Director’s Final Salute to Founder and Friend
June 27, 2014
Johanna Martina Mann, one of the three original founders of Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, passed away on April 1st, 2014 while at the Mann’s winter home in Überlingen, Germany.
I first met Martina Mann a few days after my arrival at Michael Fields in September of 2010. Christopher, Martina’s husband and partner for 47 years, had invited me out to their Lake House, for a swim after work. I must admit that I found this German woman just a bit intimidating, but she was obviously pleased to meet me, even if I was donning a swim suit. This was the beginning of a much too short relationship. Martina was first and foremost a business woman and she used those skills to establish a firm foundation for the Institute. She believed in the importance of taking care of the community, usually by educating those she came in contact with about the importance of taking time to nurture and care for the soil. Often on a lazy summer evening, my family and I would be invited out to the lake and ride on the pontoon. This offered an opportunity to visit and hear what Martina and Christopher had in mind. You see, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute grew out of a dream Martina had to own land in America and to use that land to bring forth education on the importance of wholesome food based on good soil and sustainable agriculture. She and Christopher co-founded Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and opened Nokomis Bakery. The bakery baked fresh European breads using some of the recipes Martina had brought with her from Europe and wheat grown on the Mann’s Nokomis Farm.
Martina touched the lives of so many and most appreciated her honesty and forthrightness. You always knew where you stood with Martina. If she liked your idea, then you often had her unswerving support, and if she didn’t, she told you so. Over the years, I have been involved in agriculture in Iowa, but have also managed farms and lived in Eastern Europe and the Philippines. But it wasn’t until I became a part of the Michael Fields community that I felt my life was being enhanced. Caring for the land and attempting to put sustainable production practices in place empowers our lives and empowers others in the community. Martina knew this, she not only understood the importance of placing the community’s needs over individual’s, she also walked the talk. At MFAI, I experienced real community. I experienced people who could critically think and were trying to make positive impacts in their lives for their families, communities and the soil. That is a unique experience and is part of the mystique of Michael Fields. I have belonged to a number of “communities” in Iowa and in other parts of the world, but Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, where Martina and Christopher Mann’s ideas set things in motion, will always be one that I resonate with.