The Land - A Dear Neighbor
The Land Bonds Us To the Delicate, Sacred Web of Life
The dream of Manitou was born out of a deep sense of responsibility to exercise
good stewardship towards the 230+ acres of land that borders our village site.
It is a beautiful property containing a lake, stream, areas of mature woods, fields,
20+ acres of young trees planted in 1993, and abundant life forms.
We are blessed with a beautiful 40 acre village site which will consist of our
residential complex, community center, gardens and commons.
We anticipate arranging access rights to the neighboring 230+ acres of land,
which supports a diverse wildlife community - numerous deer, wild turkey, coyote, fox, pheasant, and many species of birds and wildflowers.
Wooded paths lead to Schoonover Lake,
and takes one through a mixture of hardwoods and conifer trees.
Perhaps a "hermitage" or two might be hidden here to
facilitate retreats and quiet communing with nature.
We envision walking upon the land, breathing in its refreshing air, and enjoying its harvests.
Alongside these simple joys, the land informs us of things more profound...
We recognize the land as a complex ecosystem, expressive of intricate relationships and governed by universal principles and laws. Like all land, it holds energy and invites
human consciousness to participate in the delicate and sacred web of all life.
In order to further protect this land, we are actively exploring approaches to obtaining it
in order to preserve and utilize it to demonstrate a way of relating to nature
that is quite differently pursued in our culture.
The property, known as 'Nazareth Farms' is currently owned by the Congregation of St. Joseph. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, MI, who are now a part of the Congregation of St. Joseph, purchased the property in 1948.
The land also contains about 100 acres of agricultural fields and eight farm buildings in good condition. After the village is built, we envision continued use of the agricultural fields for organic (and perhaps biodynamic) agricultural pursuits, permaculture design,
and other activities which do not require excessive human or mechanical energy.
So far, ideas have included establishing a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, growing organic food, raising free-ranging chickens and other animals,
and related cottage industries that will interact positively with
the entire natural and human community.
Our neighbors to the east include a series of greenhouse operations. The neighbors to the west include a family residence in the southwest and a new condominium development to the northwest. Across the lake from us (to the north) are individual residences but
houses cannot be seen from our property.
Across the road, to the south, is a large field, which is still farmed by a local farmer.
History of the Property
We are most fortunate to have a wonderful history of the property which emphasizes the efforts made over the years to be good stewards of this beautiful land.
1937: James Murray, a Kalamazoo industrialist, purchased the farm.
Originally it was approximately 300 acres. He dismantled the old buildings
and erected all steel semi-fire proof structures including: the dairy barn, milk house,
tool sheds, poultry house and offices.
He later purchased additional land (in 1938 and in 1943) to make
the farm a total of 400 acres.
1942: Working with Michigan State College, Murray had a soil conservation plan drawn up to correct the poor state of the farmlands. According to a Gazette article (September 1958) Martin Pozeznik, the farm manager for Murray (and later for the Sisters of St. Joseph) indicated the sad state of the property,
which included vast washouts and depleted soil fertility.
Modern conservation practices were used to restore and repair the worn out land.
Marl beds from the lake were tapped and in 1943 marl was spread over the land to increase fertility and correct the "sourness" (acidity) in the soil.
The farm became a demonstration site for good conservation practices.
1943 - 1945: 36,000 evergreen trees (Norway Spruce, Red, White and Northern Pines) were used to reforest about 60 acres. By 1951 about 2500 were harvested as Christmas trees and another 2500 were planted. The forested area was then extended to about 75 acres.
Additional planting included: 1500 Black Locust, 250 wild grape, a number of black walnut,
500 yellow poplar, 150 hazelnuts, 50 bittersweet hickories, plus coral berry,
false indigo, honeysuckles and multiflora rose.
Wildlife food and cover plantings were also made. The south side of Schnoover Lake became a haven for deer, fox, rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, quail and songbirds.
By January 1948 when the Sisters of St. Joseph took over the farm it was called by the Gazette, "one of the outstanding agricultural units dedicated to raising purebred Guernsey cattle in Michigan."
The Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the farm to meet the growing requirements of Nazareth College, Borgess,
and other institutions they operated.
Mother Collete and Sr. Blanche became the Sister of St. Joseph managers who worked with
Martin Pozeznik who stayed on after Murray sold the farm to the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The farm was purchased well below open market value, a special consideration from Mr. Murray. It included all the feed, tools, cattle, and other equipment.
1948: Mention is made of installation of septic tanks and dry wells for barn drainage.
1955: Listed as a district soil conservation cooperator.
The Sisters continued to benefit from the dairy farm for a number of years.
At some point in time, cross breeding occurred to provide both dairy and beef cattle.
As dairy operations became more labor intensive the herd was shifted entirely to beef cattle.
In the 1980's, Martin Pozeznik retired and the Sisters sold the farm equipment and began to lease some of the fields and the use of the building to a local farmer, Charlie Mc Peck.
1992: A resource audit of all Sister of St. Joseph properties including the farm was conducted by Rev. Al Fritsch SJ and recommendations made.
1993: All but about 40 acres (which did not qualify at the time) were taken out of production and put into a federal Conservation Reserve Program. Over 20 acres adjacent to the woodland were planted with 11,200+ trees - mixed evergreens and hardwoods and the remaining fields were planted with vegetative cover approved by the soil conservation district.
1994: The state of the woodlot was evaluated as a result of the federal Stewardship Incentive Program and recommendations for the future management were made.
1995: Carefully selected hunters were allowed to hunt deer on the farm since the deer population was very large and damaging the vegetation. Subsequently, wild turkey hunting has also been permitted. Hunters gather and record wildlife information and assist with some projects on the farm as needed in return for the opportunity to hunt.
A wildlife biologist was consulted in 1997 and a wildlife management plan developed
with a focus on attracting more pheasants and maximizing wildlife diversity.
As a result of the recommendations, efforts were made to facilitate
shrub cover plantings with the assistance of local birds.
Food plantings were also made as a result of the generosity of Pheasants Unlimited.
A plan for periodic mowing of selected fields was developed to maximize diversity of habitat and to prevent encroachment of woody plants in the fields. In 1999 and April 2000, selected fields were burned (ecological burn) with the assistance of the Comstock fire department.
August 1997: A scenario regarding the possible development of an ecovillage
on the farm property was presented at the SSJ annual meeting (FORUM).
Support was given to the concept and a group of Sister of St. Joseph volunteers
began further research. The group was later expanded to include others
in the area who had an interest in the project and became known as
the "Ecovillage Research Team."
In the fall of 1999, the SSJ affirmed its interest in the ecovillage concept
and agreed that if an ecovillage entity could work out all of the details related to the implementation of the concept that the Congregation would sell them a portion of the land for the ecovillage (under covenants mutually agreed upon). The remainder of the land would be preserved in some way, possibly under a land trust or conservation easement with the
Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.