By Jeremy Christian Nagel
Recently I was asked if my background studying geography made me want to travel more, and if it made it more interesting to visit exciting new places.
“Not exactly,” I said. “It’s more like it makes anywhere—no—it makes everywhere more interesting.”
Case in point:
Last month I shared an early-winter afternoon with the Up & Doing community group in Osceola County. Jerry and Eva Stein hosted the meeting at their place just north of Evart; I’d met Jerry at Osceola’s annual last fall. He asked if I’d be interested in dropping in on his community group and I was only too happy…
It was a great meeting (great soup!) and the discussion continued well after the official proceedings finished. They asked how I got where I am, working in communications for Farm Bureau. That story’s as twisty as a U.P. logging road, and it starts with the confession that my formal education is in geography, not communications or journalism or English.
That led to me asking about the makeup of their group—whether they were all from the same part of the county or whether they came from all over.
By that point I’d picked up on there being some distinction between the Evart-based crowd and the Reed City folks farther west. (Indeed, their western neighbors in the Chat & Chew group are mostly from Reed City and nearby Hersey.)
I also learned you don’t cross 80th to go to church, but I suppose everybody knows that…
I picked up on the east-west thing but it didn’t sound like a big deal. There didn’t seem to be any turf wars or grudges or disparaging remarks. Whatever “boundary” or separation exists seems pretty fluid, porous and friendly.
(Look at a map and you’ll see both Evart and Reed City are in the southern half of Osceola County. What about the north? I count 40 regular members with Tustin addresses; more than 50 with Leroy addresses; and almost 60 with Marion addresses. But where’s the Osceola North group?)
The geographer in me is fascinated at how, why and where we draw the boundaries that define and identify us. Sometimes they’re man-made; often natural barriers play a big role.
In Huron County, I’ve learned M-53 is more than just the north-south road connecting Bad Axe and Port Austin—it also coincides with a very real social boundary dividing east and west. You might associate with folks on the “udder” side; you might not!
There’s a different situation in Muskegon County, where the southeastern farm community around Ravenna is quite separate from the northwestern one around Whitehall and Montague. They have distinct identities, but largely because of all the non-farm stuff separating them. The wide Muskegon River valley and the City of Muskegon itself essentially cut the county in half.
In more ways than one, the Whitehall-Montague crowd is closer to Oceana (immediately to the north) than Muskegon. Oceana has almost as many regular members with Whitehall and Montague addresses as Muskegon.
It makes me wonder if organizing Farm Bureaus along municipal (county) boundary lines makes as much sense as perhaps it once did. We inherited that structure because our roots were entwined with extension’s, but is it as relevant today as then?