How are Annie and Abby?
That’s a question some patients ask J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor in the school of medicine at the University of Michigan, who also runs a lupus research lab at the University of Michigan Health System. Patients aren’t asking about her children, but family members of another kind.
Since 2010, Dr. Kahlenberg and her husband have owned and managed a nearly 80 acre farm on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Mich., which grows organic vegetables and is inhabited by free-range cattle, chickens, sheep and pigs. Annie and Abby are the 450 lb. resident sows.
Dr. Kahlenberg’s husband, Mark, who holds a master’s degree in environmental science and worked for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in Cleveland, manages the farm and performs most of the grunt work. Still, Dr. Kahlenberg spends many evenings, weekends and even some of her vacation time tending to her large organic garden and farm animals. Despite the early morning hours and physical labor involved, she says the experience is a respite from the stressful encounters from her job as a physician-scientist—and helps her recapture her childhood. She grew up on a farm.
Planting Her Feet on the Ground
After graduating medical school and obtaining her MD and PhD in 2006 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Dr. Kahlenberg completed her internal medicine residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland. In 2009, her young family—which by now included a 3-year-old son, Adyn, and 6-month-old daughter, Emerson—moved to Ann Arbor for her rheumatology fellowship.
“We were trying to figure out our life plans,” Dr. Kahlenberg says. “We talked a lot about how we wanted to live on a farm, so we bought a semi-working farm that had been involved in various types of operations since the 1800s but wasn’t in the best of shape. It required a lot of work to get things functional.”
Since then, Dr. Kahlenberg has devoted most of her personal time to her four-legged patients and organic vegetable garden. Each spring, she spends two weeks of vacation time planting her garden from dawn until dusk. Throughout the year, she also vaccinates the farm animals and stitches them up as needed. She says she learned on the fly, from YouTube, which demonstrates various techniques, from animal birthing to insemination.