The Send Family Longevity

By Rebecca Gearing Carlson

Sun contributor

Part 12 of our Leelanau Farming Family Series. Read previous stories in this series here.

With each new farming family that I interview, another revealing facet of the Leelanau Peninsula farming community comes to light: longevity. To date, I know that at least six of the families I have interviewed qualify, at a minimum, for Centennial Farm ownership. To be considered for admission into the Michigan Centennial Farm Program, “a property must be a working farm of 10 or more acres that has been continuously owned by the same family for at least 100 years” (Historical Society of Michigan). As I began my interview with Jeff and Jaunita ‘Nita’ Send whose ancestors bought the current family farmstead in 1918, 105 years ago, longevity is one more point of communal connectivity among the farming families of Leelanau County. Jeff and Nita graciously invited me into their home sharing old photos and explaining the antique items used on the farm such as a corn husker and offering me a master class on cherries. As we sat at the family dining room table, a wealth of local history was sitting on the table in front of me. As I looked through the pictures and vintage farming implements, I realized all these items would make a great addition to a Suttons Bay Historical Museum. Snapping photos and asking questions, Jeff and Nita began sharing the Send family story.

Like so many previous farming family interviews, the Send name is well-known in the Leelanau Peninsula. The early Send pioneers to America are Martin and Margaret (Meisler) Send who arrive in the 1850s and settle in Ohio. By the 1870s, after the loss of Margaret, Martin moves to Suttons Bay with sons Peter and John. They become very active in helping develop the Suttons Bay community. Along with the Schaubs, Hermans, and Walters, the Send family is pivotal in building the first St. Michaels Catholic Church in Suttons Bay.

The next generation of Sends continue supporting and developing the village of Suttons Bay with their families. Martin and Margaret’s son John marries Martha (Murray) Send who raise eight children: Fredrick, Edward, John Jr, Albert, Charles, George, Joseph, and Mary.

These children become business and farmer owners in the area. One of the wonderful vintage photos that Jeff and Nita shared with me is of John, Martha and their eight children sitting around them on a porch circa 1918.

In 1918, Martin and Margaret’s 32-year-old son Joseph and wife Minnie (Behm) Send purchased eighty acres of farmland south of Suttons Bay and north of Lee’s Point. After buying the farmstead, Joseph is offered an adjacent piece of property extending all the way to the waterfront of West Bay and over to M-22 for $500. This piece of property had little value to a farmer as the property was beach and swamp; Joseph declined the offer. Joseph and Minnie birthed and raised their four children: Joseph, Jr, Leila, Albert, and Evelyn, on the farm. One story Jeff shared was the birth of his father Joseph, Jr. “Do you know what a blue baby is?” I replied, “No.” Jeff explained Joseph, Jr. was birthed on the kitchen table; he was blue in color and underweight. The doctor put him in a shoe box and placed the baby by the stove to warm him up. According to the website Healthline, “Blue baby syndrome, also called cyanosis [poorly oxygenated blood], is a condition in babies in which their skin appears blue or purple tinged. It may be caused by many things like birth defects, heart ailments, or lung diseases.” However, when doing more research on this syndrome, the website also listed environmental causes such as high level of nitrates in well-water. To everyone’s relief, baby Joseph, Jr. survives. Joseph, Sr. and his family create a thriving farm business growing fruit orchards of cherries, plums, and peaches, raising livestock of pigs, cattle, and chickens, and lastly producing field crops of potatoes, corn, and grain. Sadly, like Margaret, Minnie passes away at an early age, and Joseph works hard raising his family and managing the farm.

Joseph, Jr. and wife Rose (Richter) Send take over as second-generation caretakers of the farm raising their three sons: Ronald, Gerald and Jeffrey. As Jeff was the youngest, he shared a bedroom with his grandfather Joseph, Sr. and revealed some wonderful memories. Every morning his grandfather had the same routine: say prayers, make breakfast, and without fail take a nip of Rocking Chair whiskey per the doctor’s orders as it would help with his heart problems. The whiskey, a case of 24 pints, was a birthday gift he received from Joseph, Jr. and Rose. As Joseph, Sr. lived to 98 years young, the doctor was on to something. Nita also added a few stories about Joseph, Sr. explaining that he hummed all the time and was still actively helping on the farm picking cherries into his 90s. Again, perhaps the doctor was onto something suggesting he take a nip a day of the Rocking Chair.  Jeff’s also described the hard work of living and working on the farm while he was growing up. “If you wanted something extra, you found extra jobs to save” explained Jeff. He remembered working a small strawberry patch and catching minnows to sell to tourists in the Lee’s Point area as a means for earning extra money.

As far as working on the farm, Jeff described “the burning hot temperatures” during harvest in the cherry orchard as it was mostly sand. While the sour cherry varietal was always Montmorency, the sweet cherry varietals evolved over the years of the Send ownership. Jeff explained they began growing Napoleon, Hearty Giants and Windsors for the sweet cherries. Later, the sweet varietals evolved to Emperor Francis and Black Pearls. As the cherries were all hand-picked, Joseph, Jr. hired pickers from Texas, about 50 people, to help during the harvest. Growing up, Jeff remembered playing with children of the pickers and enjoying the food they shared during lunch time. Jeff and Nita said that descendants of the pickers who worked on the farm during his father’s management still return with their families to see the farm and share stories. In 1979, brining pits were added by Joseph, Jr. and Jeff in an effort to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on the processing plants.

Currently the Send Farm is in the third generation of ownership under Jeff and Nita (Pease) Send, and their three daughters: Jennifer, Jill, and Amy. Jeff and Nita both smiled as they recounted the story of how they met at Suttons Bay High School on the football field. Nita explained, “My mother and I walked right through the middle of the football field during practice.” Moreover, that fateful meeting on the football field led to Jeff and Nita celebrating 52 years of marriage this year.

As the conversation moved to more macro issues on the future of farming in Leelanau County, I received an education on the business of farming and cherry growing. In 2023, Jeff and Nita explained they are growing 100% cherry trees, both sour and sweets, on the 160 acres of their farm. Pricing and processing of cherries in the 1970s and 1980s was profitable; local processing plants offered fair prices for the cherry crop and had plenty of storage space for high yield years.  However, these practices changed drastically with the “devastating frost” that hit the Leelanau Peninsula in 2002 and again in 2012. To meet market demand, cherries products were imported from overseas. Essentially, this globalization of the cherry market had a direct negative impact on our local growers, and many have not recovered.

Both Jeff and Nita agreed there are huge hurdles going forward and echoed the concerns of several other farming families: labor shortages, unreasonably high costs to farmers, “imports killing our returns and not meeting the cost of production,” according to Jeff, processing issues, and Mother Nature to name a few. Jeff further explained, “Farming in other countries is very, very important [and protected by their governments through subsidies].” Furthermore, Jeff explained that our government continues to “bring in food from overseas under costs of production by farmers here stateside. [The American Farmers] cannot survive on the returns we are getting.” What are the solutions to protecting our American Farmers, the suppliers of our food sources? Here in Leelanau County, we know our farming families first-hand. They are our friends and neighbors. We are extremely fortunate to know the growers and suppliers of our food. Unfortunately, this will not be true if we do not buy local and protect our farming neighbors.

The Send Family arrived to the area over 150 years ago joining other early Suttons Bay pioneers such as The Steimels, The Hermans, and The Walters to mention a few. With all the hurdles facing these farming families in 2023, let’s celebrate and acknowledge the survival of the 100+ years milestone of single-family farm ownership. The longevity and success of these families create the thriving environment we all enjoy here in the Leelanau Peninsula. We cannot forget that farming and agriculture built this local community and this country. I’ll let Nita have the final word: “Farming is not a job; it’s a passion.”