Northwest of Beloit and 42.5 miles southwest of Madison can be found an extraordinary farm, home, and family. Suellen Thomson-Link and her children, Syon, Acaya and Sundara settled here 14 years ago, choosing this land because of a 200 year old oak with lumbering craggy branches that blot out the sky and touch the ground. It is monumental.
Suellen walks the grounds, waving her arms, teaching, explaining, and demonstrating. Her passion and knowledge about farming, engineering, and nurturing people and the land belie the fact that when her family moved to the 35.1 acre former dairy farm she was a farming rookie. It was a secret she kept from her neighbors until the day she felt like she had something to offer. She certainly has that.
Kinkoona, the Aboriginal word for laughter, is a farm with two purposes; growing a family and replenishing the earth. Each and every project has been conceived and executed by Suellen, Syon, Acaya, and Sundara starting when the children were 3, 5, and 7. The farm came with no directions or previous experience. Even the windows in the house were missing. They did it together, failing and succeeding as a family. They built a farm and they built a family.
Neil Young’s song could have been written for the Thomson-Link family.
Comes a time when you’re driftin’
Comes a time when you settle down
Comes a light feelin’s liftin’
Lift that baby right up off the ground
Ohh, this old world keeps spinning round
It’s a wonder tall trees ain’t layin’ down
There comes a time
It is Suellen’s time. She is a woman of strong character, a can do attitude, and love of what she has been provided. But her strongest attribute is her power of observation. She watches how nature works and tries to take advantage. If she needs heat to grow water cress and raise fish, she uses black tubing and faces the space toward the sun. If she needs water, she builds a Dr. Seuss system of gutters and tanks and captures the 5000 gallons of rain that roll off the roofs of her house and farm buildings. If she needs great soil for her vegetables, she combines table scraps, worms, chickens, and moisture to recreate rich black dirt.
The core value of the farm is that everything is useful. Suellen told us that weeds are useful, she just hasn’t discovered how yet. She has taken in feral cats that no one wanted. They are now companions and mice control. Old washing machines had their agitators removed and now serve to wash the wool sheared from 170 head of sheep. They were someone’s discard and sold at auction. A 96 foot long high hoops house belonged to another farmer. He sold it to Suellen after a snow storm had crushed all of the hoops. Suellen fabricated a large pipe bender in the back of her pick-up truck and bent all of the pipe back into shape. There is even a sheep who lost its legs due to frost bite. Nature taught it how to get around; Suellen provided a warm straw filled home. The animal provides great quantities of wool. Water used to sheet drain down the hill and fill her basement in big rains. A curving stairway of found material was constructed by her children to dissipate the water, recharging the aquifer she tapped with her well. Of course it serves another purpose as well; sheep stairs up the steep hill to pasture. Some call it sustainability. It might better be called natural harmony.
Kinkoona is clearly many things. With its sheep, pigs, horses, donkeys, one goat, dogs, feral cats, fish, indoor birds, some kind of lizard or another, home built dance floor, salmon ladder, orchard, vegetable crops, sunflower sprouts, and hops, one label does not apply. It is a farm that has become a home for a family who loves the land and all that it provides. They approach each day with laughter, curiosity, and an independent spirit.