When my friends told me about a Sunday Winter Farmers Market, my husband and I jumped in the van and headed to Webster Township. It was a particularly cold day. Thankfully, aromatic hot coffee greeted us at the door. Violet Raterman, one of the market managers, helped us navigate the market for our first visit. The entire experience was moving for some reason, but I could not put my finger on it. I had to find out more about the people behind this market and the space in which it thrived.
by Laura Cowan
I’m guessing you’ve never had a ram approach you like a puppy, because even if you are lucky enough to know one, that isn’t the sort of thing rams do — unless they have a reiki therapist like Dona Duke as a friend. Dona is an Usui Reiki Ryoho Reiki master, and the resident animal reiki therapist at the Humane Society animal shelter. She accepted my invitation as a locally based holistic living editor to interview her and see animals receiving reiki in a farm environment. Dona wanted me to bring you the experience of something beyond cat shelter or hospital reiki that is so often written about these days. I’m so glad reiki is written about enough to require the variety, and she was so right. Reiki on a farm is a world unto itself. Let me tell you about this ram at Fluffy Bottom Farms. Call him Ishmael.
Ishmael and his herd of sheep and cows at the Fluffy Bottom Farms farm and creamery in Chelsea, receive reiki from Dona on a weekly basis. I wish I had the data to prove to you that reiki improves the cheese they make, but suffice it to say it’s phenomenally delicious stuff, now sold at grocery stores and retailers all over Michigan. I tried the aged raw manchego, which went perfectly in a cherry spinach salad. Owners Kelli Conlin and Angie Martell were out of the house the day I visited. Dona brought treats for the turkeys and hens on the day she introduced me to the animals. The three tom turkeys were not so welcoming, but it was mating season and they were strutting their stuff, so I won’t hold it against them that they followed me around with fanned feathers and a serious attitude.
I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I have turkeys in my rural wooded yard daily so it wasn’t about being stalked by birds half my size. I used to belong to a dairy farm share myself, so I’m comfortable around herds of cows and sheep, and free-range birds. I am also trained as an animal reiki master. Was I nervous because I know I shouldn’t walk up to farm animals and assume they’re friendly when I enter their pen? Maybe, but this growing awareness of my own nerves led to a profound reiki-led epiphany in short order. Ishmael was climbing the gate of his pen to nuzzle Ms. Duke, and the other ram, Gabriel, accepted me into his pen to rub up against me for reiki and a pet. I was experiencing the effects of animal reiki before I even realized it. I’m used to giving reiki, you see, but I’m not used to receiving it from animals.
We entered the sheep pen in the barn, where a tall brown llama named Dali watched me attentively. He was gentle and protective, that much was obvious, but I didn’t expect what came next. Dali noticed I was nervous, Dona said, and as the protector of the herd against local coyotes, he was investigating why. Ah, that was the reason for the nerves. I had been considering a number of ways of applying reiki in my own life and career with animals, and I had expected to be more at ease. It hardly does to have an animal reiki master acting jittery around a flock of sheep. But by now, I should have known something else was afoot. This was animal reiki in action. It wasn’t magic. It was reciprocity.
Suddenly, it was just me and Dali, experiencing that connection of minds that comes from the unity consciousness of universal life energy flow. The llama was teaching me, not only to experience sacred space on the receiving end from an animal, but he was giving me a nudge. Suddenly I knew. I wasn’t meant to focus on animal reiki. With one glance, I understood. I should have figured, given what I know about reiki, that it would be the animals to give me that course correct on how to apply healing energies in my life and career. I wish I could tell you how this felt, but maybe if you have experienced reiki, you already know. Even getting a nudge of “no, not quite this path” is a profoundly healing experience. It was just that in this case, it was the llama receiving reiki that helped me as much as I helped him, if not more.
“You must approach them as equals,” Dona said. So true. Because they are. That’s where the reciprocity comes from, however you experience it. “It’s easy for me to work with animals, because I approach them as friends,” Dona tells me. Indeed. These animals dearly loved this woman, crowding her for treats — the largest behaving the most gently of all. The new lambs watched her with cocked faces from behind their mothers. The llama was at complete peace around her. The sheep readily decided to try to eat the buttons off my coat rather than ask too many questions about whether I belonged, since I came with recommendations from Dona. She was at home. This was her herd.
Dona used to have horses and rode dressage. “What you learn training horses is that if anything goes wrong, it’s not the horse’s fault,” she tells me, adding:
What is key in training horses is being present, being consistent, and in an emotionally good place, because you are literally sitting on a large animal’s nervous system. It’s the same thing with reiki. You need to communicate with their whole system. You have to learn to be quiet and be still, and work together.
This is true of human reiki, as well, and is particularly true of animals who live outdoors, as they are highly tuned in to their environment.
Dali the llama blinked with his long soft lashes. I felt the healing space around us. We were connected with everyone and everything, but we were also just the two of us. How odd. Sometimes a feeling of discomfort and nerves as you receive reiki is the message. There was nothing wrong with me. Healing in general often comes to us like this — wrapped up in the messages of anxiety and health problems and feelings that warn us of the importance of a change. There is nothing wrong with the message, and there is nothing wrong with our ability to receive the message. When we learn to listen and flow with the energy, the healing and growth naturally comes. Because that’s what reiki is. It’s just life, and life is growth, and healing, and creativity. Reiki is delightful, but sometimes upending. It is the never-ceasing river of powerful change that will help you align with your highest good if you simply allow it and flow with the process. Reiki had not too long ago swept me out of one life and into another set of new possibilities, and here I was. Llama-facilitated therapy. So much for humans being on top of the chain of consciousness! It simply isn’t so. The animals can teach you this, particularly through animal reiki.
We walked outside to the field, where Dona told me the herd often comes running to meet her. Sure enough, the remainder of the herd came at a full trot all the way from the next pasture. I have never seen more animals happy to see one person. Granted, she brings carrots, but even so. She allowed the animals to approach her for reiki. They stood next to her, quietly alert, until they were finished — usually about five to ten minutes per animal that approached her. They often seemed to wait their turn.
Ishmael ran to the back of his pen at the barn and climbed it like a goat.
“Get down,” Dona told him. “That isn’t safe for you.”
He pushed his hip up against the fence. “They show you where they want reiki,” Dona told me.
Sure enough, this was exactly what the other ram Gabriel had done with me. He had allowed me into his pen, sniffed my hand, and then pressed his side up to me and turned around. Like I said, not rammish at all. Reiki-ish. Not that there is anything wrong with a ram acting like a ram on an ordinary Tuesday, but these animals were co-creators in their healing. Phenomenal stuff. The air was thick with healing, like walking on air. I noticed this with my cat as well when I started practicing reiki on family members. She started sitting on my hands while I was working. Animals love reiki, because animals are very aligned with their natural selves and the balanced energies around them.
Inside the farmhouse, the dogs were waiting for treats and to be let out in the yard. A feral cat scrambled under the porch, while a black domestic pawed to be let in for food. A tiny lamb named Athena, who was born with a leg injury and rejected by her mother, was waiting for us in a pen wearing a diaper. She was only an armful of animal. Dona picked her up and bottle-fed her. Of all things I expected that day, it wasn’t to change a lamb’s diaper and have her cry after one of her surrogate moms. She rooted and arched her neck for Dona just like a human newborn
for its mother. She didn’t want me, and you have to understand animals often do. But there was nothing wrong. This was the message. This was the healing.
Dona told me more of the story of how she got into reiki, and just like my story, it was full of synchronicities and healing experiences, and meetings with amazing animals. I was deeply grateful she had opened up her life to me at all, as she is clearly at home with animals even more so than with humans. She was gracious and empathic while I trailed her around the farm, and like many reiki masters I know, she was also highly intuitive and could see straight through to people’s energy and feelings, just like she does with animals. She quickly spotted my connection with Dali, and how the other animals pushed me away almost in unison. This is more than impressive: it is an important skill for both animal and human reiki masters to be able to spot areas of tension and potential problems and possibilities when dealing with clients or rooms full of animals or people, even though the reiki will always go wherever it is needed anyway. Maybe that is what I love about reiki above all other healing properties. It isn’t just a healing energy flow. It is sacred space and witnessing the miracle of life. People who practice reiki, at least in my experience, are profoundly tuned in to universal healing energy flow and the feelings of those around them.
We went to say goodbye to the herd before we left. Dali approached me. I reached for his face.
“No,” Dona said. “He doesn’t need you to pet him. He is telling you you’re okay. He’s checked you out. You’re part of the herd.”
Already? And I was still trying to make friends. I put my hand down. Dali brought his soft wooly face right up next to mine and stood, touching cheek to cheek, for a good minute.
I closed my eyes. So did Dali. We stayed cheek to cheek, touching our chins.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Dona said. “They help us as much as we help them.”
Yes, they do, very much. Thank you, Dona and Ishmael. Thank you, Dali. Namaste. Thank you, reiki. And the path flows on.
Laura K. Cowan is the Kids in the Community Columnist and an editor for The Crazy Wisdom Journal. She is a green tech editor and magical realist author from Ann Arbor (Winding Road Magazine, Inhabitat). Ms. Cowan once ran her own green parenting blog 29Diapers, which gave her the dubious distinction of being the only mommy blogger in existence who could explain variable valve timing. You can reach her at email@example.com.
A chicken ordinance was passed in Ann Arbor in 2008, allowing residents to keep up to four hens in their backyards for the first time. Happily, residents of Ann Arbor began building coops and transforming their backyards into a haven for their chickens. The popularity of backyard chickens has continued to grow. As of December 2016, 22 permits for backyard chickens had been issued, already rising above the 14 that were issued in 2015. Early in 2015, the number of chickens allowed went from four to six, delighting those who already had them and instilling curiosity in many who have never had chickens.
In the middle of the growing season in 2017, something brand new sprouted in Ann Arbor. Grown with care, the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative was founded on July 5, 2017, and ran through the rest of the growing season with great success. Now, they’re approaching their second year of bringing locally-sourced flowers to southeast Michigan, serving everyone from local flower shops to DIY brides to individual consumers with beautiful blooms.
Imagine a living thing that has an effect on almost every food you eat. It also plays a role in the trees you see, the weeds you pull, and the coffee you drink each morning. Our entire ecosystem would be radically changed if these beings were to disappear. Bees are the tiny, hard working, often pesky pollinators that so graciously play a part in maintaining the delicate ecosystem we share. We need them, desperately, to be able to do their job: pollinate.
On a bitter cold and rainy day in late April, my husband and I were inspired to do our annual trek to HillTop Greenhouse and Farms to plot this year’s garden and bask in the warmth and stunning visuals contained within the expansive space.
This past summer I was privileged to visit Old Pine Farm in bucolic Manchester, Michigan, where a variety of breeds are raised to produce high quality beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. I found my host, farmer Kris Hanna, wrenching a piece of equipment when I pulled into the driveway by her charming yet modest farmhouse. I noticed she had little by way of “garden or landscaping,” which she later explained is not her area of expertise. Her son did a fine job of perennial plantings in the area surrounding her homes’ entrance as a Mother’s Day gift. The iconic Midwest red barn with silo stands proud among several smaller barns and paddocks, dappled by a background of rolling green fields.
Husband and wife team, Mark Skowronski and Michelle Kahlenberg, own and operate a small sustainable farm, called EMMA Acres, west of Ann Arbor proper in the beautiful farming community of Manchester. They raise primarily heritage breed livestock in a sustainable and humane way. Their organic practices are inspired by the likes of Joel Salatin.
“It’s definitely a time game,” Kelli Conlin says, sitting across from me. She is a woman with a kind face, working hands, and an indescribable amount of caring energy emitting from her heart. From our conversation, I gathered that Kelli was referring to the amount of time and care it takes to run a farm like Fluffy Bottom, one where treating animals with kindness and compassion and providing products that are fresh and delicious are top priorities.