e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu

5/07/2009

Road Scholars, Day Four

Day four began with breakfast at McGuire's Resort, the family-run golf resort in Cadillac where we spent the night. Mike McGuire currently runs the family biz and spoke to us during our meal about his own transition from working for multi-national corporations to working with his family. That theme continued as we hit the road for several rural sites in the Northwest region of lower Michigan. First, a Wind Farm in McBain, where wind turbines generate alternative energy.

"God forbid a cow craps in the field."

Then, the Benson Dairy Farm. This was the day's highlight. The Bensons raise Holstein cows, over 150 of them, with no employees. All the work is done by the Bensons. A true family farm. They also have eight kids, all home-schooled. Their three oldest are in college, and they're in the process of adopting the foster child who lives with them. The work ethic is amazing. It's palpable. It's exhausting just listening to them describe the day that begins with the 5:00 a.m. milking. The family gave us a tour of their barns, equipment, the whole operation.

They also spent a lot of time talking about regulations that affect their material conditions on a daily basis. Every requirement costs money, and a lot of it. Due to various regulations, they must keep their cows in barns, not fields, leading to the great line above that Mrs. Benson delivered with deadpan humor. She offered her criticisms of the regulations that dictate they must have cemented walls for their manure pit. The manure pit is an enormous "cement pond"--literally--into which they deposit manure from the barns. Later they spray the water from the pit on their crops. Her point? Why must we have cement walls to prevent manure from seeping into the same soil we're going to spray the water onto while, meanwhile, in the suburbs, it's perfectly acceptable to spray toxic chemicals on lawns where kids play. She had a great delivery for these critiques. In another life, she's a stand-up comic.

Next, lunch at Big Buck's, a veritable temple to killing bears and deer. The place looks like a hunting lodge, except it's huge. I ate a venison reuben. Delicious. We headed even farther north, finally crossing the Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Five miles long. Glad I wasn't driving the bus. Our first stop in the U.P. was St. Ignace, where we met with representatives from the Ojibwa nation who talked to us about the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the movement to get back remains of elders on display in museums.

After the Ojibwa, we headed across the street and caught the ferry to Mackinac Island. A windy but beautiful ride. Due to a scheduling change, we had the first free time of the week and I spent an hour walking around the island, which famously doesn't allow cars. The RS staff set us up in a great resort on the island. It's still off season here and the resort wasn't going to open for at least another week but since we were able to offer them the chance to fill thirty rooms, they decided to start the season early. Lucky us. I'm in a huge suite with a balcony that looks out over the main drag. Awesome.

Only one more day of Road Scholars. Not so awesome.