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HomeLifestyleHealth & WellnessSmall House Farm's Seeds of Wisdom: Embracing Abundance and the Art of...

Small House Farm’s Seeds of Wisdom: Embracing Abundance and the Art of Small Living

For Bevin Cohen, some of nature’s smallest components hold the greatest possibilities. 

Cohen is a seed saver on a mission to educate gardeners across Michigan – and across the country – about the time-honored tradition of collecting and sharing seeds. Although he’s been gardening and studying the use of plants for more than two decades, it wasn’t that long ago that Cohen experienced his own seed-saving epiphany during a visit to Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center. 

“At the Chippewa Nature Center they keep a beautiful garden of heirloom vegetables and flowers,” Cohen says. “It’s quite an inspirational place to spend an afternoon. The first seeds I learned to save came from this garden; a stunning black bean grown by the Cherokee people before they were forcibly moved from their homeland by the American government.”

The preservation and perpetuation of seeds that traveled along the Trail of Tears remind Cohen of the power – and history – contained within the tiny treasures. 

“Seeds are resilient,” Cohen says. “They adapt and improve and continue to grow, despite the hardships they might face. We can learn a lot from seeds.”

Cohen cultivated the beautiful, black-seeded pole beans the following year, sharing his seed harvest with friends. And those friends did the same the next season, and so on, and so on. For Cohen, there’s no better way to illustrate the exponential impact of seed savers. 

“A handful of beans becomes hundreds of beans and a handful of seed savers becomes hundreds of seed savers,” he says. 

In February, Cohen was back at the Chippewa Nature Center for the seventh annual Central Michigan Seed Swap. 

“Hundreds of people from across the Midwest join together on this one special day to share seeds and stories, to learn from each other, and build community,” he says. “Our gardens unite us, despite our differences. This is the place where seeds were first shared with me. And now I get to share seeds with so many others. It’s an honor to have that opportunity.”

From his first exposure to heirloom seeds, Cohen has developed a missionary zeal for sharing his passion for gardening and seed saving as widely as possible. He is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in venerated gardening publications such as Mother Earth News, Modern Farmer Magazine, and The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company Catalog. Cohen also regularly presents workshops and lectures across the country about the benefits of seed conservation and locally grown food.  

In 2017, Cohen founded the Michigan Seed Library Network, which provides informational resources and educational programming to help establish and maintain seed libraries across Michigan. The organization hosts an annual seed library summit and a yearly seed dispersal program. Michigan is currently home to 125 of the estimated 600 seed libraries in the United States. 

Raised by his grandmother in an apartment on the edge of Midland, Cohen was fascinated by the natural world from an early age. Although his own garden was limited to a pot of radishes on the balcony, he relished trips to a friend’s garden, where he enjoyed tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the vine. 

“At the time, the woods next to our apartment building went on for what seemed like forever to a small child,” he recalls. “I loved spending my days out in the woods, exploring the trails, listening to the birds, and snacking on berries.”

Today, Cohen makes his home in Sanford, along with his wife, Heather, and sons, Elijah and Anakin.

“We’re located on a dead-end dirt road across the street from 1100 acres of forest,” he says. “We’re thankful to be able to spend time exploring the woods, learning about the many plants that live in our bio-region.”

It was here that Small House was born in 2014. The business offers a variety of seeds as well as herbal products handmade in small batches from herbs grown by the Cohens or gathered from the wild. 

“The name Small House is less about the building that we live in and more about our philosophy on life,” Cohen says. “We believe in small, slow, intentional living and we offer a line of herbal products, seeds, and books that reflect that philosophy. We cold press the oils that we use here on the farm and the beeswax is made by the same bees that pollinate our gardens. Our seeds are grown using organic methods and are harvested, threshed, and winnowed by our family. Like everything else in life, what we do here at Small House is based on relationships: relationships with ourselves and our community, but also with our plants, with our food and medicine.”

Small House is also a repository for Cohen’s numerous books on gardening and seed saving. His first book, From Our Seeds & Their Keepers, was published in 2018. Cohen’s newest book, Grow Great Vegetables in Michigan, will be available on April 4. 

From Our Seeds & Their Keepers is a collection of stories about seeds and the people that keep them,” Cohen says. “Seeds are full of stories, passed down from one generation to the next. And the people that steward these seeds also have stories to tell. I wanted to capture and document that moment in time. If we don’t save and share these stories, they might be lost.”

During the early days of the pandemic, to help combat social isolation, Cohen and his family began a foray into the digital realm with the Small House Farm YouTube channel. In addition to getting a peek of life at Small House Farm, viewers will also find plenty of helpful information for growing a bountiful garden and saving seeds from their harvest. 

Grow Great Michigan Vegetables

“The channel is a way for us to connect with people and to share with them what we are doing here at Small House,” Cohen says. “From planting seeds and telling stories to tapping maples and growing mushrooms, our YouTube channel offers a glimpse into what we are doing, but also into who we are. It’s been a really nice way to connect with people that we might not have been able to connect with otherwise.”  

In 2023, Small House launched the Seeds & Weeds Podcast. “It’s a fun new way for us to celebrate plants and the people that love them with short 15- to 20-minute episodes featuring interviews with gardeners, herbalists, farmers, and other groovy plant people,” Cohen says.  

Cohen says the garden at Small House Farm is the family’s sanctuary. Filled with a variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables, there are plenty of historic heirlooms alongside “new and interesting” varietals. No matter whether it’s time for planting, weeding, or harvesting, the garden is cultivated as a family.

From Our Seeds & Their Keepers

For new gardeners, or gardeners new to seed saving, Cohen says start small, connect with garden clubs and other like-minded folks, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. 

“Gardening with my children is one of the most important things that I can do,” Cohen says. “Kids need time outside with their hands in the soil. Planting seeds, pulling weeds, and enjoying the fruits of their labor. If we can teach our children to appreciate the things that we didn’t even understand until we were adults, we are doing the most significant work that we can do to make the world a better place. Slow down, appreciate the small things, have patience with yourself, hard work pays off; these are all lessons that we can learn in the garden. Let’s learn them together.”

“We all enjoy a bountiful harvest; freshly picked tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and stunning flowers, but the challenges and struggles that we might face in our gardens are just as beneficial,” he says. “That’s how we learn. And if we can learn to embrace these challenges and accept our mistakes,  these are lessons that we can apply to every aspect of our life.” 

For more information about Small House Farm and the Seeds & Weeds podcast, visit smallhousefarm.com.

Jane Meade-Dean
Jane Meade-Dean
With over three decades of experience as a former newspaper reporter and college public relations officer, Jane has a knack for capturing the essence of intriguing people, places, and things. Jane hails from the scenic mountains of Southwest Virginia and is a proud graduate of The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Apart from her contributions to LLL, Jane serves as a freelance writer for two neighborhood magazines in Midland. Since relocating to Michigan in 2007, she has developed a deep appreciation for Michigan summers, craft beer, and the Michigan State Spartans. Jane's passion for storytelling and her love for the Mitten State shine through her engaging articles.
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