Comfort Food: How Cancer Led to a Family Farm

When the doctor approached, Karen Lubbers remembers the x-rays sounding “like crows.”

“That’s when our story changed, irrevocably,” she said.

While on vacation with her husband Jeff and their five children, Lubbers’ daughter Jamie was diagnosed with brain cancer. They’d taken her to a local hospital after she took a fall and hit her head. In an instant, worry about a possible concussion turned far graver. The family drove 40 hours straight, returning to Grand Rapids for surgery. After dying twice on the table, Jamie survived and then faced six weeks of radiation, followed by two years of chemotherapy.

Her tiny body pumped full of toxins, she was dropping weight and had lost interest in food.

“I felt like I was watching her die by inches,” Lubbers said.

At a time when the family’s future seemed uncertain, they made a decision about their lifestyle that gave them back a measure of control and eventually led to a new family business.

Feeding Jamie

The Lubbers family started doing their own research about Jamie’s diagnosis. They were shocked to read about the connections between diet and disease and decided the best way to give Jamie nutritionally-dense and pesticide- and herbicide-free food was to grow it themselves.

Lubbers farm 2“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” she said. “We began by starting to raise food for Jamie.”

That led to the purchase of Rosie, their first cow, and eventually the family decided to sell their recycling business to become full-time farmers. Fortunately, they already lived on a former working farm. Bits and pieces at a time, they started working the land and Lubbers Family Farm was officially born in 1995.

Lubbers farm 1At that time, the local food movement wasn’t as prominent in West Michigan as it is now. Lubbers said friends and relatives were blown away by the flavor of the fresh-from-the-farm meals they were preparing. Customers started emerging and Lubbers said they usually came to the farm for one of three reasons: they had health concerns and were trying to find food grown organically, they were looking for sustainable, locally-grown food due to environmental concerns, or they were budding foodies who just really liked the taste. She said those same three customer “types” still hold true today.

“All three of those places lead to the same food,” she said.

As for Jamie, Lubbers said the fresh food “was huge” through her healing process. Even when she couldn’t stomach anything else, “she would drink that milk from Rosie.”

Growing Together

Jamie Lubbers today. (Courtesy photo)
Jamie Lubbers today.
(Courtesy photo)

Jamie turned 30 this summer. She experienced hearing loss and is classified as brain injured as a result of her cancer treatment. Other than that, she is perfectly healthy and still lives on the farm. She collects eggs in exchange for spending money.

Her mom describes her as highly intuitive and feisty.

“She’s a great defender of people with disabilities,” Lubbers said.

As Jamie’s grown up, so has the farm. Son Casey Lubbers started the Little Rooster Bread Company, which specializes in fermented bread and supplies many local stores and restaurants. Dancing Goat Creamery rents space on the farm and runs its artisanal cheese-making operation there. An onsite farm store sells the pork, beef and eggs raised on the farm, along with breads, goat cheese and more. High-profile clients book farm-to-table meals at the peaceful, bucolic setting.

It’s a business and life they didn’t set out to lead, but one which they seem perfectly suited for, born from a love for a child.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lubbers Family Farm, tours take place seasonally on the first Saturday of every month, May through October. You can also check out their website or find them on Facebook.  

Photo credit: Courtesy images

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