The sun shone hard on Pierport June 11 for a Benzie-Manistee legislative event that shook some 30 members from nearby farms and orchards like so many ripe cherries. The event was hosted by West Wind Orchards, run by fruit grower Dave Smeltzer, third member of Benzie-Manistee County Farm Bureau’s executive committee.
Dist. 35 State Senator Curt Vanderwall joined in via technology, followed by in-person updates from Dist. 101 State Representative Jack O’Malley and a staffer representing Dist. 1 U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman.
MFB staffer Andrew Vermeesch then ran through a list of top priorities he and MFB’s other legislative counsels are working in Lansing: rural broadband and other infrastructure subtopics; Secretary of State accessibility and farm plate renewal; the state budget; and wildlife management — a topic that saw several attendees shifting in their seats.
“Especially in fruit country,” piped up an attendee from the middle of the crowd. “Point restrictions in fruit country need to go away!”
Attending from nearby Benzonia was Susan Zenker, who operates Fantail Farm, a horse-based business providing wagon and sleigh rides and other equine services to a diverse clientele.
After Zenker had questioned Rep. O’Malley about boosting rural broadband availability, she explained how the pandemic heightened the necessity of her ability to market her business to prospective customers online.
“We were okay after the first 60 days” of the lockdown, Zenker explained, but that early respite didn’t last long into the pandemic year. “We saw seasonal issues. All summer I panicked, but by October the phone started ringing again because people wanted color tours.”
COVID also forced her to diversify Fantail’s offerings, adding heatable outdoor shelters for serving hot cocoa to chilled sleigh riders, and working outdoor weddings and proposal events onto her menu of offerings as well.
“We’re focusing more on family groups now,” Zenker said, but the necessity of online marketing — and the broadband that makes it possible — is only going to increase.
“It’s always important to me that people are able to see what we have to offer.”