Bohlen Farms – that’s us – grew up on farms about two hours apart in central Illinois. Together our childhood homes bookended the heart of the very best farmland in the world. After meeting at the Illinois State Fair, where we were both working as judges, we got married, and farmed for nearly a decade just south of Decatur, Illinois. The lure of corporate employment and the growing realization of how difficult it was to raise a family on the money their size of farm could return in the late ‘80s led us away from the dark rich soils of Illinois to the beautiful timbers and forests of North Carolina.
It took more than 5 years for the informal head of corporate real estate acquisitions, Alice, to come up with an ideal property, but she located a 10 acre farm, close to both Durham and Chapel Hill, and also to Interstate 40, that would serve as the headquarters for our family’s North Carolina farms. With 4 children – Martin, Hannah, Peter and Benjamin – then in high school and middle school, it became a family project over the next ten years to reshape the swamp ground timber into an orchard that would sustain many families in the triangle. The four children learned to run backhoes, excavators, bulldozers, tractors and trucks. They learned to think ahead four or five years as they executed each phase of the building plans, and more importantly learned to work and take pride in what they achieved. Each of them also learned the multiple skills required to build their own homes.
Building the farm started with clearing land for the driveway, over 1300 feet long. Then as the summer of 2001 rolled to a close, we started building the shop that would serve as the primary building center for the home. The shop was completed in late fall or 2001, and construction started on the house. It took almost a full year, but eventually it was done, and the family moved in on February 1, 2003. Having served as our own general contractor, and doing much of the construction themselves, including wiring, much of the finish trim, and laying the walnut and cherry floors, each one of us truly had the feeling that the home was ours.
Then the real fun began as each year we tackled one major project. Today, the three ponds, four waterfalls, an enclosed stone-walled secret garden, three gazebos, a guest home, and four separate orchards provide a beautiful setting designed to be as peaceful as it is attractive. One major project is still completed each year, and the farm has grown from 10 to 17 acres.
The farm has served as the location for everything from charity events and weddings to family gatherings and corporate meetings. Each year as the landscaping has grown in, the property becomes ever more lush and beautiful.
Because of what they justifiably call their “ten years of hard labor,” the children can each build almost anything out of wood, stone or metal, and no longer complain about the countless hours of work they endured to build the property. In fact, their growth has served as the impetus for our decision to establish the orchard as a “pick your own” property. Believing in the importance of working together as a family has lead us to the decision to encourage families to “pick their own” to help their children learn both the value of hard work and that food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store.