Category Archives: Interview

Brown Farms: Four Generations Strong

Since buying Brown Farms in Wheeler, Michigan in 1976 from his mother after his father’s death, James “Jim” Brown, 76, and his wife Phyllis, 75, have owned and operated the farm along with two of their four children, Matt and Darren, and a handful of hired workers. They farm cash crops and currently grow sugar beets, cucumbers, corn, soy beans, and black beans.

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Darren Brown carries material needed to mix in a tank to spray a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

According to their son, fourth generation farmer Darren, 47, he estimates Brown Farms now owns about 3,500 acres, a far cry from the 40 acres Jim bought in 1976.

Now a full-time worker on the farm, Darren started off as a residential truck driver and hauled propane until the day his daughter Ellie, now 14 years old, was born.

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Darren Brown holds the nozzle on a tractor equipped with sprayers after mixing fertilizer before spraying a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

He lives less than five miles away from Brown Farms with Ellie and Barbara, Darren’s wife of 17 years. Barbara is a teacher at Breckenridge High School and the couple have three children, two of which are from Barbara’s previous marriage: Benjamin, 24, and Lindsay, 21, both of which are working in Grand Rapids.

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Ellie Brown, 14, holds a picture of her showing her steer Bridget at the county fair in 2014. 

Ellie is a freshman in high school and an avid dancer with a passion for cows. She has shown steers for seven years and the family currently has 10 cows.

She hopes to attend South Dakota State University and work with cows.

“The cows outnumber the people in South Dakota,” Darren jokes.

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Darren Brown and his mother Phyllis Brown look through old photographs at her kitchen table on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. 

Darren’s parents Phyllis and Jim still live on the farm and Jim has yet to retire, still running for parts and driving the big tractor, but now taking off days to go golfing once in a while.

Phyllis grew up on a farm held an active role on Brown Farms and after marrying Jim.

“When the boys were little I used to drive tractors once in a while,” she said. “When they got tractors with cabs on them, I would put the kids on the floor on a blanket and they would sleep all afternoon while I drove. Back then, you took meals to the field. You packed the dinner and you took it to the field and all four kids, tried to keep them on a blanket so they could sit there and eat. There used to be more late nights then working, so sometimes that was when they saw their dad. They were in bed by the time he would come home.”

 

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Darren Brown (left), his daughter Ellie Brown (middle), and wife Barbara Brown (right) eat a quick dinner on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 before his wife and daughter leave for Ellie’s dance classes. 

Phyllis said she hopes to see the farm continue and became emotional about the uncertainty that her grandchildren will want to continue the farm.

“What do you do with the farm if your kids don’t want it? Or need it,” Phyllis said. “I think that’s basically what Jim’s worked for, is so that there’s something for them. We weren’t blessed with a lot of grandsons; we only have four. You can’t pick what the kids are going to do. As long as they’re happy, the ground is a good investment.”

 

 

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Shadow in Saginaw

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Last week as part of an assignment for a class I spent the day job shadowing a working photojournalist. I ended up spending the day with Jacob Hamilton, 25, a native of Chicago who currently lives in Saginaw where he recently moved in with his girlfriend Ellen. Jake is an photographer for MLive Media Group and works between both The Saginaw News and The Bay City Times as a multimedia specialist.

When I arrived at The Saginaw News my first impression was surprise at how open and welcoming the office is. In my head I had imagined those depressingly ugly gray cubicles that workers try desperately to cheer up by pinning up photos, figurines, or perhaps a plant or two. The MLive Saginaw office is just one big room, save for the bathroom and the kitchen area. The main area has a few rows of desks with power stations where the employees can work from.

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Employees at The Saginaw News, a media news company owned by MLive Media Group, work out of their office located at 100 S. Michigan Ave. in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

It was interesting to see how the staff communicated. The reporter had a story saved as a draft in what looked like could be a WordPress blog post and then Jake would upload the photos and at the bottom in the tag box he would tag his editor and just look over and verbally tell his editor that it was ready to be edited. No one had to get up from their spot or phone over to a different part of the office or send an email, it was just kind of easy going and fluid.

For the first assignment we went to Tasha’s Loc Shop, where owner Latasha Campbell plans to expand into a new location.

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Latasha Campbell works on a client’s hair at her new location on Dixie Highway in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

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Latasha Campbell re-twists her client Leonardo Shack’s hair to tighten the dreadlocks at her new location on Dixie Highway in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

It was a bit challenging to photograph here because the space was fairly narrow and I was trying to be hyper-aware to not get in any of my mentor’s photos. It was interesting to see his working style. There was also a reporter there and she was asking questions and every once in a while, Jake would ask a question, something I also like to do. Lots of people say photographers should be a fly on the wall but I feel like by asking questions and developing a small relationship there and showing interest in the subject’s life, it allows the subject to feel more at ease with you and the camera, therefore generating better photographs overall. It was reassuring to see a media professional doing something that I just did from instinct.

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Jacob Hamilton, photographs Latasha Campbell, owner of Tasha’s Loc Shop, and Leonardo Shacks while Campbell re-twists Shack’s dreadlocks on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at her new location in Saginaw, Michigan. Hamilton, 25, is a multimedia specialist for The Saginaw Times.

From there we went back to The Saginaw New’s office. Something I did not realize prior to this job shadow was how crucial of a program Photo Mechanic is in the industry. According to Jake, it is essentially the standard. I have used the program a sum total of once, so that was a bit worrying to me. I feel comfortable using Adobe Photoshop but watching him edit using Photo Mechanic seemed significantly more efficient and I made a mental note to learn as much as I can about the program. Adobe Photoshop seems really great to use from single photo editing, but from what I see Photo Mechanic makes more sense to utilize in terms of being able to see multiple photos at once and click which you’re going to use and then arrange for use in a photo story or a gallery much easier. You can’t really see arrangement in Photoshop so this seems like a much more useful tool in practice.

After that we drove out to Midland to photograph the Midland Balloon Fest. We got there a bit early so there weren’t a lot of prime photo opportunities yet, but once they got the first balloon up in the air it seemed like very quickly the rest of the balloons went up.

The experience I gained from this assignment in my opinion made it probably the most beneficial assignment out of any I have done thus far during my time at Central Michigan University because of its practicality.  It gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how the newsroom operated and gain a basic idea of expectations, deadlines, and editing procedures.

Prior to shadowing Jake I mentioned that I was unsure about my future as a photojournalist in regards to working at a newspaper. I was considering nearly any alternatives because I felt that there isn’t any job security in working for a newspaper. As someone who has strong family ties, living near my family is essential for me. As someone who also has anxiety, the uncertainty in having a job on a day to day basis I feel would not be good for my overall mental health. I voiced these concerns and Jake answered all of my questions with patience and kindness. Though I know it is unrealistic to find a job in this field I can work for 30 some years in the same place and then retire, it is worrisome to see recent graduates getting let go from jobs every six months or so and moving on. I’m not much of a nomad. Following this experience, I feel better prepared to look at newspaper jobs as a viable option.

It’s your rite (to be Wiccan)

Glenda Bartel along with her best friend Melissa Collingham opened up the Livingston County Spiritual Center (LCSC), an alternative and holistic health service, to educate, inspire, and heal others.

The two provide services such as Reiki attunement, tarot and medium readings, and chakra and aura healing. They also teach classes and host workshops at the center.

One of the classes is Wicca 101.

According to Thea Sabin in her book “Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice” Wicca is an evolving religion and a Wiccan is a person who has either formally or ritually declared themselves a Wiccan or simply is following the Wiccan religion/spiritual path.

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Glenda Bartel teaches the Wicca 101 class at the Livingston County Spiritual Center in Pinckney, Michigan on Sunday, February 12, 2016.

Bartel is a medium/clairvoyant and though she no longer follows Wicca religion she still identifies as a witch and enjoys educating others about Wicca.

“I wanted to share my knowledge with people, because I know what it did for me,” Bartel said. “So why can’t this be for other people?”

Bartel said she first realized she was a medium when she predicted her grandmother’s death when she was 12 years old. At age 14 she saw her great-grandmother’s spirit, an encounter she described as “bloody frightening.”

As for being a witch, Bartel said she didn’t really know anything about Wicca until she was 22 years old.

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Faye Sweeny takes notes during the Wicca 101 class taught by Glenda Bartel.

“I noticed how sensitive I was with the moon phases,” Bartel said. “I paid attention. But I’m also a triple Scorpio.”

Howell resident Faye Sweeny attended the Wicca class to learn about the religion and satisfy her curiosity.

“It may sound selfish, but to get a better understanding of myself. What am I doing here, where am I going, what’s my purpose,” Faye said. “I think this will help.”

Bartel believes Wicca is a great stepping stone for spirituality.

“It gets you in tune with Earth,” Bartel said. “It gets you in tune with the elements, it gets you in tune with the universe. It makes you respect all living things. These are essential things to know and learn on any spiritual path, not just Wicca.”

Two years ago Bartel decided to stop following Wicca and explore other religions and her own spirituality. Wicca is still a fundamental part of her though due to her being a witch.

“I was looking for spiritual awakening, spiritual enlightenment,” Bartel said. “And that takes a lot of work outside of Wicca. And because it is a religion you do have things that you have to follow.”

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Faye Sweeny takes notes over “Wicca: The Complete Craft” by D.J. Conway, a book Wicca instructor Glenda Bartel recommended for beginners to Wicca.

The religion of Wicca is based on a simple moral code called the Wiccan Rede “An ye harm none, do what ye will.”

According to Sabin’s book, the earliest church documents mentioning witchcraft is in the “Canon Episcopi” which could date as early as 906 AD. “The Canon said, essentially, that witchcraft was an illusion that originated in dreams, and to believe in it was heresy, or against the teachings of the church,” Sabin said.  So ensues the witch hunts and trials.

It wasn’t until about the 1950s that Wicca popularized. Followers began to make their own form of it and the faith made its way to The United States. Wicca made its way into popular witchcraft-based books and television shows, such as Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Popular media featuring witchcraft is still prevalent but strong stereotypes still exist such as Halloween dressing up as the ugly witch with the face warts or calling someone who is being nasty a witch.

When asked about stereotypes and what people think about her being a witch, Bartel had a quick and firm answer.

“I don’t base my life on other people’s opinion because that means they control my life, not me,” Bartel said. “And I’m not giving people that kind of power.”

The Livingston County Spiritual Center is located in Pinckney, Michigan but Bartel and Collingham plan to relocate. Updates can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/livingstoncountyspiritualcenter/.

The Living Canvas

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to follow make-up artist and world renowned body painter Andrea O’Donnell for the day leading up to film her artistic process for the Gala Grandiosa at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Andrea opened up her home to me, a complete stranger, and without her kindness and my seemingly far fetched daydream of filming a body painter this video wouldn’t have been possible. And though it isn’t flawless, I know the lighting could be better and the audio is a bit rough, it is a learning experience and that’s really what doing these videos is all about.