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Rescue farm helps continue beloved MI teen's legacy

Ethan Dutter died shortly after graduating from Forest Hills Northern High School in 2022, but his spirit lives on at Sunshine Farm in Hastings.

HASTINGS, Mich. — As the sun sets across the street, Jay and Mandy Dutter enjoy a peaceful evening on a patio-style swing. Moments like this are what they've always dreamed of.

“I grew up just outside of Chicago and then lived in Grand Rapids for about 24 years, so I wanted to live outside of the city,” Jay said.

The Dutters found their quiet country spot about three years ago on Hammond Road in Barry County.

“We weren't looking for a farm. We were just looking for land, and we thought it was already established. We didn't need to build, and yeah, we fell in love with it right away,” Mandy said.

But just when everything was going well, tragedy struck. Ethan Dutter, Jay's son and Mandy's stepson, died in a car accident in 2022, shortly after graduating from Forest Hills Northern High School. The accident changed Jay and Mandy's lives forever.

“It was very hard for a very long time, and [Jay] I struggled for a very long time. Everyone did it. You struggle, period,” Mandy said.

To bring some joy back to their house, Mandy brought home some pigs. The couple decided to create a hobby farm. But it wasn't long before they noticed that all the world's animals needed good homes and decided to start a rescue farm.

“We have several pigs that have been mistreated. A number of our pigs were indoor pigs that people thought were mini pigs. Mini pigs don't exist. A mini pig is a baby pig. Our smallest pig is probably 70 pounds,” Jay said.

A number of animals are disabled. For example, the Dutters have a one-eyed turkey, a blind chicken, and a blind horse. Since its beginnings, the farm has become a tribute to Ethan, who loved animals and had special needs.

“We just started doing special needs classes. I'll put a little message out on Facebook saying we'll have a special needs class and it will be for all the different disabilities – autism, cognitive disability, emotional disability. We work with the animals. We do a craft. We have a snack. It usually lasts about two hours. We just started offering this.

Even the name, Sunshine Farm, is an homage to Ethan, after a friend's mother described him as “sunshine in shoes.”

“Ethan brought so much joy to everyone’s lives that we wanted to give back, in some way, to the community and then to the animals,” Mandy said.

Sunshine Farm is not yet open to the public. However, they are looking for volunteers. If you want to volunteer or follow all the events they have, you can follow their Facebook page.

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