Sweet cherries, bitter politics: two firm positions and the divisions of the nation


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ELK RAPIDS, Michigan – The two farm stands are just 12 miles apart along Route 31, a straight, flat road that cuts through a bucolic wonderland of cherry orchards and crystal clear lakes in northwest Michigan.

Yet when one booth instituted a no-mask, no-service rule last July and the other went to court to fight the state’s mask mandate, they sparked a split that took hold. still spreading in County Antrim.

Linda McDonnell, a retiree who began spending the summer in the area 20 years ago, came regularly to the Friske Farm Market for a few donuts. She loved watching them come out hot from the kitchen and delighted in their soft, chewy interiors under a crispy outer layer. Then Friske’s joined the outcry against the masks.

“Oh my god I miss them, but I won’t go there because of politics,” said Ms McDonnell, 69, a former schoolteacher. “They won’t have my things.”

On the other side, Randy Bishop looks at the King Orchards farm stand with a similar resentment.

The white-bearded Bishop, sometimes referred to as the “Rush Limbaugh of County Antrim,” gave up long-haul trucking during the 2009 recession and currently hosts a talk radio show. He will boycott King’s forever, he said, “along with other progressive and communist business owners in this county.”

The differences that had always simmered below the surface were ignited by the coronavirus pandemic and pushed many people in places like County Antrim into their tribal corners. Now the flow of melted anger over the presidential election and the virus mitigation measures is hardening into lingering divisions over activities as simple as where people buy their fruit.

“Political divisions have infiltrated other aspects of people’s lives much more than ever before,” said Larry Peck, 68, a retired oil company executive. “Choosing where you go, choosing where you shop, choosing all the things your life interacts with that weren’t political now is much more political.”

County Antrim, population 23,324, is known for its chain of 14 long, narrow, sometimes turquoise lakes that flow into Lake Michigan. The abundant water tempers the climate and, combined with the low, cigar-shaped hills, creates ideal conditions for growing fruit.

Cherries in particular dominate the landscape. Sweet cherries. Sour cherries. Auberge du Cerisier. Cherry Suites Assisted Living. They populate every menu. Pie, of course. Cherry and chicken sandwich wraps. Black letters on road signs read greetings like “Have a cherry day!” “

Two of the most popular farm stands are Friske’s and King’s – low, red, barn-like timber structures with white trim. Friske’s, which bills itself as “not your average fruit stand,” includes Orchard Cafe, a bakery and shop stocked with trinkets along with everything you need to bake a pie. King’s is more artisanal, with apples displayed in wooden baskets; customers are encouraged to pick their own fruit from the orchards.

Last summer, the Friske family sued Governor Gretchen Whitmer, arguing that wearing masks should have been a personal choice.

When the state Supreme Court overturned a series of Covid-related governor’s orders in October, it effectively rejected his mask mandate and rendered the trial moot. Michigan Department of Health issued a mask directive, which the Friske Farm Market defied until the state threatened to revoke its business license.

The Friskes took to Facebook to explain their position in videos that drew both zealous supporters and harsh criticism. A regional newspaper describing the heckling unearthed the arch-conservative political past of Richard Friske, who died in 2002; he bought the family orchards about 60 years ago after serving in the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany.

Jon R. Friske, 23, a third generation to run the farm, said the family expected to be attacked for making voluntary masks. More warriors online have pulled nasty broadsides than regular customers, he insisted.

“It’s canceling the culture, that’s all – they didn’t agree with what we were doing, so they desperately tried to smear our reputation and discredit us,” he said. “They chase us in the comments and call us ‘grandma killers.’ Anything they want to throw at us frankly leaves no room for personal responsibility and personal responsibility, and that is not the reason for ‘to be from America.’

By comparison, King Orchards made masks mandatory after Ms Whitmer issued her executive order in July. The farm stand built a hand sanitizer station in the gravel parking lot and handed out free masks.

Months later, the Biden campaign published an advertisement on the negative effects of climate change on fruit growing that featured three generations of the King family in their orchards. (John King, the Patriarch, moved to the upstate area in 1980 to start farming and purchased the Route 31 farm stand in 2001.)

“For us, it wasn’t about the party line or our personal politics, it was about being an advocate for climate change mitigation,” said Juliette King McAvoy, Mr. King. Still, the Republican-controlled state Senate took the unusual step in April of blocking his nomination to the Michigan Cherry Committee.

Regulars in the region have chosen their camp, constantly fighting for freedom in relation to public health. Both fruit stalls claimed to have gained customers, although some took by storm, as the need to eat at home led to a sales boom. King Orchards last month scrapped its mandatory post-state mask policy.

But things didn’t end with the masks.

Vocal residents had also taken sides in a nagging battle over the results of the presidential vote in County Antrim. Human error in programming some of the Dominion’s voting machines in the county resulted in Donald J. Trump being awarded several thousand votes to Mr. Biden.

Although the error was detected immediately and corrected, it sparked one of the longest-running trials regarding the results, with Mr Trump applauding from the sidelines.

As court proceedings unfolded in the background, vaccines became the next yardstick for measuring which friends to keep and which businesses to hang out with as everyday life receded from the pandemic.

Joyce Brodsky, 69, a retired painter and art teacher, spent the pandemic at home, occasionally spending time with a neighbor, a former auto salesman, who also remained isolated in his home on the waterfront. lake, adorned with a large Trump sign.

She tried not to be annoyed, telling herself that many of the Trump banners on barns in the area were even larger. When her neighbor tried to shake her up by talking about politics, she turned the conversations towards her photo collages or other topics, and she felt like they were both safe in their bubble without Covid.

They regularly cycled together until she returned from a trip to Florida, when she asked him if he had been vaccinated. He would never get the vaccine, he told her, suggesting that she was not allowed to ask.

“Our core values ​​didn’t match at all,” said Ms. Brodsky, who stopped cycling at the time. “Why don’t you follow the science? “

At Friske’s, many vans in the parking lot still sport Trump-Pence stickers, and the donuts draw regulars for breakfast. “We got fat,” Brenda Coseo, 62, joked after she and her husband Chris moved into their summer home in January and part of the spring to escape the high coronavirus count in San Diego , where they usually live.

They appreciated that Friske’s was more relaxed about the pandemic rules, and decried the fact that so many local restaurants have suffered a financial blow because of the lockdowns. “It just seemed unwarranted enough,” said Coseo, 63. “I’m not the one counting the deaths of Covid, but still.”

Not everyone in the neighborhood agreed. On Route 31, just south of Friske’s, Kim Cook, 53, had opened Grace: A Gallery in an old church with a distinctive steeple to sell the work of some 60 artists from the area.

“I never went there after finding out they didn’t need masks,” said Ms. Cook, who previously worked at Friske’s. Her own mask requirement, however, prompted abuse from several clients, including a woman who pounced on her, so she closed the gallery.

County Antrim is the kind of place where it takes decades to be considered a local. Auto executives, assembly workers, teachers and others who end up retreating to their second homes in upstate Michigan remain strangers. Residents who survive the short summer tourist season call visitors “fudges” because they frequent fudge shops and retirees “perma-fudgies”.

The pandemic brought a new breed: young tech-savvy entrepreneurs from as far away as California who could work from home. They arrived with families and paid homes in cash, fueling resentment.

In this county, Republicans have long controlled virtually all elected offices. Still, a local judge, a former Republican politician, dismissed the case alleging fraud in the May 18 presidential election, saying the requested state audit had been carried out.

Yet the fighting continues. The departmental commissioners, gathered on Zoom, spend hours listening to angry residents. At a recent meeting, a resident denounced the commissioners being embroiled in false allegations that made the county a “laughing stock”. Another said there was evidence that county voting machines could be programmed to return ballots.

The local resident who has filed a lawsuit and his lawyer should widely appeal. Supporters organized a fundraiser of $ 20 per person on Saturday. the Among the speakers was Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, who continues to sell the false claim that Mr. Trump won the election.

The location of the fundraiser? Friske agricultural market.

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