Eaton County is dotted with historic centennial farms, a designation which signifies that they have been a working farm of ten or more acres and have been continuously owned by the same family for at least 100 years. The Tirrell Farm, on Tirrell Road in Carmel Township, is one of those farms.
Patricia “Pat” Tirrell lives in such a house and farm, the Tirrell Centennial Farm. The farm itself was owned by her husband’s ancestors since 1847 when John Fletcher Tirrell moved from Ionia County to the farm to be with his second wife, Mary Featherstone, according to The History of Ingham and Eaton Counties, which was published in 1880 and includes a drawing of the original farm. The farmhouse Tirrell is living in was completed in 1873. Tirrell has the diaries of John Fletcher Tirrell (1817-1902), written in the faded pencil scratches of an elderly man.
Tirrell has strived to retain the historical integrity of the farm. The farmhouse was lacking some basics when she moved there in 1978, like running water and full electricity throughout the house. But she and her husband, Duane, immediately started work to renovate the old house. It still retains most of its original look, slightly modernized, including its original woodwork.
Tirrell grew up in Portage, attended Michigan State University, and graduated with a degree in horticulture, and was excited to be the wife of a farmer and to live on a farm. She did some teaching and worked as the high school athletic department secretary for a few years, all part time jobs. “That was fun,” Tirrell said. “I loved it.” She discovered that she especially enjoyed working with high school students.
But what she truly loved was helping her husband on the farm, getting “back to nature,” she said.
“I was cut out to be a farmer’s wife,” she proclaimed. They lived on a shoestring budget for years, she said, but didn’t want for much. They had three children and now have five grandchildren. Her husband passed away in 2007.
“I like the challenge of decision making on the farm; figuring out what to do next,” Tirrell said. “It’s never boring, and there are always new challenges ahead of me.” They have cows and sheep on the farm, plus a handful of chickens.
“It’s rewarding to watch the animals grow,” Tirrell said. “We are a production farm and want to do a better job every year to produce more sheep.” And the Tirrell sheep flock have cooperated with that; while most sheep have one or two lambs at a time, theirs are often having five little ones; a sign that the mothers are healthy and “improved.” Tirrell figures she has helped deliver several thousands of lambs over the years.
“We can’t call the vet every time a lamb is ready to deliver;” Tirrell said. “We learned how to do it ourselves.”
Changes in technology and farm equipment have made the job slightly easier, Tirrell admitted. They now have a tractor with an enclosed cab, allowing them to stay warm and for the grandkids to safely join them. “I’m getting older and it’s nice to let the machines do most of the work,” she explained.
But still, she is up early every morning to check on and feed the animals. They no longer produce crops, only hay for their animals on the 30+ acre farm.
At one point, Tirrell and her son started a retail store, The Tirrell Farmstead, in the brick schoolhouse at the corner of Kalamo and Battle Creek Highways. In the store, they featured meat, artisanal cheese, baked goods, and handmade woolen items that Pat made. They made their cheese from sheep’s milk, which has a sweet, nutty flavor, she explained. They had about 600 ewes to supply the milk. They sold their cheese at shows around the state and produced it for Zimmerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor.
But it grew to be too much after about five years. “We had to quit for our own sanity,” explained Tirrell. “It was a great experience, and was a wonderful way of meeting new people, but it was just too much to manage with too few helpers.”
Tirrell also is talented in the use of wool. She spins and weaves wool roving into blankets, table covers, placemats, and more. She worked for approximately 20 years at Davidson’s Old Mill Yarn store in Eaton Rapids, where she taught spinning lessons. Her first loom got her hooked on weaving. She now has multiple looms and multiple spinning wheels, most of which are set up with a project going.
Tirrell also serves as Vice President of the Eaton County Historical Commission and enjoys volunteering, such as teaching kids to sew at the Crosswalk Teen Center, participating in historic cemetery tours, and more. She has been active in 4H and in Eaton County Agriculture programs. She also enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.