Monthly Archives: March 2020

Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center Exposes Venezuelan Crisis

By Syd Bastos

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center created the Destination Series in 2016 to expose residents and visitors of Vicksburg to other cultures, using combinations of art, music, dance, storytelling, traditions, literature and, of course, food to bring these cultures to life. In the past, the center has featured Ukraine, Ireland, Italy, Scandinavia, Latvia, even rural America.

Where would the VCAC go next? Natalya Critchley provided the answer! Although Natalya is English-born, she had been a resident of Venezuela for over 40 years before she and Venezuelan-born husband Claudio Mendoza moved to Kalamazoo under political and economic duress in 2016. She has been creating her art in Vicksburg in the last year or so. After a few brainstorming sessions with this inspiring and well-connected duo, five unique events were created and scheduled between March 20 and March 28. They include an art exhibit, poetry reading, cooking workshop, panel discussion and concert.

While each of the events provides a sampling of the culture of Venezuela, the panel discussion is perhaps the most significant. The Tragedy of the Venezuelan Crisis includes a panel of Venezuelan journalists and scholars who will discuss the political and humanitarian crisis along with their perspectives of international involvement and support of the resolution of the crisis. The free event will be held at the VCAC at 105 S. Main Street in Vicksburg on Friday, March 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Journalist Marielba Núñez and scientist Dr. Vladimiro Mujica will be at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center for the event and sociologist-journalist Tulio Hernández and scientist Dr. Luis A. Núñez will be attending by videoconference.

These panelists will provide personal accounts of not only how the lives of Venezuelans have been impacted by the crisis, but also what each of these ardent Venezuelans are doing today to contribute to solutions, answer questions and offer suggestions for how audience members can help. VCAC Director Brian Berheide, explains, “We are fortunate to have internationally recognized panelists who can share current and thoughtful insight of the Venezuelan crisis and provide an opportunity for dialog as we seek to understand what role the United States may play in the resolution and potential aftermath of this crisis.”

This event is sure to capture the urgency of the Venezuelan crisis and demonstrate how a nation under siege continues to fight for its survival, unified in one purpose, for a united and free Venezuela, Berheide said.

For more information about The Tragedy of the Venezuelan Crisis panel discussion and others in the Destination Venezuela program, go to or call (269) 200-2223.

Art Exhibit: The Long Walk   

Fri, Mar 20, 6-8 pm at VCAC. Free event

An Evening of Venezuelan & American Poetry

Sat, Mar 21, 5-8 pm at VCAC. Free event

Cooking Class:  Venezuelan Cuisine—Hallacas USA

Sun, Mar 22, 2-5 pm at Main Street Pub, $15

Panel Discussion: Tragedy of the Venezuelan Crisis

Fri, Mar 27, 6:30 – 8:30 pm at VCAC. Free event

Concert: Cuatro Meets Banjolectric

Sat, Mar 28, 7-10 pm at 107 S. Main Vicksburg, $10, Cash bar

Prairie Ronde Artist Residency Begins Its Third Season

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The Prairie Ronde Artists Residency participants find beauty in the Mill, while they do their work. This photograph was taken by Joe Freeman, Jr., one of the residency artists in 2019.

By Sue Moore

The outside renovation of the former Lee Paper mill is work that passersby can readily see from Highway Street in Vicksburg. What isn’t as obvious are the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency members who have done their work inside the Mill at Vicksburg.

Since 2018, artists from all over the world have been invited to live in Vicksburg for one to two months and to create new work in the peace and quiet of the Mill and the village. Their finished work has sometimes been displayed inside the Mill for guests to delight in or, more often, in downtown Vicksburg at Prairie Ronde’s pop-up art gallery, located at 101 E. Prairie.

The Residency program was the brainchild of John Kern who came to Vicksburg four years ago to work with his wife, Jackie Koney, the manager of the Mill project. Kern taught middle and high school for over 25 years, first in Minneapolis and Seattle, then the Republic of Georgia and, most recently, in Kiev, Ukraine. He photographed the streets of Kiev when it was undergoing revolution in 2014 and has an interest in many kinds of arts expression. In 2017, he suggested to Chris Moore, the owner of the Mill, that it would be good for the area arts community to have a full-blown cohort of people who could make art in the Mill. Thus, the Prairie Ronde Residency was born.

The power to exchange ideas was a driving force in Kern’s thinking. He visualized the residency as a place that would provide artists with the space and time to work on their craft in a unique setting, namely Vicksburg and the Mill. The goal was to create a dialog between Vicksburg and the broader arts community where different views might be explored. It would be fully funded with a stipend of $2,000, a place to live while in the village, and $500 for travel expenses. One important stipulation is that participants should give back to the community with a gallery show and a piece of their artwork that would remain with the Mill.

The first 17 artists have offered a wide variety of work. There have been painters, photographers, musicians and visual artists. Pamela Hadley, a light artist from Chicago, will open the third season of artists beginning in April. She will be followed by Erica Ferrari, a sculptor from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Last year, the Mill joined the Alliance of Artists Communities (AAC). “At first we joined them to stabilize our number of applicants. By joining this organization, we’ve been able to move away from our initial reliance on word-of-mouth applicants. Joining the AAC means that we’re included in a network of over 1,500 residencies around the world – that’s increased our reach into the artist community dramatically and has begun to create the Prairie Ronde Artist Residence, and Vicksburg, as a destination for artists from all over,” Kern noted.

“This is the power of art and culture,” Kern said. “The seeds are planted on some level and suddenly they germinate. We are planting ideas and looking for them to grow in the Mill and the greater Vicksburg community.”

If you’d like more information about the residency and their schedule of coming events, follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@prairierondeartistresidency) and on the web at

Windy Clark Traces Her Path to Wind + James

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Windy Clark addressing the Schoolcraft Ladies Library Association meeting.

By Sue Moore

Windy Clark, the proprietor of Wind + James in Schoolcraft, told a February meeting of the Schoolcraft Ladies Library about building her events business in an old and decrepit Arco building.

“We were touring this building that my husband, Jamie Clark, had just purchased on Eliza Street with my dad. I was looking for a place to move my ideas for an event space from the Park Trades Building in Kalamazoo. I turned to my dad and said, ‘This is the spot!’ The roof was gone in some places, it was raining and the whole place was in really rough shape,” Windy chuckled as she spoke to the ladies in the club.

It took two years to redo the 10,000 square feet for her portion of the building that Jamie wasn’t renting out to other entities. Then she built a courtyard to add 15,000 sq. feet in back. The whole thing is a stunning place for events in Schoolcraft, said her sidekick, Marci Frederickson. “Windy is a visionary. I met her when I wanted to have a party there and realized how happy the place is. It has such a feeling of joy inside. I said to her, ‘I could work here,’ so she hired me on the spot. It’s just the two of us, learning as we go at every event because we have to pay the rent. We do fashion shows, Boss Day, Expos, photo shoots and even a prom this spring. There’s so much creativity going on, it’s hard sometimes to do the invoicing.”

The dream team got started when Windy was working as a marketing person at Harley-Davidson in Kalamazoo. Jamie came in to get a deal on a bike for a raffle he was heading up for the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce. They married, settled down in Vicksburg and now have four children.

Windy started life with children, by making cakes for people. She wanted to run art classes and purchased a business that was headquartered in the Park Trades Building. When the building was open in Schoolcraft, she moved the art classes there. She’s no longer doing classes; the event space is taking up all of her time. “Now I have to pencil in my family time because this business has really taken off,” Clark said.

“My joy is feeling good in the moment,” Clark said. “A drive toward joy is a drive toward life. Still, Jamie thinks I should make money. This whole project brings me joy and also to my family. We are all involved.”

The Clarks purchased the old elementary school in Schoolcraft with the original idea of living there. “There are a lot of opportunities we didn’t foresee in the beginning. The Dome has been leasing the gym for sports space and artists have been renting it for studio space, so we have stepped back from the living space idea. I’m just a mom who wanted a place for my personal art and share it with family and friends. The colors, light and open space bring all of us great joy. Now we are looking to enlarge Wind + James to accommodate 900 people when we get the new bathrooms done and the parking figured out.”

Chili Cook-Off Moves Back Downtown in Vicksburg

By Sue Moore

The Chili Cook-off, usually held in the cold and blustery month of March, has been scheduled for Saturday, March 28 in downtown Vicksburg from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sponsored by the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce for the last 13 years, it has become a much-anticipated harbinger of spring, according to Chamber President Brian Pitts. It will also feature a 5K Chili Dash at 10 a.m.

A new location, in the parking lot of PNC Bank, has been chosen for these two complementary events. “We wanted to bring things back downtown after experiencing high winds and cold weather at the community pavilion,” Pitts said. “Even though we wrapped the pavilion entirely in plastic tarps the last several years, we couldn’t keep it heated enough for our hungry customers. This is not a money maker for the Chamber, just a good way to have a community event when not much else is happening.”

The Chamber invites local restaurants to compete in the Chili Cook-off and gives awards to the Peoples’ Choice and a Judges’ Choice at the end of the day. Last year Jaspare’s Pizza won the Judges’ award and the Vicksburg High School Pathways program took the Peoples’ choice.

The big white tent that has been used in the early days of the Chili Cook-off will be back and situated in the PNC Bank parking lot for the first time. That means the Chili Dash, which is a fundraiser for the high school track team, will also take place from the same location and return some time later for the runners to taste the 15-plus varieties of chili. Distant Whistle will also be offering refreshment with its winter beers on tap.

Tickets are 50 cents for each cup to taste the individual chili concoctions. They can be purchased upon entering the tent. Tables and chairs will allow guests to sit and enjoy, keep warm and vote for their favorite chili.

Charter Township Concerns Expressed at Meeting

By Sue Moore

Sunset Lake weed control and the Schoolcraft charter township referendum both came under fire at the board’s February township meeting.

The issue of Schoolcraft becoming a charter township, on the March 10, 2020 primary ballot, was hotly debated by a few members in the audience. Some felt the township was overreaching its authority by placing the question on a ballot in March when, theoretically, fewer citizens would come out to vote.

“This is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem,” said Steve Fryling, a former township planning commission member. “There is no indication of where this proposal came from or its perceived advantages. It sounds like an attempt to prevent annexation, but chartering a township opens up residents to very large tax increases and the imposition of services that residents may not feel they need or want to pay extra for. We need a citizens group that can study the issue and find the best way to proceed. If chartering has advantages and fits with an overall plan, then I will be all for it in the future but I encourage voters to reject this current proposal.”

Also speaking against the ballot question was former township attorney Craig Rolfe. He lives in Brady Township but owns property in a part of the village of Vicksburg that is also under the taxing authority of Schoolcraft Township. Rolfe said a change to a charter township would mean more compensation for the board as it would increase from five to seven members with the potential to hire a superintendent to serve under the township supervisor and the expanded board. Other cost increases would involve further publication of ordinances.

Rolfe was especially concerned that becoming a charter township would expand the taxing authority of the Township by nearly 600 percent (from about 0.8 mills presently to 5.0 mills) without any further vote of the people, ever. He also noted that merely becoming a charter township would not even address the Board’s supposed underlying concerns about annexation, because the Township doesn’t meet all of the statutory criteria for a charter township to enjoy some protection from annexation.

Jack Wiley, a township resident, felt the issue had been pushed through without information given out to the public. Denny Olson thought the threat of annexation had come from the Mill who would want to ask for such consideration. It’s just a little chunk [of their land] but could lead to bigger types of request for annexation, he said.

Don Ulsh, township supervisor, offered to adopt a resolution that the board would not raise taxes if the vote passes. “We live here too. Do you think we want to raise our own taxes?” Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig cited what is done for the residents on .8 mills. “We have a balanced budget and have money in reserves. Our budget is out there so all can see what [taxes] pay for.”

Ulsh read from his prepared text about why the township wants to be a charter township. “It all started when the village of Vicksburg annexed the 400 acres that the Allen Edwin development company built on 22nd street in 2002 when sewer and water was extended to the property. In 2005 we were approached by the village for another development called the Renda property on V Avenue and 22nd street.

“We put together a 425 agreement with the village that was a first for Kalamazoo County. It allowed for anyone in the area to have sewer and water as long as they paid for it and the village would not require the property to be annexed to the village. It stipulated that the village and township would enter into a growth management agreement for 10 years that was signed by both entities. In 2015, the village got angry and said they wanted out of the agreement. The township was left with three options. The last one was to become a charter township, so here we are, at this crossroads.”

A 425 agreement under Michigan law, ordinarily between a township and an adjacent city, provides for a temporary transfer of control of specified functions without annexation.

Trustee Ken Hovenkamp said the two entities need to work together. He thought the village didn’t like that the township Planning Commission wouldn’t rezone the 80 acres west of the Mill for an industrial park in 2015. The request was denied when commissioners chose to keep the property as it was, a blue heron rookery. “We are a little nervous about what the village has in mind. What’s going to happen when the paper mill gets going again? If we have a chance to become a charter township, it moves us up a notch and makes people play a little harder,” Hovenkamp said.

“I applaud what you have done with your money,” said Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery. “But a resolution is only as good as your word. You can pledge to not raise taxes and a majority of the people would trust you. However, a future township board could change a resolution just as easily as you could pass one here tonight, as a resolution is not binding on them. An ordinance would give me a lot more comfort than a resolution. You need to have a trust factor with citizens. I believe that your word is good. This nation was founded on the written word.”

Ulsh answered that it would take some time to develop an ordinance but he would be willing to delve into it with the township attorney. Mongreig said she would like to work together with the village.

Others in the audience are residents of the Sunset Lake Association, seeking to have the special assessment district for weed control renewed for 2020-2024. It would cost each homeowner $400, the same amount as before. The village of Vicksburg decided to discontinue the $6,000 it has put in each year. Instead, the village plans to treat the weeds in the ponds that have become unsightly in the summer. Mallery said it was rare that a governmental unit would make this kind of a donation to a waterway, saying it would pay the $1,200 assessment for its three parcels. “We are not going away from the problem.”

Township Treasurer Teresa Scott, who would have to make up the assessment rolls for the 48 residents around the lake, was dubious about doing this without more input from the residents. She said only 14 residents had sent her emails in support of the assessment package for 2020-24; she didn’t feel that was enough input. Perhaps the lake residents should start over with the petition process to indicate whether they wanted to be assessed as they have been since 2010. She said it would take up to four months to collect the signatures which the township needs to begin the treatment plan. “We need to collect the money for the treatment in advance and not afterwards as has been done previously,” she said.

Audience members felt that this approach would take too long; the lake wouldn’t be treated in the summer of 2020. This would set back the whole program of weed control as the permit to do the work needs to be applied for in March. Ultimately, the board voted to move ahead with a March public hearing, setting the assessment roll in April and collection of the fee by June 1.

Ulsh announced that J. Rettenmaier with manufacturing facilities in the township on U.S. 131, would be naming their offices there as its USA Headquarters. It will be investing $2 million to enlarge the headquarters and $7 million in a warehouse addition. “We are really happy about this,” Ulsh said.

Andrew Gustafson Wins Schoolcraft Pinewood Derby

Andrew Gustafson’s race car was proclaimed “King of the Hill” in Schoolcraft’s Pinewood Derby, held at the elementary school in February. He will forever have his name etched on the Pack 250 King of the Hill trophy. He is in first grade’s Tiger Den, shown here with his dad, Pete Gustafson.

The Pinewood Derby is an annual event that Cub Scouts have been taking part in for decades all over the country. Each scout, with assistance from a parent, builds a model car and races against other scouts in the pack. This is meant to be a project that parents and sons do together. The amount of effort put in by the scout vs. the parent depends on the age of the scout; 1st graders aren’t using power tools. As the scouts get older, they can do more on their own.

The body of the car must be from the official kit supplied by the pack in December. The body may be shaped, hollowed out, or built up from the original block as long as it meets the other specifications. Any additions to the body (weight, decals, steering wheels, etc.) must be firmly attached to the car. No shifting weight shall be allowed.

The track is equipped with a timer and race software. Each car will race four times. The software will total the times for each race to determine each car’s overall time.

100 Year Milestone Celebrated by Doris Burr

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Doris Burr, now 100 years old.

Doris Burr was born in Kalamazoo on March 3, 1920. Upon her centenary she is eligible to receive a congratulatory letter from the president of the United States.

In those 100 years, Burr has seen 45 different presidents of the United States. She was around before the first motion picture with sound was produced in 1927 and for Amelia Earhart’s historic solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1932. A lot has happened in the last 100 years, and she has seen it all, said her granddaughter, Wendy Burr.

Her parents were Henry Metty and Bertha Dehoff Metty. She had one brother, Earl Metty. The family lived near the corner of XY and 32nd Street when she was born.

She attended one room schoolhouses growing up, including Harper School #3 at age 6. It was located on 32nd street between XY and YZ Ave. She also attended “Carney School” #2, in Climax Township on Q Ave between 38th street and 40th street. For third grade, the family moved further south, and in 1929 she attended “Bond School” #7 in Brady Township on the corner of U Ave and 34th Street. For 9th grade, she attended Vicksburg High School in 1934 and graduated in 1938. In high school, the family lived at the John Oswalt farm on 37th Street where they sharecropped. It was there that she met her next door neighbor, Merle Burr, and fell in love. They were married on May 1, 1943. Doris worked at the gas station on the corner of W Ave and 36th St. and would walk to work every day. She also attended many shows in Vicksburg at the theater with family and friends.

They sharecropped about 200 acres at the Burr farm on the corner of XY and 37th St. In 1948 the Burrs purchased the farm by logging off 22 acres of woods for the down payment. They raised three boys; Delbert, Frank, and Roy. After retirement from the farm, they moved to a home in Athens. They were active in the Athens Christian Center church and later attended Faith Christian Church. Burr now resides in Leonidas at the Birch, an assisted living facility. She has three children, Delbert, Frank and Roy; five grandchildren, Allen, Wendy, Matt, Tracy and Debbie; and six great-grandchildren. Happy Birthday, Doris!

Battle of the Books Winners

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Pictured above, from left, are Oliver Hammond, Adler Hammond, Matthew Peters, Jennie Taylor (their third-grade teacher), Isaac Sandelin, Caiden Caswell and Ian Triemstra.

The Star Readers from Vicksburg’s Sunset Lake Elementary captured their second Grand Battle of the Books title in the February contest held at Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the Schoolcraft Library. The Stars were an experienced group of 5th grade boys: They had won as 4th graders  last year and since added one new member, Adler Hammond. Their coaches were Brenda Peters and Connie Sandelin.

The Star Readers and the three other teams squaring off in the Grand Battle had to answer 21 questions about the dozen books all were assigned to read and remember. The teams had 30 seconds to decide on the answer and then send their representative to the microphone to see if it was correct. Jennie Taylor, who had selected the books, judged the answers. The Star Readers won with an almost perfect score of 105 out of 110 possible points.

Student Biliteracy Program

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The students and teachers are shown above from left to right: Miles Crawford, Kaitlyn Szydlowski, Megan Bresnahan. Back row, left to right: Spanish teacher Allie Lamers, Sophie Bradley, Mikayla Sands, Sarah Mitchell, Grace Taylor, Spanish teachers Jennifer Rodas, Mary Zemlick, and student Kelcey Cook.

Six of eight Vicksburg High School students who participated in a pilot biliteracy program a Global Seal of Biliteracy at the Functional Fluency level, according to French teacher Jennifer Teal. She petitioned the school board in January to add this test to the curriculum.

This certifies the students at an intermediate-mid level of proficiency in Spanish. They meet the literacy requirement for their native language, English, by earning a high school diploma. All of the students who earned the seal in the pilot are Spanish students at Vicksburg High School, but the seal can be earned by any student who meets the criteria in two or more languages. These six students earned the seal in January after passing a proficiency assessment to certify them at an intermediate-mid level in Spanish. The Global Seal of Biliteracy is a credential that allows recipients to verify their language skills to future schools or future employers.

Andy Blodgett’s Legacy: The Mission to the Poor

Editor’s Note: Andy Blodgett passed away February 12. This article is the first of a two-part story which was drafted for the South County News but did not run until now, as a tribute to his memory. The second part to the article will run next month and will also feature information on a memorial service planned by the Blodgett family for some time in April.

By Linda Lane

“You’re going to think I’m kidding, and you’re going to ask how it is even possible to do it, but our jingle is, ‘We get a ton and a half into a half-ton van.’ And we do!”

That was Andy Blodgett, a former Schoolcraft resident, who dedicated himself to helping some poor villages in Mexico with a group he formed, “The Mission to the Poor.” And many trips literally had two tons loaded into that van. Preparations would take months for Blodgett to organize a large delivery of items he took to Mexico for children and adults for Christmas.

“We manage to get THAT much merchandise – shoes, clothes, school supplies, buckets of paint, candy and toys for kids, and many other things – stuffed into every crevice of that van,” Blodgett explained.

The seemingly impossible task was accomplished because Blodgett had his van heavily accessorized with 10-ply rated tires, two extra springs, a “Timbren” suspension system on the van which holds the back of the vehicle up (often used with a snowplow truck). If the van appeared to be too heavily loaded, they would have been “bandit bait.” Blodgett had many 3-4,000 pound weight-slips to prove that ton-and-a-half claim.

Blodgett and his wife, Alicia, then drove a 2,378-mile trek to the Mexican state of Michoacán, where they distributed food and merchandise to the poor. It was imperative for safety that the van appear to be just a normal van with the enhanced suspension system; dark sheets covered the windows to prevent people from seeing the boxes packed into the van. On the third day when they crossed the border into Mexico, they did not travel at night and stayed in a gated hotel. They traveled on toll roads, paying the “cuda” as an insurance policy to avoid small towns and bandits.

They first started distributing items in the Michoacán region because Blodgett’s wife, Alicia, was born and raised in a village of 70,000 people called Los Reyes. The region is a non-tourist area which grows avocados, sugar cane, and small berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. While they began distributing to the very poor in that area, they expanded to address the dire need of the poor in adjoining villages and up into the mountains. They made contacts through family members with a priest in the mountains and helped the congregation, and later added additional churches to distribute their donations. During one visit, they had 68 volunteers, provided by the church, helping to distribute food and goods to 1,027 families, totaling over 4,000 people. They have also given away, or used with the new school, 2-3,000 gallons of paint. In addition to the supplies they bring down, the Mission to the Poor also brings funds to purchase and give away 5,000 pounds of beans, a major staple for Mexican people. Alicia’s parents’ house became the storage facility for their ministry. Blodgett and his volunteers would scour major sales at U.S. stores, when items get discounted 90 percent or more and when companies like Meijer, Kohl’s, Walmart and Dollar General would clear shelves.

They took items to distribute to 101 people in a seminary in Zamora (a village close to Los Reyes) including 73 seminarians, 11 resident priests, three nuns and 14 kitchen and maintenance helpers.

Some years they managed to get in four trips (most years were three trips), bringing 15,300 pounds of merchandise to distribute to the poor. They have wired cash transfers of $12,000 for the school they built to teach the poor children who would otherwise have had no education. In addition to the seminary, there are 80 “street children” in the school that they’ve built in Zamora who also received goods from the Mission to the Poor. Some years, Schoolcraft Community Schools pitched in to help the Blodgetts repack and box 11,000 candy canes that they distributed to the Mexican kids at Christmas annually.

The need for the school was identified by a local woman at the church named Lupita. “She’s a saint in my mind,” Blodgett said. “She knew the kids had to be out in the fields picking strawberries with their parents and were not receiving any education.” With the Blodgett’s help, the school has included a medical doctor, plus her assistant, as well as a school psychologist. The school has expanded to include a trade school for the children with training for carpentry, plumbing, electrical, automotive repair, sheet metal and welding for boys, and home economics, weaving, sewing, family living and cooking for girls.

To raise the funding necessary to purchase the new goods that he and his wife delivered to Mexico, Blodgett drove all over Michigan purchasing nursery products and working US and Canadian trade shows. He was an independent sales rep for three Michigan nursery growers and three Tennessee nursery growers which helped provide a revenue stream for his mission. His business, Mission Gardens, has sold retail nursery products at wholesale prices, where growers gave him special prices to sell at that reduced price to help fund the mission as well.

Part 2 of this story will run in the April edition of the South County News.