Back to basics in the Midwest

A metallic caravan in the woods

Luxury camping experience, The Fields of Michigan, reawakens the nostalgia of sleeping in nature on a blueberry farm in the middle of nowhere

By Jacquelyn Lumley    Images courtesy of The Fields of Michigan    Sunday 1 November, 2020   Long read

Driving down a country road with her cup of coffee one morning, Irene Wood felt compelled by a handwritten ‘For Sale’ sign in front of a farm. She pulled in and struck up a conversation with the owner, as they strolled through rows of blueberry fields tucked among trees, all set against a back river. ‘Enamoured’ is the word she uses to describe the way she felt that day. She had recently bought the farm she grew up on down the road to serve as a quiet refuge from her busy life in Chicago. And suddenly, she felt called to do the same with this land. 

‘You forget how charming your hometown is until you move away,’ she admits. ‘I always say that I have the privilege of perspective, and what I mean by that is I have the privilege to have travelled.’ Wood grew up on a South Haven farm that produced corn, soya beans, and pigs. ‘A typical grain farm,’ she says. When her father retired, she made the decision to ‘take it over and figure out how to farm something fun. So, I was coming back to my hometown with a different set of eyes… not because I had to be here, but because I was choosing to be here.’
Outdoor seating with fairy lights
Bikes leant against a fence with pumpkins
‘I didn’t intend for this to be my business,’ she explains. ‘I just wanted an excuse to come back on the weekends.’ But as she refamiliarised herself with South Haven and nearby Saugatuck, Wood tuned an ear to the booming culinary scene, the cider outposts, the seasonal tourism… all coated in pastel memories of youth; tending the farm with her five brothers, skipping school to go to the beach, starry nights, and long talks with neighbours. A general sense of nostalgia and ambition just took over. 

She bought the blueberry field, quickly popped up 10 tents, and built a lean-to shelter. Six months later, in June of last year, The Fields of Michigan opened to guests. Each tent has its own bathroom and shower, luxe linens, a fire pit, vintage bicycles, and s’more kits on demand. Coffee’s ready at 8, breakfast by 9ish. It’s not just a tent in a field, although she’s always reminding people of this humble reality. 

Just as fast as she popped up that first tent, Wood is revving up operations at The Fields. Next year the property will increase to 19 tents, with a new on-site bar and a spa in the pine tree forest by the back river. ‘I think as long as we stay authentic, people will continue to come because authenticity never gets old,’ she ponders. ‘You never tire of it as it’s always evolving.’
Outdoor luxury camping
‘We’re providing an experiential stay, and the word for this right now is “glamping”, but that’s really the wrong term for what’s happening,’ she attests. ‘The guests we attract are all seeking some kind of disconnect and sense of community, but still some luxuries too, right? There’s luxury in space, and we have a lot of that here. You can hop on a bike and hit the trail to go down to the beach. You can get in the car and drive over to Virtue Cider, or go and pick tomatoes. There’s luxury in having time and space with no plans. Here, you are connected to nature and driven by light. It’s about savouring a moment until it’s really complete. The luxury of being hosted by somebody who genuinely cares about your time and that you have a nice experience in the Midwest. It’s this refreshingly relaxed approach to vacations.’
Two chairs outdoors
A farmers market stall outside
These are all the things Mel Holmes picked up from afar, as she planned a trip for Soho House Chicago members to take over The Fields at an off-site event in the spring. When COVID-19 hit and the takeover was cancelled, Holmes went for a solo visit and basically never left. ‘I was smitten by the authenticity and kindness of the people here,’ she shares. ‘The extra space to breathe and stretch is a total gift that most of us don’t get enough of.’ She traded city life and her job at Soho House Chicago as Event Program Manager for slow living and a new gig as Director of Operations at The Fields.

‘With everything that’s happened this year, it seems people have a strong desire for human connection again,’ reflects Wood. ‘It’s the reawakening of that for me. It’s started to stir this feeling of youth that has been covered in dust for so long. Like that feeling of lingering just a little bit longer than you normally would, allowing yourself to really be in the moment. There’s just something magical that takes place. It’s so contagious that you become a seeker of it wherever you go. The Fields is just a spotlight on that connection to community and the space that surrounds us.’
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