Brothers have long believed in the virtues of being green

It was nearly 15 years ago that I journeyed out to an agricultural jewel south of Ann Arbor to weave a story on two brothers who have dedicated their lives to polishing that Washtenaw County gem.

Howard and Kelven Braun were gracious hosts that day, sharing the better part of an afternoon, filling up my notebook with their secrets to success. Their sister, Grace Kennedy, added to the enjoyment of the day, telling a few family tales that otherwise would have gone untold.

They, of course, are descendants of proud farm folk, the late Fred and Gertrude Braun. The family patriarch, who died at age 83 in 1983, bought the agricultural operation in 1922 from his parents. They paid off the mortgage during the lean Depression years when a gallon of milk fetched the dairy farmer a scant 5 cents a gallon. In 1930, he had saved enough money to buy his first tractor and was "milking 24 cows." The number had more than doubled by 1950 with his two sons as part of the milking team. Both boys were still in high school at the time, but as Howard said, "We'd been working on the farm since we were about four."

The lessons learned at their father's side have helped the Braun brothers build an impressive agricultural operation that wraps around the eastern and southern edges of Saline, stretching some 500 acres. The fields, the barns, and the outbuildings § all neatly tended. Each day, I and countless others drive by their sprawling masterpiece, soaking up each slice of its splendor.

For years, the brothers Braun manned a demanding dairy operation, twice a day milking their herd § 365 days a year, 366 when the Gregorian calendar took a leap. They were up at 5 o'clock each morning, completing the first of their two daily milking routines three hours later.

After a bite of breakfast, they were back in the barns and fields, working feverishly to eventually bring the crops of wheat, oats, corn, and hay to harvest.

The challenge, as always, was how to do the work of a dozen mere mortals with just two pairs of hands.

The secret?

"They work hard," said sister Grace. "And smart."

So much so that the two-man operation has seldom missed a beat.

Of course, there was the time that Howard was drafted into the Army, spending two years in military service that his sister jokingly referred to as a "bit of R and R" for the older of her two brothers.

"Everyone in his company grumbled about getting up at 6 in the morning," Grace said with a smile. "To Howard, it was like he was on a vacation to get up that late."

And then there's Kelven, one year Howard's junior. Kelven's last vacation?

"The 1956 Rose Bowl when Michigan State played UCLA," he said without batting an eye during our interview in 1995.

It was worth the trip to Pasadena. The Spartans, under the guidance of Duffy Daugherty, won that day.

The Brauns, during the heyday of the home-building boom, weren't able to take a vacation from developers either, many of whom persistently approached the pair about turning their farmland property into the next grand subdivision. They just as intently weighed their long-term options to keep the land green in perpetuity.

"There are some farmland preservation programs, but they're underfunded now and probably will be for the foreseeable future," said Kelven at the time. "But we're not interested in selling. If we wanted to see out to the developers, we could have done that long ago."

The statement was made some 15 years ago. A decade later, the Brauns were informed that more than 250 acres of their farmland had been purchased by the state under terms of a preservation program. Two years earlier, another 200-plus-acre chunk of the Braun property was bought by the state.

Now all of their farmland is safely tucked away from possible development, a legacy that two old-school gentlemen have left for their legion of admirers. Count me forever among them.

Published: Fri, Feb 26, 2010