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One family rebuilds in northern Michigan

A farm in rural Michigan

In 2005, Mardi Jo Link was divorcing her husband of 19 years, facing foreclosure on her beloved farm in northern Michigan, and trying desperately to feed and care for her three sons.

“We just replaced cash with physical labor for about 12 and a half months,” she says. “Sometimes we forget how satisfying physical labor can be, how great it is to feel tired at the end of the day.”

Link says she had promised herself she would raise her kids on a farm, and says, “I was going to do anything I had to to make that happen.” She details her family's year-long adventure in her new novel, "Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm."

One story: there was an $100 prize offered at her local bakery to whoever could grow the largest zucchini. A loaf of bread at the bakery was fifty cents—which meant a prize would have paid for at least 6 months to a year of bread. Link’s sons each cared for zucchinis that were found growing in their backyard. They even made little flannel pillows to cradle the zucchinis.

The family won first and second prize.  Link says,  “It was sort of a rare victory for that difficult year.  Just being able to do something right meant a whole lot.”

Link also recounts the day she signed her kids up for the free lunch program at their school. “ I always thought that those kinds of programs were valuable -- but they were for other people.” But she says she still avoided asking for help.  “I felt like I needed to provide for myself, I needed to solve my own problems.”

Her story has a happy ending. Link managed to keep the farmhouse in northern Michigan and to get back on her feet after a year. Her sons are doing well and she’s since remarried.  

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Very interesting story, I was not really impressed however. Though I appreciate Mardi Jo taking ownership of her situation not taking advantage of at least SNAP or free or low cost lunch for her children to me seems a bit prideful. Let me explain. Wanting to do it on your own is a great sentiment but when you make your family suffer through your pride that is not ok. I lost my job in 2008 and took advantage of local food banks and free lunches for my kids and would do so again. I have been homeless and hungry and it is not a fun situation to be in. I agree I would not take advantage of all the programs available because I would hope my situation is transient. I would however keep all my options open and not be so prideful as to make my loved ones suffer.

I had to create an account in order to speak to your comment, which really resonated with my own responses to this story. When I heard the intro, I was in my car and couldn't wait to hear the rest. Actually, part of me thought, "I hope this isn't another one of those, 'I did it, so what's wrong with you?' stories". Well, I have to agree with tlwestrope-I wasn't impressed with the story, per se. I applaud this single mom for taking her life by the horns, but this type of story cannot be generalized to apply to every similar situation.
Also, this statement: Link also recounts the day she signed her kids up for the free lunch program at their school. “ I always thought that those kinds of programs were valuable -- but they were for other people.” But she says she still avoided asking for help. “I felt like I needed to provide for myself, I needed to solve my own problems.” is confusing.
Did she, or did she not sign her kids up? It is perfectly ok if she had done so. That mindset is the one that compounds suffering for people who are already "down and out", and having feelings of worthlessness. These programs are there for a reason-and may I add-we PAY into them all our lives, so why wouldn't you get food for your hungry children, or a reduced lunch to take the bite out of your lean wallet? In a capitalist economy, someone will always be in need, and that person at some given point in time, may be you. I also agree with tlwestrope that pride is damaging. The other thing that is not taken into account is the fact that this woman owns a farm, which means she has a sustainable resource. She could grow her own food, sell her food, and even lease her property if need be. Most people in this country who fall into hard economic times don't have these types of assets. Furthermore, I don't like her title of her book, although I am quite sure it will resonate with the wealthy in this country, like the Koch brothers, who want everyone who is in poverty to believe it is their fault and if they work hard enough, they will achieve the "American Dream", (which we know statistically, isn't even a remote possibility). She sounds like she could be one of the people who protested against the teachers at Michigan's state capital, who thinks that "right to work", is a good idea and unions are bad-very "Palinish". I could be wrong, but that's my take. I am happy for her that she and her children survived and thrived.

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