ELK RAPIDS, Mich. – The two farms are located just 12 miles apart along Route 31, a straight, flat road running through a bucolic wonderland of cherry orchards and crystalline lakes in northwestern Michigan.
Yet when one stand established a no mask, no service rule last July and another went to court to counter the state’s mask mandate, they triggered a division that still ripples in Antrim County.
Linda McDonnell, a retiree who started a summer in the area 20 years ago, regularly visits Friske Farm Market to treat herself to some donuts. She loved watching them piping hot from the kitchen, and delighted in their soft, chewy interiors beneath a crunchy outer crust. Then Friske joined the opposition to the masks.
“Oh my god, I miss her, but I won’t go there because of politics,” said Ms McDonnell, 69, a former schoolteacher. “They won’t get my business.”
Randy Bishop, on the other hand, eyes King Orchard’s farm stand with equal rancor.
The white-bearded Mr. Bishop, sometimes called “the Rush Limbaugh of Antrim County”, quit long-distance trucking during the 2009 recession and currently hosts a talk radio show. He would boycott the Kings forever, he said, “along with other progressive, communist business owners in this county.”
Differences that always lingered beneath the surface were fueled by the coronavirus pandemic and pushed many people into their tribal corners in places like Antrim County. Now the molten flow of anger over the presidential election and virus mitigation measures is hardening into a permanent division over activities where people buy their fruit.
“Political divisions have infiltrated other parts of people’s lives much more than ever before,” said Larry Peck, 68, a retired oil company executive. “Choosing where you go, where you shop, choosing all the things that interact with your life, that were no longer political are much more political now.”
Antrim County, population 23,324, is noted for its series of 14 long, narrow, sometimes turquoise lakes extending into Lake Michigan. Abundant water affects the climate and together with the cigar-shaped low hills create ideal conditions for fruit growing.
Cherries in particular dominate the landscape. sweet cherry. sour cherries. Cherry Tree Inn. Cherry Suites Assisted Living. They populate every menu. Of course, pie. Cherry and Chicken Sandwich Wraps. Roadside signs in black letters say “Have a Cherry Day!”
Friske and Kings are two of the most popular farm stands – low, red, wooden barn-like structures with white trim. Friske, which bills itself as “Not Your Average Fruit Stand,” has Orchard Cafe, a bakery and curios as well as everything needed to make pies. King’s is more homespun, with apples displayed in wooden baskets; Customers are encouraged to pick their own fruit from the orchards.
Last summer, the Friske family sued Gretchen Whitmer, arguing that wearing a mask should have remained a personal choice.
When the state’s Supreme Court struck down a series of executive orders related to the governor’s COVID in October, it effectively withdrew his masked mandate and made the trial controversial. michigan health department issued a mask directive, which Friske Farm Market touted until the state threatened to revoke its business license.
Friskes turned to Facebook to clarify his position in the video, which attracted both ardent supporters and harsh critics. A field newspaper that outlined the uproar erased the staunchly conservative political past of Richard Friske, who died in 2002; He bought the family gardens nearly 60 years ago after serving in the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany.
John R. Friske, 23, a third-generation member who runs the farm, said the family feared being attacked for making masks voluntary. He stressed that more online warriors fired bad broadsides than regular customers.
“It’s a culture of cancellation, that’s all – they didn’t agree with what we were doing so they tried desperately to tarnish our reputation and defame us,” he said. “They follow us in the comments and call us ‘grandma killers.’ Whatever they clearly want to throw at us, it leaves no room for personal responsibility and personal accountability, and it’s not what it is.” It’s about America.”
By comparison, King Orchards made masks mandatory after Ms. Whitmer issued her executive order in July. Farm Stand distributed free masks by constructing hand sanitizer station in gravel parking.
Months later, the Biden campaign released an ad about the negative effects of climate change on fruit farming that featured three generations of the King family in their orchards. (John King, the chancellor, moved to the area from Downstate in 1980 to farm and purchased the Route 31 farm stand in 2001.)
“For us it was not about the party line or our personal politics, it was about being an advocate for mitigating climate change,” said Juliet King McAvoy, Mr. King’s daughter. Still, the Republican-controlled state Senate took the unusual step in April to block his appointment to the Michigan Cherry Committee.
Regulars in the field chose sides, debating freedom versus public health endlessly. Both fruit stands claimed they gained customers, even if some moved away, while the need to eat at home spurred sales. Last month, King Orchards dropped its mandatory mask policy after the state did.
But the matter did not end with the masks.
Vocal residents also took sides in a fierce battle over the results of the presidential election in Antrim County. A human error in the programming of some Dominion voting machines in the county resulted in the Donald J. Mr Biden is being held responsible for Trump.
Although the mistake was quickly caught and rectified, It prompted one of the longest-running lawsuits over the results, with Mr Trump cheering from the sidelines.
While court proceedings loomed uncontrollably in the background, vaccines became the next yardstick for measuring which friends to keep and which businesses to keep in daily life from the pandemic.
Joyce Brodsky, 69, a painter and retired art teacher, spent the pandemic at home, occasionally spending time with a neighbor, a former auto salesman who lived in isolation at his lakeside home, a large Trump sign. was celebrated with
She tried not to let herself be upset, saying that several Trump banners on barns in the area were even bigger. When her neighbor tried to rattle her by talking about politics, she turned the conversation into her photo collage or other topics, and she thought they were both safe inside their Covid-free bubble.
He regularly biked until he returned from a trip to Florida, when he asked if he had been vaccinated. He would never get vaccinated, he told her, suggesting he had no right to ask.
“Our core values didn’t align at all,” said Ms Brodsky, who stopped riding the bike at the time. “Why won’t you follow the science?”
In Friske, plenty of pickup trucks in the parking lot still sport Trump-pence bumper stickers, and donuts are a regular enticement for breakfast. “We got fat,” joked Brenda Koso, 62, when she and her husband Chris moved into their summer home in January to escape high coronavirus numbers in San Diego for part of the spring, where they usually live.
He preferred Friske to be more relaxed regarding the rules of the pandemic, and dismissed the fact that so many local restaurants took a hard financial hit due to the lockdown. “It seemed very unfair,” said Mr. Koso, 63. “I’m not going to count the dead from covid, but still.”
Not everyone in the neighborhood agreed. On Route 31 just south of Friske, 53-year-old Kim Cook opened a gallery in Grace: an old church with a distinctive bell tower to sell the work of some 60 area artists.
“When I found out they didn’t need masks, I never went there,” said Ms Cook, who once worked at Friske. However, her own mask requirement prompted abuse from several clients, including a woman who attacked her, so she closed the gallery.
Antrim County is a place that takes decades to be considered local. Auto executives, assembly workers, teachers and others who eventually retire from Michigan to their other homes remain outsiders. Residents who survive the short summer tourist season refer to visitors as “fadji” because they often refer to thug shops and retirees as “parma-fadji”.
The pandemic brought a new breed: young tech-savvy entrepreneurs from as far away as California who could work from home. They arrived with the families and paid for the houses in cash, fueling outrage.
In this county, Republicans have long controlled nearly every elected office. Nevertheless, a local judge, a former Republican politician, dismissed the case on May 18, alleging fraud in the presidential election, saying that the requested state audit had been done.
Still the fight continues. County commissioners spend hours listening to angry residents, meeting on Zoom. At a recent meeting, a resident denounced the fact that the commissioner was being mired in false allegations that made the county “laughable.” Another said it was a proven fact that county voting machines could be programmed to overturn ballots.
The local residents who filed the lawsuit and their attorneys are expected to appeal widely. Supporters held a $20-per-head fund-raiser on Saturday. Speakers included MyPillow’s chief executive Mike Lindell, who continues to sell the false claim that Trump won the election.
Venue for fundraising? Friske Farm Market.
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