Get to Know the Family Behind Frog Holler Organic Farm
Fifty shades of green—including deep spinach, vibrant parsley, sprightly mint, delicate endive—vie against brilliant scarlet peppers and neon-stemmed chard on Frog Holler’s produce-heaped tables at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market in Kerrytown. Behind the tables, smiling, sun-dusted people help you navigate through the bounty. At least one of them is likely to be a member of the King family: Billy, Kenny and Edwin, along with their mom, Cathy, who with her late husband, Ken, built the organic farm—literally from the ground up.
With her cornflower-colored eyes and gentle salt-of-the-earth demeanor, it’s tempting to believe that Cathy sprouted out of farm soil herself. “I’m a pure suburban kid,” she laughs. Growing up around Traverse City, she studied journalism and dance before heading to California in a refurbished school bus in the early ’70s.
Fired up by the West Coast’s natural approach to eating and living, she headed back to Michigan and to Indian Summer restaurant in Ann Arbor. After waiting tables, she began working in the kitchen. “I made salads, and Ken was the head cook,” she says. “We used to chop vegetables next to each other. That’s how we got to know each other.”
In a time before the term “organic” was even used, “we had no idea where the vegetables came from other than some truck,” says Cathy, “and there was no access to local farmers.” Ken began to look for ways to grow and supply the restaurant’s produce. He settled on “an irresistible piece of wilderness snuggled into the Irish Hills,” and respected the seller’s wish to keep the name. It’s a tribute to the “hollers,” or hollows, found throughout the property as well as to the frogs that sing in the woods and the spring-fed lake.
“I wasn’t prepared for any of it,” she says. “I was just idealistic, believing that we were creating a new way of living, one of right livelihood and environmental sensitivity.” The two also would eventually home school their sons, instruction that would include Latin, physics, music and writing—but also the hard work of farming. “We were out there with pickaxes, absolutely low tech, clearing the land,” says Cathy. “There was no electricity, no water.”
But the seeds they planted grew: greens and herbs at first, which today mix together in a salad blend with arugula, edible flowers and other seasonal greens. Cathy credits Frog Holler Cider, an early hit made from cider-grade apples from an area orchard, with getting the name into the public eye. As the farm grew, so did the need for more staff. Colleen Perria, who will be returning for her third year, responded to a post on the Grow Food website and connected with Cathy.
“The rhythm of life here is so comfortable,” Colleen says. A typical day in the season includes harvesting, washing and boxing the vegetables. “It’s peaceful to harvest herb bunches. The sun is often setting when we finally get to that on a Friday and the gardens get such light.”
And it isn’t all digging in the dirt. Cathy, who began teaching yoga in the early ’90s, leads regular sessions throughout the season in the farm’s barn. “I do believe that yoga stretches provide healthy support for hardworking backs and shoulders,” she says. Communal vegetarian meals are also provided, as well as opportunities for beekeeping, swimming in the farm pond, game nights and music jams.
Music, in fact, has been integral to the life of the farm. Patriarch Ken was passionate about it—including playing, performing, recording and preserving songs of the past—and Billy has three albums to his credit: Real, You Know Me and Overdue. Kenny plays percussion and bass. “Billy and Kenny each went to different music festivals one year, and they both came back and said, ‘We could do this,’” Cathy explains.
The family’s love of music gave way to Hollerfest, an informal gathering in its initial 2007 opening that’s blossomed to a three-day extravaganza with dozens of area and regional bands. Attendees can stroll from the large Holler Stage over a gentle hill to the Second Holler and over to the Cabin, a small and intimate venue often packed with listeners. A vegetarian buffet is available—starring, naturally, farm produce.
“We made it up as we went,” says Cathy. She’s speaking of Hollerfest, but that spirit of ready improvisation and creativity is embedded in the Frog Holler DNA. In the same vein, the farm’s CSA program came about “because people wanted it. Some people don’t want to shop around; they want a box.” Those boxes, available on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, come complete with a newsletter filled with recipes on how to use the produce.
“I think it’s positive any time people connect more with real, whole, healthy food and lifestyle,” says Cathy. Thanks to her, her sons, her dedicated staff and volunteers, and Ken’s guiding spirit, people in and near Ann Arbor can get the much closer to the earth—and find it vibrant and bursting with color.
Learn more at Frog Holler Organic Farm