Kinkoona Farm: Where Nature Nurtures Learning, Laughter and a Pioneering Spirit
Aug 31, 2012 05:54PM
By Linda Sechrist
Day Camp Kids on Outing
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~ John Muir
To Suellen Thomson-Link and her three children—Syon, Acaya and Sundara—nature and nurture are interchangeable words. As stewards of Kinkoona Farm’s 35 acres, plus an adjacent 13 that are rented, the family has never suffered even one symptom of Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods.
“Many of the children who come to our farm day camps exhibit the behavioral problems that Louv attributes to spending little time outside in nature,” says Thomson-Link. “However, due to the number of daily hours that my children and I are outdoors tending to our flock of 170 sheep, crops of organic sunflower sprouts and gourmet vegetables, our aquaponics and vermiculture operations, 5,000-gallon rainwater catchment system and rainwater gardens, outbuildings and greenhouse, not one of us could possibly have a nature or nurture deficit,” she adds with a hearty laugh.
Farm activities and physical work were what Thomson-Link felt would help to heal the trauma of a family breakup after her divorce was finalized in 2002. Setting out to locate just theright property, the native Australian informed local realtors that she had her heart set on finding an old farm that needed a lot of do-it-yourself TLC. “Even though I had no background in farming, I intuitively knew that the nurturing of nature and physical work would help all of us,” she explains.
Through 40 realtor appointments, Thomson-Link continued to reiterate that she wanted a farmhouse and buildings that hadn’t been renovated. Eventually, on a find-it-yourself excursion, she was awestruck by a massive 200-year-old oak tree towering above a “For Sale” placard at the end of a driveway, and took it as a sign that she’d found the right place. The strong structure of the outbuildings and house made it easier to overlook the shot-out windows, indoor/outdoor carpet and general disrepair.
“More than the fact that my kids and I weren’t afraid of the work it would take to restore the property, I knew that building a home together would nurture us all,” says ThomsonLink, a certified occupational therapist with an emphasis in child psychology and dance movement therapy.
Prior to moving to the countryside, the family lived an urban lifestyle. The city, where Thomson-Link recalls that people didn’t socialize or know each other’s name, was a stark contrast to Brodhead, with its friendly neighbors from surrounding farms.Unlike her previous neighbors, they visited regularly, often with homemade treats in hand.
“I knew that they came to check out the new kid on the block and offer me conventional farming advice, which I thanked them for, but never took,” confides Thomson-Link. “My children and I were interested in learning and growing from our mistakes and in applying principles of permaculture to a sheep farm. Because I didn’t want to be judged, I also neglected to tell them that I had no previous farming experience,” says the now certified permaculturist, whose farm hosts visits from participants in the Sustainability Leadership Program at Edgewood College, in Madison, as well as area garden clubs.
The Thomson-Link Pioneering Spirit
The family’s can-do spirit and work ethic are obvious to anyone that tours Kinkoona Farm. In fact, according to Thomson-Link, every visitor asks the same questions: Where did you learn how to do all this, and when do you sleep? Her answers: We watch what nature does, and we follow the principles of sustainable farming as well as permaculture, which has a purpose for everything in nature.
“I offer visitors an example of a weed, which is just a plant that people haven’t found a purpose for yet,” she quips.
Conducting farm tours, introducing visitors to the animals and educating them about a sustainable model of farming are among Thomson-Link’s favorite activities, because she likes to watch the expression of astonishment on visitors’ faces when they learn what her industrious children have accomplished. “Syon and Sundara initially started the organic sunflower sprout business. They grew year-round and marketed to restaurants in Milwaukee and Madison,” she remarks. “When the business expanded, Sundara, who is 13 years old, moved on to write an agricultural grant for sustainability, and Acaya, who is 15, picked it up.”
As a result of the grant, Sundara received funds to purchase seeds for growing colorful and unusual vegetables for two restaurants owned by a chef who Thomson-Link describes as a “virtual Monet with food.” Southern red and green okra,chocolate and orange bell peppers, spiral broccoli, multiplecolor beans and carrots are grown yearround in the farm’s 96-foot greenhouse, which Acaya salvaged and repaired.
“I was 43 years old when I bought Kinkoona. The kids were 3, 5 and 7 and a half, so they are just as much a part of the farm as I am. They don’t just help out or do chores, they are intensely involved in their projects,” explains Thomson-Link, who beams with pride, just as the kids do, every time a visitor comments on the phenomenal success of the farm and its numerous incomeproducing enterprises.
One business that falls under the farm umbrella is he online retail store that sells products such as organic bedding, mattress oppers, wool pillows and comforters. dditionally, calf coats are sold to dairy armers that use them to prevent hypohermia in calves that are weaned from their mothers. Kinkoona’s Icelandic sheep wool makes quality felt sheets and catnip toys (marketed to pet suppliers) that are highly prized because they are free of chemicals.
Farm Day Camps for Kids
Another income stream is generated by Kinkoona’s three-day agri-education camps, which are open to elementary school-aged children. The young campers are encouraged to immerse themselves in farm life, with the goal of heightening awareness of nature and fostering responsibility, caring for each other and creativity. They also help out with chores, learn about taking care of animals and growing plants, spin wool and make crafts with herbs and other nature items.
“I’ve worked with children who didn’t know how to use a broom. When they left, they knew how to climb gates, build a pond and harvest flowers, because they got fully involved in what they did here. Children frequently return home with newly acquired qualities of tolerance, patience and endurance, because they saw projects through from start to finish,” explainsThomson-Link, who offers tours for groups such as Head Start.
“I love to see Head Start kids jump off bus stairs and go running to look at animals, pick up eggs, and pet lambs, because it brings them joy from an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she adds.
In Australian Aboriginal language, Kinkoona means laughter. “I chose the name when I bought the farm, because I felt that this was a place for laughter, joy, love and healing,” says Thomson-Link. “Ten years of living here has taught us all that it was the right choice.”
Kinkoona Farm is located at 16734 W. Dormer Rd., in Brodhead. For more information, call 608-897-3983 or visit BaaBaaShop.com.