Coming Here: Finding Place at Palmquist
Written by, Ethan Bowen
"Life on this planet is amazing!" -Ethan
Life on this planet is amazing. How a person finds their ways and their places is a fascinating process. My story starts on a potato research farm in northern WI, where I grew up with space to explore and opportunities to learn. The time I spent running in the woods, building forts, raising animals, and helping with things on the farm developed my creativity, sense of values, and my view of the world. After high school, I set out to find a career that would give me the opportunity to practice the connection I had with the natural world I had grown a part of.
My bachelor's degree is in forest management. The professional path I was on when I met Amanda was a good one. I was working for a consulting outfit, and I spent most every day in the field. When I started seeing Amanda, my perspective changed rapidly. The hours I spent alone in the timber were no longer filled with peace and productivity. I now had two interests competing to determine my direction. The dissonance I was feeling made it hard to see my relationship with Amanda coexisting with that career path. I decided to marry Amanda and devote my time to her first. The outcome would define where I was going, what I would do, and who I would be. I'm just happy I was able to make that choice. She helped me make that choice.
It's such a wonderful gift to care for and be cared for by another person. Being a couple complicates things, but it also broadens the outlook. When we got married we were both in flexible life circumstances, and each other were the best thing either of us had ever encountered. That made our relationship the most wonderful and important thing in our lives. We decided we would shoot for a lifestyle that wouldn't get in the way of loving every moment of our lives together. At that point we started to consider our values to better understand how we wanted to spend our life together. What is amazing is that we had time and space to go about this very delicate conversation. After a season of thinking things through, changing our minds a little, and setting some goals, we came up with a plan. Community in a close to nature context was the general theme we settled on.
Amanda and I decided that the best we could do would be to spend our lives investing in people. Our idea was to honor the heritage that brought us to where we were starting from and to pursue a sustainable future in a diverse community network. At first we looked to our christian tradition and found two opportunities to build christian community. One volunteering for a student organization and the other volunteering at a camp. I would say we had mixed results. Many good relationships grew as did a few tensions. Those were good experiences, but not the kind of thing that constituted a divine calling. We felt drawn to something less controversial; more basic. What was clear was that we did well serving people without a religious agenda.
Meanwhile, we had begun constructing something that we felt would allow us to stay flexible on our journey toward building community. Starting with a trailer, we were building a low cost, low maintenance home which we could move to wherever made sense. Little did we know at the time that this idea was gaining some popular traction; the “tiny house movement”. Our approach to the idea was motivated by keeping our time liquid. Low cost meant we wouldn't have to make much money to live on. Mobile meant we wouldn't have to decide on one place. We could move in the direction of independence without making constraining financial and geographic commitments.
I knew some folks through my mother's family who ran a hospitality business on their farm. Jim and Helen Palmquist are their names, and their lifestyle fit the framework of what we were going for. We sent them a letter asking for their advice. Their response was an informal offer to work for them. So that was the next step. I started helping out part time with the farm side of things. A year later we floated the idea of bringing our mostly finished tiny house out to the farm. Jim and Helen seemed all for it, so that's what we did. We started spending time helping out with their guest accommodations as well as visiting with the travelers that came to experience the farm.
As part of the family, so to speak, we get the chance to interact with the many people that come to the farm and show them our welcome. It's a simple life; caring for the horses and cattle, giving sleigh rides, making sure the the cabins stay warm, grooming ski trails, serving meals, playing some songs on Saturday nights, sharing stories of life at home and of traveling to new places. What makes it meaningful to us is the freedom we have to be ourselves and the ability that gives us to make space for others.
Now we've lived there for a year and a half. We have a good feel for the place and are happy to be involved in the many ways we are. The Palmquists treat us as family. Amanda and I seek to serve Jim and Helen as well as their guests with all the joy of having been given a space in which to contribute our lives. In a few short weeks our lives will be filled with a baby boy. Even in our tiny house, our lives have space for him, and we are so excited for him to be our new most treasured gift. People tell us we're like something out of a fairytale. I agree that our situation is unique and very special, but it's also very real. There is nothing fictional or accidental about the investment we are making.
Another great asset we have is Amanda’s job working for Delta. It’s a part time job as a ticket and gate agent at the tiniest little airport; two outbound flights a day. The big perk is free standby flight passes. Going places through this benefit is affordable and available. We’ve traveled from Alaska to Chile and these experiences have expanded our network and educated our ability to see different perspectives. This is one of the most important tools in our relationship. Seeing that people live differently frees us to be gracious to ourselves and to others.
So, as we invest our time in life, our goal is to build our relationship and reach out to make connections with other people. Being in the same space and working together means we have time to stay in sync with each other. This gives us the foundation we need to genuinely care for other people and the environment we live in. Being in a place where people have been coming to relax since the 1940’s, we have a great opportunity to take interest in other people. Work at the farm is fulfilling because we can directly see the results of our efforts. Another satisfying thing is that we are living a life that is much closer to the origins of our culture than what most other lines of work could facilitate. It’s an interesting sense on reality when there is daily context for seeing how life went a hundred years ago.
Palmquist Farm history has a legacy that I didn’t realize when I first started to work here. The thing I was aware of is my family’s connection here. Over the years a good bunch of my uncles, aunts, and cousins have lended a hand working here; each contributing different things in their time. That established a reputation of people from a good background who were trustworthy and probably handy. I’m the first in my family to live here, but their investment paved the way for me to be here. Once I came, I realized the long and rich history of navigating a hundred years of changes in times all the while caring for people first. It’s a family farm, and the work here has always been done so that the family had a place to live and food to eat. The nature of work that puts food on the table has changed a lot in a hundred years. What hasn’t changed is the family’s willingness to share the place with others. There is a legacy of ingenuity here that has acted to sustain family and welcome travelers, and that is something I believe in. Jim’s grandfather is quoted saying “times change, and man better change along with it”. He said it in Finnish, but that was the idea. I am drawn to this tradition of investing in the farm as home for the family and a haven for travelers.
It gives me peace to see that people are no exception to the principles of nature. The sun provides us all with energy. The soil and atmosphere hold the elements that allow for plants to grow. Plants give energy to consumers who cycle nutrients and contribute to the shaping of an already dynamic landscape. Though people build structures and institutions that buffer our lives from the elements, we are still completely dependent on the ecosystems that provide our resources and grow our food. This dependence makes us fully connected to nature whether we know it or not. I consider myself privileged to have grown up with an understanding of ecology and agriculture and to have had experiences to practice and educate my connection with the natural world. Living and working at the farm keeps this relationship on the front of my mind. I spend my time and energy maintaining buildings, raising crops and livestock, cutting firewood for heat, and managing the land that serves our needs. These are the things that filled my family life growing up. Continuing to express theses values and share them with people is what fuels my passion for life. It’s such a privilege to be in a place where people come to unwind and freshen their own experience of the simple values of farm life. My path here has been a wonderful adventure, and my way forward is to embrace life and seek the fullness of its experience. I expect the intensity of this experience to be held most completely in the act of bringing up our own children, and I completely agree with what several visitors have pointed out: “What a great place to raise a family!
Visit the website below to learn more about Palmquist farm, a place Ethan and Amanda now call home.