A farm in rural Michigan
A farm in rural Michigan - 
Listen To The Story

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.  

Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal