‘Help yourself, pay what you can’: Tranquil Acres sharing fresh produce with community

By Sarah Greil

TOMAHAWK – Years ago, people would learn where their food comes from by visiting their grandpa’s farm or by planting their own garden. But in a day and age when you can find all your food under the roof of a grocery store, many don’t have the privilege of seeing where their food originally comes from.

Bill and Heather Smith recognized this void in people’s lives and decided to do something about it.

Bill and Heather Smith have lived in the Nokomis area for 26 years. Now that they are both retired, they decided to downsize their house, but increase their land.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they bought a small hunting shack along with the surrounding land.

“We hunkered down in our happy place,” Heather said. “The whole world was going crazy, but we didn’t have to take part in that.”

Within a year of living there, they realized this has brought them so much joy that it would be selfish not to share it. They also realized the void of people not being connected to each other, to nature, and to their food.

In the summer of 2022, Bill and Heather planted a nearly two-acre garden. When it was time to harvest the first vegetables, they invited family and neighbors to come pick their own. As word of mouth spread, many more people came to do their weekly grocery shopping at what they call Tranquil Acres.

This year, they more than doubled the garden space to about five acres. A field of pollinator flowers has been added to attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. They are in the process of creating about a mile of walking trails in the woods around the gardens and plan on adding apple, cherry and plum trees, as well as a variety of berries.

Heather said that often they would be working in their fenced-in garden and there would be deer watching them from the outside. So, she decided to plant an “apology field” for the deer, offering rutabagas, turnips, beets and clover.

The only plants outside the fences are lavender because the deer don’t bother them. They started with 2,500 lavender plants in five varieties but are down to around 1,500 because of the toll winter takes on them. Lavender needs to be at least three years old to be useable. Their hope is that next year they will be able to extract oils to make their own soaps, body sprays, room sprays and laundry detergent.

The lack of rain this year is taking a toll on the plants. Eventually, Bill would like to put in an irrigation system. Until then, he has created a boom system of sprayers pulled by a tractor to keep the gardens watered. He starts at 4 o’clock every morning. It takes three to four hours to water both gardens. When there is threat of frost, he is out watering all night to keep the plants from freezing.

Tranquil Acres, located at W6098 Stelling Rd., just a few minutes south of Tomahawk off County Rd. E, advertises mainly through Facebook. They are currently not open because there is nothing yet to pick. When the gardens are open for picking, they will let people know on their Facebook page.

Heather and Bill Smith.

They’ll be open to the public Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays will be open only for those with special situations which don’t allow them to shop around groups of people.

There is a donation box by the gate, but no suggested donation or pricing.

“We don’t want to set prices on anything because we don’t want people to think they can’t afford it,” Bill stated. “This is here for everybody, no matter what the circumstances. We’ve both been in situations where we had nothing or couldn’t afford things and we don’t want anyone limited by that. Just come here, help yourself, and pay what you can.”

People have asked if they were taking their produce to a farmer’s market, but they want this to be a different experience. Their mission is “providing the opportunity for people to connect to each other, nature and their food, so that everyone can afford to eat healthy.”

They want people to come dig in the dirt, get their hands dirty and see where their food comes from.

“If they don’t know how to pick something, we’ll show them how to pick it,” Heather said. “If they don’t know how to cook something, we’ll give them a recipe.”

There’s also a flag system to let people know what is ripe and what isn’t.

Bill and Heather ultimately have two rules at Tranquil Acres. Number one: Be kind to one another. Number two: You must eat produce while you garden. But they mostly want people know that the produce isn’t only for people who can’t afford it. It’s for everybody. For people who want to spend time in nature. For people who want to pick their own food.

To find out what Bill and Heather are up to lately and for news about when the produce will be ready to pick, follow “Tranquil Acres Tomahawk” on Facebook or visit their website at www.tranquilacrestomahawk.com.

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