Vicksburg Farmers’ Market Opens in May

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Bridgette Leach of Avalon Farms in Climax, had plenty of asparagus to sell at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market on the opening days in 2016.

By Sue Moore

For those hungering for fresh vegetables and fruit grown nearby, the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market is aiming to please, opening its 2017 season on Friday, May 19 at the pavilion on N. Richardson Street.

Fresh asparagus, lettuce and spring peas are the most likely edibles to be found at the vendors’ tables in May, but it won’t be long before Michigan strawberries begin to appear. The market starts its fourth year in the pavilion, built with money donated through many members of the community who yearned for fresh fruit, vegetables and tantalizing baked goods, according to Stella Shearer, president of the market board.

For the first three years of the market’s existence, its home was the asphalt parking lot at the empty Bobby’s Restaurant on the corner of Richardson and North streets. There wasn’t room to expand the market and it needed a permanent location, Shearer explained. “It has become the community gathering place during the 21 weeks the market is open each year. Not only can people buy fresh food, it’s a place to connect with friends, where children can enjoy food by participating in Kids Plate once a month, and the vendors are super friendly.”

It has grown from about 15 vendors to over 50 in this year, with annual vendor incomes estimated at nearly $60,000. Farmers Market Coalition research shows that for every dollar spent at the farmers’ market an additional $1.36 is spent at local and nearby businesses. This means that well over $80,000 is added to the local economy for the greater Vicksburg community during the market season.

For five years, Generous Hands has been supporting the market with a cash infusion in the form of free coupons distributed to families in its backpack program. This was initially funded by a three-year-grant of $3,000 per season. For the last two years, the donations from Generous Hands’ autumn fundraiser have supported the coupon program at the market, with $2,952 in 2015 and $3,100 last year.

The Vicksburg market signed on in 2012 with the state’s Bridge card, the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program, WIC and Project Fresh. These programs also distribute hundreds of dollars to those shopping each week at the market. These benefits are available to those who qualify, applying at the market manager’s table in front of the pavilion and run by Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki, the co-market manager.

Almost all of the familiar vendors will be back this year, with some new ones making application in time for the opening day. There will be a couple of surprises Meyer-Niedzwiecki said. Vendors are the heart of the market. Offerings include prepared food, baked goods, coffee, homemade soap and local meat. The weekly music that revs up the market has been a treat from the Kalamazoo Folk Life organization with June Kucks volunteering each week to schedule the entertainers.

A grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was recently awarded to the nonprofit market board for strategic planning that included funding for a new website, Shearer said.

Eating From the Food Pantry

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Kaye Bennett surveys the pantry offerings to choose what she will take home for her four days of eating from the South County Community Services (SCCS) selection.

By Kaye Bennett

Recipe tip: Tuna salad without lettuce, celery, onion, pickle or mayonnaise is, basically, tuna. And tuna, right out of the can, is pretty blah.

I made this discovery halfway into an experiment I’d come up with as a result of volunteering with South County Community Services (SCCS). One of my Monday afternoon duties there is to help fellow volunteer Sue Ripley distribute food from SCCS’s food pantry. After several months, I started wondering what it would be like to obtain my food that way and to limit myself to what those shelves had to offer. Here’s what I learned (in addition to the tuna lesson):

“Shopping” in the pantry for one person, I was able to get:

• 6 protein items (I chose hamburger, eggs, milk, tuna, and macaroni and cheese.)

• 4 fruit and vegetable items (My choices: one can each of green beans, corn, peaches and peas.)

• 2 grains (I got a bag of oatmeal and a bag of rice.)

• 2 “extras” (a can of tomato soup and a box of Jello.)

I did not take my items off the pantry shelves (that seemed wrong somehow), but purchased what I didn’t already have at home from Family Fare in Vicksburg. The cost of the food on my list came to a little over $20.

I tried to eat nothing but what was on the list, but I have to admit to cheating a little. I drank coffee every day. (Because it’s expensive, coffee is rarely donated to pantries.) I added a little mayonnaise (not on the list) the second day, to make the tuna more palatable. And I drank a glass of wine once (sorry!).

What did I miss? Fresh fruits and vegetables.

What else did I learn? As so often happens, I was reminded of just how lucky I am – not only because I have ketchup and coffee and year-round fresh fruit, but because right now I am in a position to donate and volunteer. Like anyone, I could someday become a pantry client instead.

Area Food Pantries

South County’s pantry is one of 25 pantry sites for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes (L&F), which serves 30,000 individuals in Kalamazoo County each year. At the SCCS site in 2016, there were 799 pantry visits, representing 242 households, says Drew Johnson, SCCS’s emergency assistance coordinator.

Deb Josephson is the services coordinator at L&F. She explains that the goal of L&F and its pantries is to provide enough food to last each family member four days. More than a four-day supply, it has been determined, would be more than an individual could carry and potentially more than some of the local pantries could store.

Most clients of L&F pantries, Josephson says, have other food resources to supplement what they receive at the pantry. For people who qualify, food stamps and WIC are available. However, there’s a waiting time of up to 45 days after people apply for such programs, so food provided by pantries may be all some people have to eat for that time. Johnson points out that some food stamp recipients may receive as little as $16 per month, so pantries are crucial to meet their needs.

The average client, Josephson says, uses the pantry four or five times a year, but people can come in as often as once every thirty days without a referral. With a referral from a community agency, they can visit once a week.

The primary source of funding for L&F is private donations, with additional funding from foundations. Food also comes from private donations and L&F’s association with regional groups such as the Food Bank of South Central Michigan. According to Johnson, half the 31,000 pounds of food distributed to South County families in 2016 came from local donors, with the remainder from L&F. The SCCS pantry also receives help from local supermarkets. Meijer’s SIMPLY GIVE cards bring in at least $10,000 per year, and Family Fare, in addition to donating an ongoing supply of bread and pastries, does a register scan that brought in $2,200 last year.

Josephson says the profile of pantry users has changed in recent years, thanks to economic challenges. “Since 2008, people who never needed help before now do,” she says. “It’s not that people aren’t working; they may have several part-time jobs.” But they are still struggling to make ends meet. “You need a car to get to work; you need a roof over your head. But food is discretionary, so they shave the food budget.”

Feeding hungry children is especially important. When school’s out, Josephson says, families need more help, because the one or two meals their children received at school must once again be prepared and eaten at home.

How to Access, How to Help

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Postal carriers collected bags of food in 2015 for the South County food pantry.

By Kaye Bennett

Most of us assume that two types of people are interested in food pantries: those who need food and those who want to donate or volunteer. But there can be quite a bit of overlap between the two.

As people’s lives change, they may migrate between the groups, says Drew Johnson, SCCS’s emergency assistance coordinator. He notes that one former SCCS volunteer now is a pantry client, while other clients want to give back, and do so by volunteering at the center. “We work to help people realize that there’s no shame in getting help, and it’s OK to give help,” he says. Deb Josephson, L&F services coordinator, agrees, “People who use food pantries are a cross section of the community. They’re our neighbors.”

How to Access South County’s Food Pantry:

• Call Loaves and Fishes at 343-3663 between 9 a.m. and noon. (Hint: the best time is 10-10:30 a.m.)

• If that line is closed, call L&F’s main line at 269-488-2617; tell them you are from South County and you need food.

• If that doesn’t work and you can’t wait till the next day, call SCCS directly around 12:30 (Monday through Thursday) and request an emergency pantry.

Hints for Helping:

• Johnson says, “Think about the foods you and your family like to eat. I wouldn’t want dried beans all the time and neither do clients.” Condiments and healthy snacks like raisins and granola bars are always needed. Based on my own experiment, in which I longed for ketchup for my hamburger, I bought 27 bottles of ketchup – on sale at Family Fare that day – and donated them to the pantry.

• Food drives during the holidays and the postal drive in May keep pantries well stocked at those times, but there are empty shelves waiting for your donations in other months, especially February through April and summer through October.

• Note the expiration or best-by dates on items you donate. Food pantries can use items up to one year past the best-by date, but items older than that need to be discarded.

• In addition to food, the SCCS pantry can also give clients a bag of household items once each quarter. These bags include dish soap, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste and other necessities. Check the SCCS website for a complete list of items you can donate for these bags.

• Johnson is happy to talk with you about creative ways individuals or groups can donate. For example, churches and businesses often have “micro” food drives, and the Vicksburg District Library recently granted amnesty for fines to users who brought in food for the pantry. Some local people have found that even if they only need one, they take advantage of a market’s two- or three-for-one sales and bring extra items to the pantry. When people host parties but don’t want guests to bring gifts, they may suggest that guests instead bring a non-perishable food item; the “gifts” are then donated to SCCS.

To learn more about how to donate or how to volunteer at SCCS’s food pantry, check southcountycs.com, or call Drew Johnson at 269-649-2901.

New Postmaster in Vicksburg

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Deb Hineman and Travis Graham are the two full-time employees at the Vicksburg post office.

By Sue Moore

Area residents sometimes get to the Vicksburg Post Office during the day and suddenly realize it is closed from 1-2 p.m. and closes again at 4 p.m. They wonder why.

It’s all based upon the amount of revenue each post office generates, says Travis Graham, the new postmaster in Vicksburg. “Actually, the Schoolcraft USPS has more revenue than Vicksburg and thus can stay open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without closing for lunch. Our mornings are slow and then it picks up in the afternoon. I have one full-time clerk and one part-time person who comes in at 7 a.m., leaves for four hours and comes back at 2. I just can’t justify having her here all day.”

Graham comes from a long line of family that have held jobs with the post office so he knows the institution and believes it is a good career path for him. His uncle was the long-time postmaster in Bellevue, where Graham lives. His aunt worked out of the Battle Creek office. He has two brothers who have held post office jobs, all either retired or holding other jobs.

“It takes a long time to work your way up,” Graham says. He started as a city letter carrier 18 years ago in Battle Creek but had a part-time job first as a rural carrier for six months. He served as a supervisor for 12 years in Battle Creek, Parchment and Westwood. In making the move to Vicksburg, he believes he can make some positive changes that will help improve the service. He emphasizes that people should call him personally if they have a problem at 269-649-0148.

Because Vicksburg’s revenue is down three percent over the past year, he hopes to save some carrier’s time in walking their route by asking homeowners if they would consider putting a mailbox out by the sidewalk or road. “We call this ‘scooting’ when a carrier has to get in and out of the LLV (long lasting vehicle) and take mail up to the door. It would save money and time on the village routes and allow us to put our resources elsewhere. I might re-adjust routes to make them more square as our carriers walk from 6 to 8 miles each day, rain or shine.”

Food Drive for South County Community Services (SCCS)

Graham plans to be on hand on May 13 to oversee the food drive that has become an annual event to benefit struggling families in Vicksburg and elsewhere. The nationwide National Letter Carrier Association food drive is run by the unionized employees of the post office. Postcards will be mailed out reminding each person who receives mail that their donation is important to help stock the SCCS food pantry. In 2016, over three tons of canned goods, box mixes, and other staples were collected by the carriers and transported to the office at South County. Usually the carriers distribute plastic bags for donors to put their extra food stuffs in for easier collection but they may not be available this year, Graham explains.

Volunteers from Community Services travel to the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft, Climax and Scotts post offices to pick up collections from those areas.

Vicksburg District Library Closed for Remodeling

By Eric Hansen
Circulation and Reference Librarian

The Vicksburg District Library will be closed from May 1 through 7 for remodeling and collection maintenance. Library staff request that patrons return items such as books and DVDs at the drop-boxes in front of the building. At this time the library will be unavailable for clubs and meetings.

The library will replace the carpet and shift the layout to make the large print, periodical, and audiobook sections more convenient. Magazines and newspapers will be shelved closer to the Heritage Room so that patrons may enjoy quiet reading farther from the entrance to the library. The fiction section will be moved closer to the entrance – because of the large volume of fiction that circulates, it will be closer to the circulation desk so that patrons can browse books and check out quickly. Similarly, the non-fiction section will be moved to the quieter south end of the building where patrons can do more intensive research and study before leaving the building.

The renovations will create a new young adult area separate from the children’s services area. This youth area will be located closer to the quiet study room and where the computers are provided for the general public. The library’s quiet study room will be remodeled to create an area more convenient for small group projects and meetings.

The head of Reference and Circulation will be available near this youth area. This librarian will be available to assist all patrons with the public computers, book/DVD recommendations, academic research questions and basic genealogy, and young adult patrons with questions related to essay writing and college preparation.

Library staff will also do maintenance on the DVD collection and re-house almost 5,000 DVD titles with more than 8,000 individual discs. The new system is meant to more closely resemble the book-shelving method already used, and is more common among public libraries. Library leadership hopes that the new shelving method will make titles more convenient for patrons to browse than the current system. Staff hope that by making browsing easier, patrons will encounter a larger variety of the thousands of movies and television programs owned by the library.

Funding for library improvements became available through the efforts of Director John Sheridan, who wrote numerous grant proposals. He estimates the value of remodeling spending will be greater than $250,000 – approximately half of which will be from grant funding. Most notably, Sheridan was able to coordinate with Consumers Energy to obtain more than $50,000 for a new furnace and water heater to replace existing systems, freeing other funds to be used for projects elsewhere.

The changes slated for May are Phase Two of the Director’s planned improvements. Future improvements may include an LED lighting system with better energy efficiency, an electronic sign for the front of the building, a new phone system and a new digital camera security system.

Speaker Lineup for Vicksburg Historical Society

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Dr. John Geisler will be the first speaker in the Vicksburg Historical Society’s monthly series.

By Sue Moore

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vicksburg Historical Society, the board of directors has lined up an all-star cast of speakers for its monthly speaker series. Dr. John Geisler will kick off the first of seven public presentations Tuesday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at the Vicksburg Community.

Geisler was an audience favorite in 2016 with his humorous talk on the Sauk Trail, a path mostly paralleling US-12 between Detroit and Chicago. He has been invited back to hold forth on the history of the many road signs that appear along this road and quite a few others in Michigan.

Normally, that wouldn’t be so funny in anybody else’s hands, said Randy Seilheimer, who recruited the former teacher to come back again. His PowerPoint presentation concentrates on the wackiest signs and their history throughout Michigan.

In one instance, he displays a state map of Michigan near the Sauk Trail area and challenges the audience to note what is different about this 1976 road map. Turns out it is one of the very few copies of a map that has in mouse type the legends of fictitious towns called “Goblu” and “Beatosu”. The towns came from the late Peter Fletcher, former chairman of the Michigan State Highway Commission, who ordered the wording inscribed in the 1976 map. The first printing of the map was destroyed once the joke was found out. He later ran for the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University – and was elected.

Dr. Geisler often teaches a class for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Western Michigan University. It sells out almost immediately each semester, and Vicksburg area residents will get to hear his presentation at no charge. He has degrees from Adrian College and the University of Toledo. He has been a public-school teacher, director of a poverty program, a college admissions counselor and a counselor educator at Central Michigan University and WMU.

The public is invited to each of the speaker series throughout the year on the third Tuesday of each month. On the last Sunday in September, the Society will be staging its annual Harvest Festival. The June speaker will be Steve Rossio from the Portage Public Library’s history division. His topic will focus on Kalamazoo County men who fought in World War I. He too is a returning speaker by popular demand.

Paul Kline Celebrates 90 Years with 340 Trees

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From left to right at the family gathering: Carol (sister) and Larry Higgins, Kevin Kline (brother), Paul and Joyce Kline, Amanda Wilson, Tama and Joseph Kline.

By Linda Lane

Klines Resort was abuzz with hundreds of friends and family who gathered in celebration of Paul Kline’s 90th birthday party for coffee, tree planting and a luncheon. Paul’s love of trees spurred the theme of the birthday party. His family dug in to give him what he loved: new trees at the Klines Resort, located south of Vicksburg on Portage Lake.

A chilly but bright sunny spring day was perfect weather for hosting the event outdoors. The large gathering of people picked up shovels and spades to help plant one beautiful sweetgum tree by the Klines Resort clubhouse, 150 seedlings of spruce, pine, red maple, dogwood and redbud, and 25 additional donated trees.

While the 176 trees were planted on the family property, this green family went even further. They encouraged attendees to donate $2 to the Arbor Day Foundation, which will plant another 164 trees in Paul Kline’s honor in the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota. They far exceeded their goal of 90 new trees and between the two locations, Klines Resort and the Chippewa National Forest, 340 trees will have been planted in Paul’s honor – a perfect gift for a man who loves trees and, in good health at 90, can enjoy them.

Hundreds of people turned out to celebrate, many friends from Klines Resort and their church, and over 60 immediate relatives of Paul Kline and his family of eight kids, including his 95 year-old brother, Cernyw. Those invited to the party were asked to write or share a poem about trees during the celebration. Over a dozen people did so and the poems were read, including Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” and Phil Kline’s poem, “Dad”, which he wrote for the 90th.

Klines Resort was originally owned by Albert and Myrna Hines who bought the resort from a tax sale after the Depression. Paul Kline was a farmer in the Vicksburg area with eight children, Phil Kline being one of them. He wanted to purchase the acreage from the Hines to farm it, but the Hines insisted the large parcel remain intact. So Paul bought the entire piece, with the resort being passed on to Phil and Tama Kline, who operate it today.

Kevin Kline, Paul’s son, identified over 65 difference species of trees on the Klines Resort grounds, some native, some planted by resort residents, the majority of which Paul had planted. They put together a tree treasure map for the birthday party which encouraged people to explore the grounds and find the many different species. Both Paul and Kevin graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in agriculture.

The family purchased the 150 seedlings from the St. Joseph County Soil Conservation District tree sale. Just imagine how tall those 340 trees planted on Paul Kline’s birthday will be in another 90 years.