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EMU and Leelanau Conservancy Partner to Save Historic Farm

New farmers on Campbell-DeYoung Farm
New farmers on Campbell-DeYoung Farm - Andrew Williamson
Eastern Michigan University knows historic preservation. The Ypsilanti university program is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the United States. And why not? The Metro Detroit area offers a wealth of historic structures to study, some of which have been beautifully preserved, and many others that could use a bit of the local expertise.
 
What the area near the university doesn't have are any 145-acre, nearly 200-year-old working farms in need of some preservationist-style elbow grease. When just such a property came into the possession of the Leelanau Conservancy in 2005, despite sitting 250 miles north of EMU, it became the perfect opportunity for the two organizations to partner for the university's long-running field school.
 
"It had always been my dream, since I'm a conservationist/preservationist to do something that merges the two worlds," says Ted Ligibel of the Department of Geography and Geology and Director of the Historic Preservation Program at EMU.
Brian [Price, executive director of the Leelanau Conservancy] and I got to talking one day and said, it would be great if we could work on something together, but it would have to be the right property."
 
Enter the Campbell-DeYoung Farm. After just two families owned the expansive farmstead over the course of almost two centuries, owner Louis DeYoung passed the decision of what to do with the property he'd farmed his entire life to his children.
 
"We realized quickly that they couldn't live and work the farm," says Jenee Rowe, director of Conservancy Owned Lands for the Leelanau Conservancy. "They wanted us to take care of it, but they wanted it to be open to the public." 
 
While the Leelanau Conservancy knows all about conserving such a beautiful property, with its nearly mile of shoreline, steams and public trails, the historic buildings on the property were another story entirely. 
 
"These buildings looked like a time capsule," Rowe says. "There were dishes in the dish rack. There were piles of napkins in the drawers from the Depression era."
 
Preserving the property was a perfect job for the EMU's historic preservation experts, and as opportunity for its students. The program's week-long field school, which gives historic preservation students an in-depth, hands-on experience, was the natural way for EMU and the Leelanau Conservancy to partner on the Campbell-DeYoung project. 
 
For five years now, 20 to 25 EMU students from all over the country have made the trek up north to work on the historic farm. Projects have included masonry work on building foundations, replacing windows, stabilizing structures and cataloguing items in the farmhouse. 
 
"It was the most amazing week of my life," says EMU historic preservation graduate Lindsey J. Wooten. "We were re-pointing the foundation of the lower barn. It was kind of like puzzle solving, and then also, really hard labor."
 
Having grown up in Troy, Wooten had long been interested in history, but also wanted a hands-on career. Spending a summer working on Mackinac Island sparked her hope that she could have both, and her week at the Campbell-DeYoung Farm confirmed it. 
 
"It's something you don't think about unless you're at Greenfield Village and you're looking at the glassblowers," she says of the historic trades she learned during the field school. "It's a dying art. I took away an appreciation of the work that went into these historic buildings we want to save."
 
If the Campbell-DeYoung Farm has benefited the academic city-folk, the historic property has realized the reciprocal effect. 
 
"If you watched the property over time, you'd notice some dramatic changes," says Ligibel. "The house is now functioning, and people can use it for meetings."
 
Rowe says the EMU preservationists not only physically renovated the historic property, but also shared their preservation knowledge with the Leelanau Conservancy, emphasizing the ethics of not rushing through restoration projects, doing no harm and leveraging the expertise of many. 
 
"Partnerships make projects like this better than they could be on their own," Rowe adds. "Historic preservationist and land preservationists, we have this unbelievable common ground."
 
The preservationist goal is that of finding new, active uses for historic properties. As if a project that benefits a university from the city, a historic property Up North, a new generation of preservationists and visitors to the farmstead through its public access trails wasn't enough of an all-around win, Rowe explains how one of the greatest outcomes of the entire project are the young farmers who now actively work the land.
 
"They attended the field school, they love history, and they're experienced farmers," she says. "Without EMU, we wouldn't' have had the opportunity for these young farmers to take a stab at doing some work there. They're now farming about 12 acres, and are stating to fix up some of the other structures."
 
Keeping a historic farm in working condition, let alone in productive use, is clearly no small task. But with a cross-state partnership and years of hard work, EMU and the Leelanau Conservancy have not only honored the long history of the Campbell-DeYoung Farm, they've made it possible for a new chapter to begin. 

Natalie Burg is a freelance writer, the development news editor for Concentrate and Capital Gains, and a regular contributor to Metromode.

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