Ruby Ellen Farm will use its natural and cultural resources to educate and inspire stewardship, self-sufficiency and balanced relationships with nature and the community.

new (old) shutters

A traditional white farmhouse peaking out from the cedars may be all you see when passing by Ruby Ellen Farm. For the curious who venture in, past the heirloom hollyhocks and fields of alfalfa, a world thought lost reveals itself. Nestled among the towering pines lies a magical place defining the simple grace of times past, yet alive and as vital to the future as it has ever been. Wandering the well-worn two-track lanes connecting field to barn, house to garden, wood lot to wood shed, one cannot help but imagine the early morning sunrise heating the misty fields, accompanied by the daybreak call of a rooster, the hungry meows and muffled whinnies from the barn, and the sound of farmer Rex Dobson cranking up his old red pick-up to start another day. Ruby Ellen Farm transcends the years, for while a visitor might be inspired to remember and reflect upon the past, they are just as likely to meet the future within the tranquil rhythms of the farm’s daily life.

2-momentosAt the Farm, one learns the importance of timeless concepts such as responsibility, self- reliance, and stewardship. One also learns the inspiring story of a remarkable, unassuming man, Rex Dobson. Raised on the farm and its final heir, Rex had the foresight to ensure the values instilled in the farmstead way of life would be available for future generations to learn from and live by. Rex exemplified those values throughout his life. His reverence and respect for all things growing obliged him to work in partnership with nature, always seeking a delicate balance throughout each season. Rex keenly understood the interdependence of community, a necessity in living a simple life that provided sustenance, shelter and life long friends and neighbors. As a highly regarded bachelor farmer, he struggled with the economic and development pressures faced by many aging small farm owners across the country to abandon their traditional lifestyle in exchange for financial security. In choosing to preserve Ruby Ellen Farm, Rex made certain that a small corner of farm life history was preserved not only for his community, but for all those with a desire to learn the skills and traditions passed down through generations.

8-rex-pointingRuby Ellen offers the perfect learning environment in which to experience small scale farming methods proven by its successful stewards. The historic success of Ruby Ellen Farm functioning as a source of family sustenance, as well as a participant in the complex social and agricultural interdependency of a small rural community, demonstrates the importance of timeless concepts such as respect, responsibility, environmental stewardship, frugality, self-sufficiency and both the independence and inter-dependence of family members and of neighbors. Visitors are infused with the magic of this special farm, and soon begin to realize that these concepts hold the key to understanding our need for connection to place. Around the world, people are increasingly seeking ways of educating themselves on food sources, food quality, food production and the inherent value found within those systems, as they relate to economics, environment and to their own health. These are just some of the topics Ruby Ellen Farm addresses as an active and historic prototype subsistence farm. For students, farmers, historians, artists, professionals, and laborers, these lessons come to life at Ruby Ellen as daily practices are conveyed through structured, hands-on educational programs.

Today, Ruby Ellen Farm exists predominantly as it has for over a century. It offers a glimpse into the past where history is translated into practices that are relevant to living a better life, teaching us that one can better embrace the complexity of modern culture by getting back to basics of an agrarian lifestyle. The farm tells a story that serves as a reminder of the importance of connecting with the land and each other. The board of directors, staff, volunteers, donors and friends contribute in a number of ways, all of which allow the organization to sustain the vision and mission of Rex Dobson and the Farm. Just as it took a community to bring the harvest in each fall, so too it takes a community to fulfill our mission and all that it encompasses, both tangible and intangible, ensuring that Ruby Ellen will continue to exist as a treasured and irreplaceable resource for the education and enjoyment of all.

Board of Directors & Advisory Board

The Board c. 2004

The Board c. 2004  (In the farmhouse kitchen) Pictured left to right: Standing –  Adam Lett, Mark Livengood (Advisor), Don Kiessel, Rick Wilson, Ed Kiessel, Rex Shugart ; Seated – Peggy Core, Rex Dobson, Nancy Kotting.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

John M. Werner Sr. (President, Agricultural Counsel)

John is a third generation farmer on the 90-acre family farm in Bingham Township.  In 1902, his great-grandfather left the family homestead in Port Oneida and purchased the Bingham land.  A general farm when John became the steward, he raised feeder cattle and row crops, improving the soil, and establishing a productive cattle, grain, and hay operation.  The hay fields remained, but the cattle were eventually replaced by sweet and tart cherry orchards.  John is a member of Cherry Growers Inc., has served 20 years on the Leelanau County Soil Conservation District Board of Directors, currently as the Vice Chairman, and serves on the Personnel and Finance Committees.  He is a member of, and usher at, Trinity Lutheran Church and is past Vice Chairman of the congregation.  He currently is a member of the Bingham Township Zoning Board of Appeals, and also works as an election official.  John is a residential finish carpenter, as well as a ship’s carpenter, spending 20 years at Rennie Marina repairing/refinishing wood boats.

Peggy Core (Secretary/Co-Treasurer)

Peggy is a multimedia artist by vocation, but wears many other hats.  She is a founding member of The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation Board, and a fourth generation Leelanau County resident who still lives on land homesteaded by her paternal ancestors in the mid 1800s.  Peggy helped develop and grow three successful local businesses.  She was Director of the Friendship Community Center in Suttons Bay for a decade, spent several years as member/secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Leelanau Historical Society/Museum, and served three terms as a board member/secretary of the Traverse Area Arts Council.  She served three terms as Bingham Township Clerk, and is currently the Deputy Clerk.  She frequently works at other area businesses, and provides various contract services from her home office.  Peggy’s art is in private collections throughout the United States, and several other countries.  In her spare time she tends her vegetable garden beds, reads, continues a long-term farmhouse remodeling project, and travels when possible.

Jim DeWildt (Marketing Counsel)

Jim has been a professional designer and illustrator for more than 42 years, most of those years managing his own business.  He is an honor graduate from Kendall College of Art and Design.  Upon graduation, Jim served two years in the U.S. Army as an illustrator for the Pentagon, leaving with an honorable discharge.  Jim worked with many diverse clients including Kellogg Cereal Co., General Motors, Four Winns Boats, Crownline Boats, Kysor Industrial, The Texas Agricultural Center, The Hilton, and U of M Press.  He also worked on numerous projects for advertising agencies, art studios, and marketing companies around the country.  Jim is now actively involved in producing his fine arts, which he and his wife sell at their gallery, and is becoming more engaged in community activities.  Married 27 years to wife Marlene, they have four grown children and several grandchildren.

Bill Green (member)

Bill Green grew up on a farm, homesteaded in 1878 by his great-grandfather, one mile north of Ruby Ellen Farm.  To continue the family legacy, Bill purchased the farm after graduating from Central Michigan with undergraduate and graduate degrees in elementary education.  He operated the farm with his parents while teaching fifth and sixth grade Science for thirty-eight years in the Suttons Bay school system, retiring in 2007.  Bill continued to operate the family farm until 2013, and was able to keep his promise to his mother that the property remain farmland when he sold it to Don and Bill Kiessel, who planted cherry orchards and placed the property in a conservation easement.  Bill lives with his wife Joan on the shores of Lake Leelanau, and continues to enjoy tending a small garden plot on the family farm.

Lee Ganger Grant (member)

Lee was born and raised in the small town of Goshen, in northern Indiana, amidst small dairy farms and a thriving Amish community.  She obtained a biology/psychology degree from Ball State University in Muncie IN, followed by seven years in Florida where she earned a degree in Physical Therapy at the University of Florida.  Lee, recently retired, worked as a physical therapist for 30 years, seven of which were as a staff PT and assistant director at St. John Hospital in Detroit.  After moving to Traverse City in 1993, she worked 23 years at Munson Medical Center.  Husband Chuck, also recently retired, originally from Hudsonville, MI, moved to Traverse City in 1977 working as a water sanitarian for the three-county area.  Their daughter, Emma, a 2018 graduate of Suttons Bay High School, plans to pursue agriculture at Michigan State University.  Lee has been a Bingham Township election official since 1999, volunteers in the school and community, attends Keswick Church supporting local and global missions, and makes annual mission trips to St. Marc, Haiti, helping to support a church, orphanage, and school there.

Don L. Kiessel (member)

Don L. is continuing the Kiessel family tradition in farming and community involvement. We are happy to have him on the board.

Rex Dobson (1924-2011 , Founder and Honorary Chairman)

Rex Dobson, the son of Harvey and Ruby Ellen (Core) Dobson, was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and came to live at the Ruby Ellen Farm in 1927. Rex went to grade school at the Bingham School, which was about one mile from his house. He would walk, ride his bike, or ski to school every day. After he graduated from Traverse City High School, Rex worked in construction for a while, but knew he wanted to return to farming. To his last days, he continued his work on the farm. Rex was in the hay business during June, cherries in July, and rye, wheat, and oats in August. By the end of October, the feed corn would be in, if the weather permits. Rex enjoyed sharing his place, and loved to tell stories about growing up on the farm. He is the visionary behind, and the founder of, The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation.


Former Board of Director Members

Don R. Kiessel (1946-2018 , Founder and 17 yr Board Member)

Don R. Kiessel was born and raised on a farm in Bingham Township.  After graduating from Suttons Bay High School, he attended Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.  Don was a cherry farmer most of his life, and was co-owner of Kiessel Farms.  He served the community as a member of the Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire and Rescue Squad for twenty-five years, ten years on the Bingham Township planning commission and board of appeals.  Don was also a  Consumers Energy  lineman for thirty-five years.  Don’s knowledge and wisdom was certainly admired by Rex and was a key contributor to the founding and continuation of The Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation story.

Rick Wilson (Past President)

Rick spent several years as the Vice President of Operations for Heritage Sustainable Energy, based in Traverse City, Michigan.  Heritage is a developer, owner and operator of utility-scale wind energy facilities and has operating wind farms in McBain, Garden, and Harbor Beach, Michigan.  Prior to 2004, Rick spent many years with the Conservancies of Northwest Michigan, having worked with Little Traverse, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancies.  While at the Leelanau Conservancy, in 1994, Rick began his work with Rex on the conservation of the Ruby Ellen Farm.

Nancy Kotting (Past Historic Preservation Counsel)

Nancy Kotting is among the first members added to The Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation Board of Directors, and a former Leelanau County resident.  Ms. Kotting holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science and History and a graduate degree in Historic Preservation.  Her professional experience includes work as a trader of fixed income securities; partner in a chain of alternative news-weeklies covering four major markets, and entrepreneur in the field of Historic Preservation with expertise in traditional post & beam barns.  Nancy is a rider/trainer/instructor of classical horsemanship with over 35 years experience and has competed at international levels here in the U.S.  In addition, Ms. Kotting is a published writer in the U.S and U.K. And a featured blogger for the Huffington Post.

Brian Bourdages (Past Vice-President)

Brian has had a long career in natural resource and farmland preservation and stewardship.  For the last fifteen years, Brian worked at the Leelanau Conservancy and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, preserving the globally unique farmland resources of the West Michigan fruit-belt.  Brian currently works for Tamarack Holdings, a holding company for a group of Michigan-based food businesses, including Cherry Capital Foods, one of the country’s only for-profit regional food hubs.  When not busy at work, Brian enjoys playing guitar, collecting vintage stereo equipment, and fly-fishing the area’s rivers and lakes, often with his boys Joe, 17, and Elliot, 14, in tow.

Tom Nelson (Past Organizational Counsel)

Thomas Nelson is the Executive Director of the Leelanau Conservancy, (where he formerly served as Director of Farm programs), taking over the position when longtime director Brian Price retired.  Tom spent his early childhood growing up in farm country in northern Ohio.  The complete loss of agriculture in his hometown resulting from poorly planned development underscores his belief that a strong community connection with agriculture is integral to our economic health, retaining our heritage and quality of life, and living sustainably. Tom earned his law degree in 1987 and graduated magna cum laude with a Master of Laws in environmental law and policy from Vermont Law School in 2003.  His career has taken him to from Ohio to Washington D.C. to Lansing and finally to Leelanau County.  He finds a great deal of satisfaction in forging partnerships with farmers who wish to keep their land in farming.

Adam Lett (Past Vice-President, Legal Counsel)

Born in Oak Park, Michigan, Adam Lett graduated from both Michigan State University and DePaul University College of Law, with honors.  After living in Chicago, he moved to Traverse City to continue practicing law.  He currently has his own law firm.  Adam practices in the areas of estate planning, probate and tax, and also advises farmers, land owners, and conservation organizations about planning opportunities available through the use of conservation easements, sale of development rights, and related concepts.  He spends his free time enjoying the outdoors with his wife and children.

Ed Kiessel (Past Co-Treasurer)

Ed Kiessel grew up in Bingham Township, and lives near Traverse City with his wife and children.  He is a licensed Certified Management Accountant, and Certified Public Accountant, licensed in the State of Illinois.  Ed has extensive experience in the financial arena, including work with investment management and international financial systems.  He most recently held a leadership position with a local manufacturing company, but is currently tending his Bingham Township orchards, staying active in the farming community, and spending more time with his family.

Advisory Board

Mark Livengood
Rex Shugart
Richard Core
Adam Lett
Ed Kiessel

Past Board Members

Rex Dobson
Don Kiessel
Rick Wilson
Nancy Kotting
Rex Shugart
Tom Nelson
Brian Bourdages
Greg DeNoyer (Farm Blacksmith)
Adam Lett
Ed Kiessel

Partner Organizations & Links

The Ruby Ellen Farm Facebook Page

Local (nwmhrs) Weather

With These Hands – Ruby Ellen Farm – Rex Dobson

Barn Red
Area filmmaker Rich Brauer produced and directed this movie (set at Ruby Ellen Farm) about the struggles of a fruit farmer facing the pressures of development.

Leelanau Conservancy
The Leelanau Conservancy is dedicated to conserving the land, water and scenic character of Leelanau County.

Northwest Michigan Draft Horse and Mule Association
This is the group that does a wonderful Plow Day every Spring at Ruby Ellen Farm.

Healing Tree Farm, A Backyard Experiment in Farming
HEALING TREE FARM is a permaculture demonstration farm located at the Leelanau Conservancy owned DeYoung property in beautiful Leelanau County.

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
GTRLC is dedicated to protecting natural, scenic and farm lands in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Manistee counties.

Food & Farm Network
The FFN is dedicated to helping the region’s food and farming systems become more resilient and able to provide at least 20% of our region’s food.

Crosshatch builds strong communities through the intersections of art, farming, ecology and economy.

American Farmland Trust
Since our founding in 1980, American Farmland Trust has helped win permanent protection for over a million acres of American farmland.

Leelanau Historical Museum
In September of 2000 the Ruby Ellen Farm was one of six sites on the Museum’s barn tour.

Bingham Township
Bingham Township news, maps, and government information.

Interlochen Public Radio Radio host Peter Payette did an interview with Rich Brauer & Rick Wilson about the movie Barn Red and its connection with the RDREFF.

Michigan PDR Program through the Department of Agriculture The Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program consists of 5 methods for preserving farmland and open space.

Eastern Michigan University
EMU Graduate students have completed projects at the farm for their course of study.

Michigan State University
MSU Graduate students have completed projects at the farm for their course of study.

Land Trust Alliance
Since its founding in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) has helped build a strong land trust movement in America that now includes more than 1,260 conservation organizations.

Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs
Serves to encourage, develop and facilitate an enriched environment of artistic, creative, cultural activity in Michigan.

NW Michigan Horticultural Research Station
The Northwest Station is a multidisciplinary horticultural facility focusing on fruit production, specializing in tart and sweet cherry.

Conservation at Ruby Ellen Farm
Article by Mark Livengood for the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Fall 2003 Newsletter.

Wikipedia Article about TREF