Pat Thorp: Certified Farm, Certified Family Roots
When you approach Patricia Thorp’s three-acre organic farm, a few miles west of Baileys Harbor, the first thing that stands out is that her farm sits on a huge outcrop of dolomitic limestone from the Niagara Escarpment that juts out of the surrounding area like a Humpbacked Whale breaching.
The Niagara Escarpment runs from Niagara Falls, across Ontario, through upper Michigan, down the Grand Traverse Islands and through Door County. The escarpment is famous for its role in contributing to fine wine grape growing, but few people know that when soil is enriched with this decomposing limestone, it also contributes to the taste of everything that grows on it like Door County cherries and apples and vegetables, especially lettuce.
Pat’s Patch is a certified organic vegetable farm, but how Pat got into farming is an interesting story; one that will make you believe in fate and karma. And the fact that she has direct connections to the founding of Door County and Fish Creek is even more amazing.
Pat’s link to Door County history and how she became interested in farming started in Brookfield, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee. Pat’s father, who lived on the family farm in Door County, wanted her and her brother to get exposed to the city life so he moved to Brookfield. Her dad wanted the children to be near the zoos, art museums, symphony orchestras and other big city amenities that were not available in Door County at that time. When they moved to Brookfield in 1955 her dad had a big garden that the family used for canning and fresh vegetables. Pat as a youngster had chores to do in that garden like weeding, harvesting and digging potatoes. Pat hated those chores and swore that, “When I grow up I’m never having a garden.” Like all childhood promises, time and history have a way of changing one’s outlook and Pat’s promise was no exception.
In 1993, Pat, now a grown woman, had moved from job to job and had a yearning to return to Door County. Her father Jim, or Finn as he was nicknamed, regularly took the kids back to Door County to visit relatives. Finn’s dad Merle lived his entire life in Door County as had his dad Roy, his dad Jacob and his dad Truman back to Pat’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather Increase Claflin.
Claflin was part of a Scottish clan from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. His father, also Increase, was part of the Minutemen regiment that fired the first shots in the Revolutionary War. Increase the son, fought in the War of 1812 before moving to the Green Bay area as a fur trapper. From there, Increase purchased some property near Little Sturgeon Bay where he raised cattle and horses and is considered the first permanent white settler on what is now the Door Peninsula. He took his livestock to Green Bay for sale by traveling over the iced bay of Green Bay in the winter (the first to do so). Eventually Increase moved from there to what is present day Fish Creek, where the remains of his home can be seen in Peninsula State Park.
The other side of Pat’s family, the Thorps goes back to the 1840’s when Asa Thorp settled in Fish Creek as well. Asa is considered the “Father of Fish Creek.” He established a pier, warehouse and sawmill to supply ships captains with needed products and cordwood. He built a cabin in 1854 which still stands on “Founders Square” in downtown Fish Creek.
Pat’s roots in Door County run very deep between these two pioneering families and because of that Pat’s husband Mike Shinn insisted that she keep her maiden name when they were married. When Pat moved back to Door County, she initially worked at the Wagon Trail restaurant in Rowleys Bay. Later she worked as a nurse’s assistant and it was there that Pat started giving her fellow nurses lettuce out of her garden. It was during this time that Pat developed her famous salad mixture that now comprises thirty percent of her revenue and is sold at the Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay and Greens N Grains in Egg Harbor. When Pat realized that she could make a living doing something that got her outside in the sunshine working with nature she was hooked.
She has grown her business to three acres and offers that unusual salads mix that is composed of Pat’s choice of lettuces, arugula, spinach, herbs, fl owers and foliage from plants like Fennel. She also raises an interesting array of dried beans like Cranberry, Tigers Eye and Jacob’s Cattle. All of the 1,000 tomato plants she grows are heirloom varieties including the Pink Berkley Tie-Dye and Box Car Willie. All of the manure she uses on the farm comes from a neighbor’s dairy farm that uses no growth hormones. The straw that she uses for mulch also comes from an environmentally secure source.
Pat told me, with a Scottish twinkle in her eye, at the end of our interview and conversation that she wants to be found, at the end, in her garden with a green bean in her mouth tasting her next crop; a far cry from the little girl that grew up in Milwaukee hating gardening.
A regular at the Sturgeon Bay Farmers Market, this next market season, stop by and say hello to this charming and friendly lady and reflect on the fact that you’re talking to a link to the founding of Door County and the United States of America.