Local folks have known and loved the King family’s Frog Holler organic produce for decades.
“It’s the best,” gushes Dexter resident Barry Lonik, land preservation activist and President of Treemore Ecology and Land Services. “They have super-high quality produce. It’s always fresh and full.”
Lonik usually shops at the family’s stall at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. But once a year, he and hundreds of others enjoy it right at the farm near Brooklyn during Holler Fest, an event the Kings have hosted for the past seven years on the weekend before Labor Day. “I’ve been every year,” Lonik says. “It’s a three-day music festival on their property. One of the unique things about the King family is that they grew up playing music there. Another is having a kitchen on site, so they have magnificent meals.”
Lonik volunteered in the kitchen this year. In past years, so has Joan Wolf, a Chelsea resident and senior secretary at the University of Michigan: “I’ve spent a lot of time chopping and cooking. They do amazing corn, and tomatoes, and fabulous salads,” she says. Last year, Wolf took on a new project: shepherding a bunch of kids from Ann Arbor’s Bryant Community Center to the event as part of the Sierra Club’s Washtenaw Inner City Outings. “They loved it. I took them on Saturday afternoon, which is very kid friendly.”
“It’s not a huge crowd, about three to five hundred people,” says Lonik, “and it’s very comfortable and relaxed. They have outstanding musicians, mostly local from southeastern Michigan, and an enormous variety of music. There’s lots of great dancing, but for the most part it’s not wild.”
Holler Fest, like Frog Holler, is the creation of the King family. Cathy King and her late husband, Ken, started the farm in 1972. “We were idealistic and reading about other folks simplifying their lives,” she recalls by email. “We were young and it was fun, and I’m sure we were supported psychically by the mood of the sixties and early seventies that we had both embraced.”
They thought the farm would be a commune, but that “evaporated as the ‘hippies’ got older and moved on,” King recalls, “and the back to the land movement seemed to be over, so we settled into being a family farm.” It still is forty years later, with Cathy and her three grown sons, Billy, Kenny, and Edwin, running the farm with half a dozen interns helping out in the summer.
The family has sold produce at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market for decades and recently added a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program by popular demand. “In the early days we grew what we could scratching in the dirt,” Cathy King recalls, “greens and kale. What’s changed [since then] is people like to eat greens. Now we grow more of everything so we can have balanced produce for people who shop at our stall. We changed to meet the demand.”
It’s a rich life, but it hasn’t made them rich. “We might still be here just because we’ve been OK with living communally as a family, minimizing consumption, and not having a lot of financial security,” King says. “The other [people who started communes in the 1960s and 1970s] may be very happy that they are no longer trying to do this! But I know plenty of dumb luck, fortunate timing, and invaluable help from ‘old-timer’ neighbors got us to this point.
“Our goal was never to make a lot of money,” King concludes. “Our goal was always to have a good life. We follow my husband’s example: life is not worth it if it’s not filled with joy, creativity, and fun.”