On any farm, no matter the size or crop plan or livestock mix, one quickly finds that no amount of planning or labor can prevent that breathless moment of looking to the sky, crossing one’s fingers, and begging the elements to be kind. One fateful Thursday as we turned the corner into August, after a weeks-long dry spell that kept our garden crew tirelessly darting about the field with hoses and watering cans, clouds rolled in thick and opened to drench the soil… and the island on our newly expanded Dragon Pond, where we had just finished setting up tents for the weekend’s Dragonboat Festival.
The Dragonboat Festival is our biggest event of the summer, and this year, for its second annual run on August 5, we were thrilled to offer the bigger and badder Dragon Pond to up the challenge level a bit for our boat racers, and open up the island for spectators to enjoy farm-fresh food, beer, and a prime view. But, as both a farm and an outdoor recreation spot, we’re doubly bound to the will of the weather, which had other plans for us and our guests. On Friday, the eve of the event, our crew watched the skies, where the sun shone teasingly down, and hoped for a miracle, but the island stubbornly remained muddy and we moved on to Plan B, shifting all the action shoreside.
Out here at Robin Hills Farm, we’re tried-and-true experts in making it happen on the fly. Saturday morning came on as clear, mild and beautiful as the Michigan summer can be, as though trying to make it up to us for the soggy week, and we hit the ground running. Tents, banners, activity booths, and benches popped up along the pond’s bank at a breakneck pace, all hands on deck until the first guests began to trickle in at 10, the first volunteers arrived to take their posts, and the first boat racers lined up by the water with their handmade boats from our DIY Dragonboats carpentry class.
The day’s festivities began with the family race and a handful of families divided into numerous teams to keep the competition fierce. Though Robin Hills Farm employees represented well (thanks Bacon family and Hodges family!), the other teams proved victorious in semi-final and final rounds. The new route around the island and the normal-sized paddles (compared to the 2-foot paddles from the year prior); however, provided an enjoyable experience for all.
Chef James and Laura Thacker, our indefatigable food and beverage team, set up camp tucked between the bustling Kid Zone and the band tent (shout out to Steel Sound Music!), and set to slinging pulled pork sandwiches, our signature Michigan-grown heirloom popcorn, and chips & salsa and gazpacho with our garden-fresh organic veggies. Ice cream bars, sorbet and handmade local soda from Mud Lake Farm rounded out the menu. Next to the food, our retail manager Jake and farm intern Bree assembled a lovely display of our fresh organic produce, harvested a stone’s throw away in our veggie garden, and other merchandise.
Much of the day’s action took place in the Kid Zone, featuring face painting by Nikki Skrobot, i.e. the Face Painting Robot, and an as-always fantastic and fascinating exposition by our good friends, the Michigan Avian Experience (MAE). Francie and Michelle brought out the Kestrel, the Great Horned Owl, and their prima donna, the Bald Eagle, for our guests, who as usual did not fail to be amazed by the stunning, crowd-friendly raptors and Francie’s expert storytelling about their natural history and incredible adaptations.
Next to the MAE, our Build-a-Boat station gave kids a chance to get creative, while the Bug Booth invited them to explore the natural habitats of our Upper Pond and capture insects and amphibians to examine (and maybe even learn a thing or two!). Our volunteers did a smashing job of keeping the stations running smoothly, while outside the main tent our supervising Education Team, Amanda and Naomi, were a little less fortunate, sticking close by the Petting Farm to foil our Blue Butt piglets’ newly found ability to hop out of their pen. Freckles and Hamlet, as our young friends at the Sounds and Sights Summerfest named them, seemed convinced that the grass was greener (and the grubs tastier) on the other side, though in between miraculous escapes they were happy to avail themselves of belly rubs, ear scratches and (like all babies) naps in the sun. Sophia and Elena, our Highland calves, hung out with their “dad” (our cow whisperer, Carlos) next to the pigpen, keeping it cool like the seasoned divas they are.
Out on the island, the Beer Tent (featuring brews by Wolverine Brewing Co.) and a few brave spectators posted up on the drier margins, though most of the day’s 400 or so visitors preferred to watch the action on the pond from the bridge and beachfront. Between boat races, we gave the public an opportunity to get involved in our Dragon Wars, an aquatic tug-of-war battle in our genuine forty-foot Dragonboat, and in an interactive “halftime show” and paddleboard lessons with Ann Arbor’s Red Star Board Company.
In spite of the ill-timed rain and subsequent scramble of the previous days, the afternoon was filled with all the sunshine, smiling families, and good food that we could have hoped for, not to mention our formidable team of volunteers who made the Kid Zone, registration tent, beer tent, and waterside fun possible. We were once more reminded what a dynamic little community we’re a part of in Chelsea, and how much excitement lies ahead!
A big thanks to all of our friends, neighbors and newcomers who came out for Dragonboat Festival 2017! We’d also like to thank our sponsors: Land Architects, Healthy Smiles Dental Care, CreateMyTee, Gateway Farm, Sherwood Forest, AllAmerican, Lester Bros, JR Schultz Insurance, and Cook Foundation & Flatwork. We’ll see you all soon!