile, in 2004, they happened upon a sign announcing the auction of 21 acres of rolling hills with native timber, waterways and some land suitable for crops.
They visited the place, and “tromped all over,” Chris said. “It reminded us of our childhood and living with nature.” They both had spent time in the country growing up, she in Wisconsin and he primarily in Minnesota.
They outbid a housing developer to buy the land and began farming.
About five years later, they bought another 15 acres across the road, part of the former Crampton’s orchard that operated in the days when the Quad-City area had multiple orchards. The Crampton trees were at the end of their productive lives, so the Nordicks planted 50 new varieties, including apples, peaches, cherries, plums, pears and peenos, a flat peach.
Fruit trees are susceptible to a lot of insect and fungal pests and the Nordicks “do the best we can” with natural sprays approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute. They use no synthetic chemicals and all fields are “mechanically weeded.”
That is another way of saying Chris pulls weeds out by hand. They also mow.
They have lots of projects of their list, but there’s no real hurry. For them, there is joy in the journey.
They relish their time outside, working with their hands and soaking in all that Creation provides. It’s a spiritual experience.
Chris writes a blog (JourneyJoys.blogspot.com) in which she talks about her life and posts pictures of their flowers and produce that are so beautiful they almost bring tears to one’s eyes.
They walk in this beauty every day, trying to live wholeheartedly and with intention and praise.
Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com
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