Creative Collaborators of Leelanau: Cedar North at J2 Farms

Fostering the connection of art and ecology 

By Mae Stier

Sun contributor

Photos by Mae Stier

Nestled on Kasson Road as it winds through the trees outside Cedar is a dynamic property called Cedar North. Part Airbnb, part artist residency, part gallery and artists’ studio, the space is an investment in the artist community and ecological landscape of Leelanau.

Owned by husband and wife James Reznich and Julie Botsford, the project has evolved over seven years of living and farming on the adjacent property at their farm, J2 Farms. Both professionals by day—James, a dentist, and Julie, a pharmacist—the couple cares for their sprawling regenerative farm, utilizing permaculture techniques as they raise goats, cattle, chickens, and ducks, alongside gardens and a forest containing sugar maple and mushroom groves.

Julie and James are both long-time residents of northern Michigan. Before purchasing their farm in Cedar, they lived at the base of Old Mission Peninsula at the end of a cul-de-sac for 15 years. They were always interested in gardening, and planted blueberry bushes and peach trees on the land where they raised their children.

After becoming connected with Meadowlark Farm in Lake Leelanau and Chef Nancy Allen, who was cooking for the farm crew at Meadowlark, Julie found herself enveloped in the community of Leelanau. She and James were already looking for a property they could farm, and Julie’s experience at Meadowlark encouraged them to search in Leelanau County.

They purchased the land for J2 Farms in 2017, with plans to revive the property that had been logged, heavily farmed, and split into parcels. James’ son, Christopher, an architect living in the San Francisco Bay Area, designed the home where James and Julie now live.

Two years after the couple’s home was completed, they were offered the opportunity to purchase an adjacent parcel to the north, reuniting a six-acre parcel to their 40+-acre homestead. The additional property, which became Cedar North, had a pre-existing home and multiple outbuildings. The couple initially considered splitting the existing house into a duplex to rent as long-term housing, but Solon Township’s zoning ordinances do not allow multi-family units. Instead, they opted to pursue vacation rental possibilities, offering them the opportunity to share the farm with guests in a unique way.

After purchasing the additional parcel, Cedar North’s growth was a natural evolution of the couple’s interest in and support of the arts. James had been hosting art exhibitions at his dental office in Traverse City for nearly a decade, and the couple wanted to continue creating spaces for artists to show their work. The outbuildings at Cedar North provided the perfect opportunity for this. They converted a previous mechanic’s garage to a gallery and teaching space, and a larger pole building is an artist studio, now being utilized by three local artists.

James’ son Christopher now manages the artist programming at Cedar North, hosting residents and facilitating seasonal gallery exhibits. In an article Christopher wrote about Cedar North and J2 Farms in the September 2023 issue of The Boardman Review, he explained that “by combining our farm’s guest house with a public-focused arts program, inviting people to come for farm experiences and art events independently, opportunities for cross-pollination naturally arise.”

That cross-pollination has transpired in many forms. Last summer, Cedar North hosted a collaborative gallery show with Detroit artists Ellen Rutt and Aaron Glasson. The show, “Site & Cite: A Collection of Sketches,” offered a vision for a future sculpture park the artists will build at Cedar North. According to Cedar North’s website, “Site & Cite is the first event in what is sure to be an exciting series to unfold over the coming years. In conversation with the growing permaculture farm and the people, plants, animals, and art that give it life, this exhibition continues our collective effort to invigorate the place, centers community, art, and ecology, and kicks off our most ambitious pursuit yet.”

In another collaborative venture, Cedar North hosted a residency this winter with Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology. Elijah Nykamp, featured in the Creative Collaborator series for the Glen Arbor Sun in March, was one of the artists working on “The Long Memory Project,” facilitated by Crosshatch. As a part of this collaborative project, “community elders gathered with community artists—all members of the LGBTQ+ community—to pass down their stories,” according to Crosshatch’s website. The work created by these artists will be on display at the Alluvion in June and July, with an opening reception at The Alluvion on June 15 at 6 p.m.

Cedar North’s involvement in the project came about because of a similar focus to Crosshatch. Both Crosshatch and Cedar North seek to enrich the community in northern Michigan through the interplay of art and ecology, and both have established programming to support artists and a deeper connection to the natural world.

Regarding Leelanau and the individuals who create here, Julie says, “This is a magical place, and I think it attracts people who appreciate this beauty. There is so much of a tie with art and nature: the land provides a backdrop for creativity.”

James and Julie plan to continue fostering opportunities for creation on their land among local artists and those they host for residencies and gallery shows. Julie says, “We are providing the space for people to gather, to create, to make friendships, and to make the world a better place.”

Cedar North’s current exhibition is by printmaker Jamie John, a 2Spirit queer and trans Anishinaabe and Korean-American artist. The collection, “Land is a Body by Another Name,” “examines the complexities and contradictions of Indigeneity in a time of late-stage capitalism and growing global fascism.” John’s work will be featured at Cedar North through mid-June.

The gallery is open for visitation weekly on Thursdays and Fridays from 4-7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The gallery is located at 2312 E. Kasson Rd, Cedar.