Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fritz Farms Combines Technology with a Passion for the Land

Jason Gatlin, standing, and Ben Fritz, seated, have completely mechanized the paperwork on this farm near Fulton.

By Sue Moore

The biggest problem with technology is when things break down and you try to fix them yourself, you can’t, says Ben Fritz, farmer from Fulton.

Fritz and his father, John, who died in 2003, have been on the cutting edge of technology in farming for years. Four years ago, Ben brought Jason Gatlin into the organization to support his growing technology needs on a farm that has 20 employees and over 10,000 acres under cultivation in Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Calhoun counties.

Gatlin took the numerous challenges of integrating technology with agriculture head on. Some challenges were migrating to electronic field documentation by using sub-inch global positioning systems (GPS) and employee training in the new systems. A major project was getting rid of the mountains of paper lying around in the offices and stacked clear to the ceiling, by developing a paperless, document management system.

Today the record keeping is all on a networked computer system, tracking everything down to the inventory of parts to be ordered each day to keep all the machinery running smoothly.

“Because we rely on our computer systems to keep the businesses running, we perform live offsite backups of our systems for disaster recovery purposes,” says Fritz.

Fritz started using GPS five or six years ago. It was an efficiency thing.

Ben Fritz displays a painting of the family barn that once hung in the Hide-A-Way bar before it was redecorated. Scott Plankenhorn, the owner, brought it out to the Fritz Farm as a gift. This particular barn still stands on 38th Street and has the tallest peak of any barn in Kalamazoo County, Fritz said.

“Not only did we become 15 percent more efficient in the use of fuel and the amount of hours put on all the equipment, but we also see a savings in seed and fertilizer costs by utilizing variable rate plantings and applications,” Fritz says. “The world population keeps growing and farmers are charged with feeding the people. Just a few years ago the national average was approximately 130 bushels of corn per acre and now it’s close to 165 bushels per acre. The U.S. is the best place to keep up with this explosion as we have the best soil, due to glaciation. Brazil is close behind.”

The next thing in farming he believes will be the use of drones to scout fields for nitrogen deficiency, irrigation on the property, and weed pressure in the field.

As with most new technologies there are new issues to be addressed because insurance companies don’t know how to factor in the liability and the privacy component.

“The whole thing is coming fast and furious,” says this 41-year-old farmer who is the seventh generation of Fritz family farmers who originally moved to Wakeshma Township in the 1840s from Pennsylvania and Ohio. His grandfather, Gordon Fritz, purchased the property on the corner of 38th street and W Avenue in 1952, where the homestead stands today. Ben spotted nice stands of maple trees and knew the land would be fertile.

Today, the far-flung operation feeds 10,000 hogs from farrow to finish, grows commercial crops which include corn, soy beans, hay for haylage for the local dairies, specialty wheat, and seed wheat. This specialty crop has good wheat berries and is sold to a company from England to produce specialty breads. They also grow green beans and non-GMO seed soy beans.

Ben’s father, John, just loved farming and Ben isn’t far behind in his passion for the land.

“Dad used to advise not to get too far ahead of yourself. (He would say) we are just tenants of the land for a short time, take care of the land and take care of it right. And we do!” Fritz adds.   “You’ve got to love the land and improve it all the time.”

Knowing when to take the grain to market isn’t an easy task.

“You almost need a crystal ball to figure out when to sell grain and sometimes the crystal ball has a lot of cracks in it,” says Fritz.

His mantra is just don’t get greedy and settle for a profitable margin.

“It all comes down to fractional figures in Michigan,” he says. “The sun, heat, rain, and fuel costs must all be taken into consideration. We don’t want to be wasteful and we want to keep improving the land all of the time.”

Vicksburg High School National Honor Society

Vicksburg High School’s National Honor Society’s Induction Ceremony was held April 17, presenting new members. They also presented the seniors with certificates and Honor cords, awards were also given out to the juniors. Seated above left to right are Hanna Ouvry, Kristen Jones, Shannon Scott, Keenan Erb, Gabrielle Perrin and Megan Aldworth. Mrs. Jennifer Teall and Mr. Eric Teall (not pictured), Co-Advisers.

Vicksburg School Board Announces Top 10 for 2014

Top Ten Vicksburg High School students: front row: Alex Oswalt, co-salutatorian; Leann Mayberry, valedictorian; Danny Kosiba, co-salutatorian. Back row standing from left to right: Tyler Shephard, Jordan Smith, Jadan Norman, Troy Halseth, Matthew Lowes, Hanna Ouvry, and Kathryn Thamann.

Valedictorian Leann Mayberry took top honors, including nine Advanced Placement courses in her grade point average (GPA). Music was her main outside interest as she plays the guitar and was in choir. She plans to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she believes it is warm. She is the daughter of Loren and Susan Mayberry.

Co-salutatorian Alexandria Oswalt was also enrolled in the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) all four years where she was named a Medallion award winner, one of 10 students chosen for this honor each year. She played on the volleyball and tennis teams all four years and received the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award. She also received the coveted Heyle Scholarship to Kalamazoo College where she plans to study biology. She is the daughter of Mike and Julie Oswalt.

Co-salutatorian Danny Kosiba played basketball, was selected for the National Honor Society, was active in Student Senate and has been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He plans to attend either Hope College or the University of Michigan. He is the son of Lawrence and Christina Kosiba.

Troy Halseth has been dual enrolled in KVCC, taking advanced placement classes, and plans to continue his studies at the University of Michigan. He is the son of Randall and Jennifer Halseth.

Tyler Shephard had a great ACT score, was in choir, musicals, theater, and went on a mission trip to Romania. She has a choir scholarship to Concordia. She is the daughter of William and Cyndie Shepard.

Kathryn Thamann is captain of the track team and has held an internship at Denny’s veterinarian office. She hopes to enter a veterinary science program to work on small animals. She is the daughter of Thomas and Pamela Thaman.

Jordan Smith participated in theater and marching band, even though she was only in Vicksburg for two years. She volunteers with SPCA where she helps with walking dogs. She plans to attend Calvin College. She is the daughter of Tom and Melissa Smith.

Hanna Ouvry specialized in both academics and athletics. She played volleyball and softball for four years, and was in the Student Senate, Spirit Club, and National Honor Society. She plans to attend Ferris State University to major in pharmacy. She is the daughter of David and Maureen Ouvry.

Jadan Norman has been active in athletics with cross country and track, playing in the band, National Honor Society, taking advanced placement classes in biology and chemistry. He earned his Eagle Scout award by studying osprey nesting habitats in local lakes. He plans to attend Michigan State University to study biological chemistry. He is the son of Perry and Calisa Norman.

Matthew Lowes took Advanced Placement calculus and lots of science classes. He was captain of the lacrosse team and went on a mission trip to Philadelphia to help fix up a house. He will go to Albion College and play lacrosse. He is the son of Mike and Stephanie Lowes.

Other honors garnered by students in the class of 2014 are Jenna Fort, the daughter of Adam and Diane Fort, who received the Principal’s Leadership Award. Emily Barnum, the daughter of Jeffrey and Jill Barnum, won the DAR Good Citizen Award, and Alexandria Oswalt received the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award.

Educators were also honored by the graduates. Alexandria Oswalt chose Cheryl Hach whom she praised for teaching her how to learn and study. Danny Kosiba chose Kim Armitage because she taught him how to work and like biology. Leann Mayberry chose choir director Dustin Morris because choir was a significant part of her high school experience, especially the Superior rating for her solo at the Solo and Ensemble Festival. Troy Halseth chose Scott Willis who is a fun teacher to be around and taught him about succeeding in the workplace.

Vicksburg Environmental Science Club

Students planting a gingko tree on the grounds of Vicksburg High School are from left to right: Jacob Green, Chase Hill, Alex Harsha, Theresa Hawkins, assisted by Lisa Harbour, middle school science teacher and Liz Ratashak, high school science teacher. Students partially in the background are unidentified.

A new gingko tree will be planted on the Vicksburg High School (VHS) campus, this year, thanks to the school’s Environmental Science Club.

“When we asked, ‘What do you want to do for Earth Day?’ students replied, ‘Plant a tree,’” said Liz Ratashak, advisor for the VHS club. Prudential Nursery, a strong supporter of the community and schools, donated the gingko tree for the club to plant.

This is just one of the projects completed by the club since its inception in 2009, headed by science teachers, Lisa Harbour and LIz Ratashak, who have been inspiring and encouraging students to think, wonder and enjoy through the club.

The club originally started with the drive to recycle paper and has blossomed from there to include more environmental issues. Over the years, students have studied freshwater systems, invasive species, local ecosystems, and science in general.

Select Vicksburg Middle School (VMS) and Vicksburg High School (VHS) students have focused their attention on the environment, working in conjunction with Michigan State University (MSU) and Kellogg Biological Station (KBS).

Students are invited into the club by the advisors based on their interests and enthusiasm for natural sciences.

“We really encourage students to openly love science and discuss topics in science that intrigue them,” said Ratashak. “Our love for science really feeds our desire to encourage others to pursue their passions in science.”

Harbour and Ratashak have brought in field scientists from KBS to speak to the group every year. Several graduate students in science have been advisors to the club, bringing with them their knowledge of basic science research while also being role-models for student scientists.

The Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF) has been instrumental in the club’s ability to expand their horizons. Over the past few years, club members have applied for, and received, several Curiosity Grants.

Trips to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Meijer Gardens, Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, and, most recently, a canoe trip on the Kalamazoo River, have been funded by VCSF to expand the students’ horizons.

Phelps Awarded a Bardeen Grant from VCSF

Kurt Phelps in the weight room at Vicksburg High School.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School’s strength and conditioning coach, Kurt Phelps, is using his $1,000 Bardeen Grant from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, to take a week’s internship at the U.S. Naval Academy this summer.

Phelps will work with the Academy’s strength and conditioning coaches to learn how they teach and train students. He will observe new ways of doing things in the world of exercise and conditioning. The techniques of using muscles and how they work and get stronger are tops on his list to keep up on as they constantly evolve, he says.

Last summer, Phelps took his family to visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. They toured the training facilities and marveled at the kind and welcoming reception they received from the staff. That led to an inquiry about this summer and the possible internship.

He was invited back to train and work on new techniques, but he would need funding to stay there and make the trip, this time by himself, thus the Bardeen grant application.

Phelps has taught strength and conditioning in Vicksburg since 2002, when he was hired as the football coach. He is a graduate of Taylor University with a master’s degree from Western Michigan University in exercise science.

Bardeen Requests 2014
Grant Writer Item Requests Bardeen Requests Award
Cara Brink Nutrition Conference                        1,468.00 1,000.00
Steve Fryling Video Camera for WAY Program                            800.00          800.00
Wendy Gebben ipad, cover, shield and insurance                        1,056.00          600.00
Patty Heintzelman Orff Training                        1,500.00          600.00
Katie Kay Scientific iPad Probes                        2,856.00 2,856.00
Pat Moreno PLC Conference                        1,255.00          649.00
Kurt Phelps US Naval Academy Internship                        1,000.00 1,000.00
Katie Smith Android Tablets (2)                        2,694.00          900.00
Allison Taylor/Terri Negri Tech Conference                        1,146.00 1,146.00
Leslie Trayers iPads (3), covers, shields, insurance                        1,215.00 1,800.00
Krista Wilson Audio Books                            890.00          500.00
Melissa Wilson/Marta Northam iPad (1) cover, shield, insurance                        1,000.00          600.00
April Zapata Early Intervention Reading                            506.00          506.00
Kathy Forsythe PLC Conference                            649.00          649.00
Total Requests 18,035.00 13,606.00

14 Vicksburg Teachers Receive Bardeen Grants

By Kim Klein

bardeen 002
Max Bardeen at his desk during the 1950s at Simpson Lee Paper Company in Vicksburg.

Fourteen Vicksburg teachers are recipients of Bardeen Grants this year. The purpose of the grant is to fund individual research and personal/professional development activities that will result in new teaching and learning practices. The grant can also be used to purchase materials necessary for implementation of creative and innovative teaching and learning practices outside of the scope of normal curriculum materials, supplies or equipment supplied by the district. Grant awards are generally limited to $1,000 for each project request, although exceptions are considered based upon the project proposal and funding availability.

Pat Wilson-O’Leary, retired VCS Instructional Specialist, trustee and chairperson for the Bardeen Committee, says, “The teachers who take the time to write the grants are motivated to try new things or try current practices differently. The grants supply what a present day, normal school budget cannot supply. To reach the maximum benefit, all Bardeen Grant recipients have to transfer their knowledge and skills not only to their students, but to their colleagues. Teaching and learning are now community affairs. Without interdependent thinking and interdependently learning, schools cannot grow with the times.”

The Bardeen Teacher Incentive Grant was created in 1986 as a partnership between the Vicksburg Foundation, providing the money, and the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation VCSF, to distribute the money.

At that time, the Vicksburg Foundation made grant funding available in the amount of $7,500 each year. Since then, the amount has been increased to $10,000 per year. The VCSF also has an endowment established with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation that generated an extra $3,100 for this year’s grant program. That’s an additional $13,000 for the 2014 program.

The grants acknowledge the contributions of Maxwell Bardeen, the longtime general manager of Vicksburg’s Lee Paper Company, one of the founders of the Vicksburg Foundation and the Western Michigan University Paper Science & Engineering Department.

He was a champion of the Vicksburg Community Schools and Vicksburg teachers. In 1994, when Bardeen passed away, both the VCSF and the Vicksburg Foundation voted to expand their support of the Teacher Incentive Grant Program. Acknowledging Maxwell and his family as founders of the program, the group changed the grants’ name to the Bardeen Teacher Incentive Grant Program.

“Teachers today are challenged to teach concepts and skills as well as provide unbelievable amounts of information in creative, interesting and challenging ways”, says Wilson-O’Leary. “They must model technological skills and teach students to do the same. Great teachers cannot teach the same ways they did five or ten years ago. They must continually grow and change as the world changes. We are fortunate to have such teachers in Vicksburg.”

Thanks to the Vicksburg Foundation and the VCSF, some dreams do come true for Vicksburg’s teachers.

VHS Band Earns Honors at Festival of Disney Competition


The Vicksburg High School Band earned several honors at the Festival of Disney competition in Orlando, Florida, during spring break, where they competed with 30 other bands from across the country.

The Big Red Machine received superior ratings and took the overall highest award for their “parade band” and their “field show” performance of this year’s show “JOY!”

The band’s drum majors took the “Best Drum Majors” caption award. Symphonic band received an overall superior rating, and Concert band, Top Dawg Jazz, and Early Dawg Jazz took an overall excellent award.

“Vicksburg Bands performed to the best of their abilities. As directors, Ben Rosier and I could not be more proud of their accomplishments,” said Ravenna Myers, assistant band director.

Marching down Hollywood Boulevard seemed to be the highlight for the Big Red Machine, she said.

“Of all the marching experiences we’ve shared, the students said they enjoyed this one so much they didn’t want it to ever end,” said Myers.

Photos by Jammi Fuller.