By Jill Lorie Hurst
Just when I thought I’d met every brilliant human who lives in the 48220, Ferndale Friends sent me to learn all about Rachel Engel: homesteader, permaculture consultant, perfume and candle maker, winner of the Ferndale Beautification Award, urban farmer, ecologist. Engel is one of the founders of the Ferndale Seed Library. She holds workshops for people interested in leading a zero-waste lifestyle.
Rachel is also warm, funny, empathetic and very gracious. Seconds after arriving at her Ferndale home on a snowy morning, I was seated in a big, comfy chair with a blanket tucked around my shoulders, terrier Teddy in my lap, immediately, dangerously comfortable. Rachel: “It’s important to be cozy and have your basic needs met. Celebrate your day-to-day.” She celebrates with husband/partner Brian, eleven-year-old daughter Terra and a growing group of animals that include Wyandotte chickens, “big, fat heirloom chickens who love the cold.”
Born into a military family, Rachel moved over 35 times as a child. She found Ferndale as a grownup, and met Brian just as she was leaving for a great job in Chicago. She left. And then returned. They’ve been growing a life together ever since.
The “growing” started when she wondered if he’d mind getting rid of the front lawn! I expressed interest and confessed a lack of skills. “Failure is all part of the process. Fail – you have compost. Things will grow better next year. Just get roots into the soil.”
RACHEL ADVISES STARTING WITH AN HERB SPIRAL. Easy to grow fruits and vegetables? She recommended garlic, chives, Asian pears, persimmons, arugula. Divide your yard into zones. Grow the things you use most in the zone closest to your house. Think small. Make long-term goals.
Rachel has two goals these days. One is design-ing permacultures for others. “Helping people become guardians of their own land. Each garden is diverse and unique. It’s based on following the sunlight paired with water and energy conservation by focusing on perennial food production and inviting natural ecological systems to do the work.”
Second, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which Rachel calls a “deep-hearted endeavor.” They deliver fresh, seasonal produce to lucky customers on a regular basis. Food is harvested an hour before delivery!
We discussed the idea of a CSA on every block. What’s a CSA? Each household grows different things to share with the neighborhood. “We can shrink our carbon footprint and increase our nutrition by becoming ‘hyper-local.’” Rachel is passionate. “The best legacy we can leave future generations is good soil.”
HER DAUGHTER TERRA ON GROWING UP in a permaculture homestead: “My favorite part is being able to go into the yard and being able to eat so many yummy veggies and plants. The hardest part is maintaining it, but it’s definitely worth it. And it matters because we are going through a global crisis and growing our own food helps the Earth in many ways. Also, growing up on an urban farm is so much fun because of being able to play with the animals and make many things and eat many things with the plants.”
On the walk home I thought about an herb spiral, the arugula we can grow, the clover and wildflowers that’ll replace the grass in our front yard. Up until now I’ve left the gardening to my husband, but Rachel has made me unafraid to fail! A great teacher inspires you to dig in. Explore. Set goals that work for you.
Rachel Engel moved more than 35 times as a kid. It was hard to put down roots. Rachel dreams of picking an apple off a tree she planted herself. Hopefully she’ll pick that apple right here in Ferndale.