Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Friends Newsletter, Vo. 1, No. 2, Fall 2003

Conservation at Ruby Ellen Farm

Fourth-generation farmer Rex Dobson cutting hay (second cutting) on protected farmland at Ruby Ellen Farm, Bingham Township, Leelanau County, Michigan, September 2002. Photo by Mark Livengood, © The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation.

The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to document, preserve, and perpetuate the historical, cultural, and environmental resources of the Ruby Ellen Farm for the benefit and education of current and future generations. The Foundation is the brainchild of fourth-generation farmer Rex Dobson who, working with a seven-person board comprised of members of the community, has devised a way to safeguard the natural and cultural resources of the 160-acre general farm his great grandparents homesteaded in 1865 in Bingham Township, Leelanau County, Michigan. In 1999, Rex worked with the Leelanau Conservancy to become the first farmer in Leelanau County to sign a farmland development rights easement with the state of Michigan, effectively protecting ninety acres of prime farmland from future development.

In addition to his farm’s natural resources, Rex recognized the importance of its cultural resources, including fifteen buildings, farming processes and techniques, and his community’s history. In October 2000, two Traverse City-based journalists and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy premiered a multimedia project, With These Hands, that showcases four area farm families, including Rex. And since November 2000, the Foundation has been generating ethnographic materials that are part of its archives and that will help to interpret the farm when its educational role expands, though it is to remain a contemporary working farm. In the past three years the Foundation has received funding from the Americana Foundation, and the Traverse Area Arts Council and the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs, to continue the ethnographic project, contract with a Traverse City-based filmmaker to shoot documentary video, and write a nomination for the farm to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Foundation has hosted groups and students from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, and area schools. Meanwhile, Rex continues to farm the alfalfa and corn, oats and rye, and tend to the sweet and tart cherry orchards as he has for seven decades.

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Last updated: August 11, 2003