May 28, 2020


Innovative ways northerners are finding to keep spirits high and local economy rolling.
By Ross Boissoneau | March 21, 2020

With new measures coming daily to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s hardly business as usual across the nation or in Michigan. But many Up North innovators are using the obstacles as a catalyst to get creative.
Grow Benzie is one. As a food and farming outreach community center, the thought of social distancing is anathema. After all, its mission is all about bringing people together, not keeping them apart.
So the organization’s upcoming potlucks have been transformed into drive-in, drive-out food stops, while the various presentations that are a part of the proceedings will now be delivered online instead. That includes planned events like “Globetrotting with Josh,” executive director Josh Stoltz’s talk about his time spent abroad as the result of two fellowships, what he learned overseas, and how it pertains to his work here at home.
The same is true for Sushi Night with Chef Loghan Call. Call is owner of Planted Cuisine and leads classes, hosts private events, and does catering. His Sushi Night will now be shown online as well.
One of Grow Benzie’s most popular programs is its Seed Swap. This year, it was offered as a drive-in service. “People can pull up, drop off what they want and get anything they want,” said Stoltz. In addition, Chad VanTol of Cold Creek Farm supplied a seed starter kit, with cups and special soil, which patrons can take home.

“Gardening has not been canceled,” VanTol posted on the Cold Creek Farm Facebook page last week. “Over the next few weeks we’ll share photos and we’ll be doing some video with Farmer Chad,” added Stoltz.
The facility also offers a sewing studio after school. In lieu of the usual gatherings, team leader Kathy Ross deliver sewing machines to those who are part of the group. “We’ll be reassessing in April,” said Stoltz.
Many of those working in the gig economy are facing peril. In one day, Joshua Davis saw his shows virtually dry up. He was supposed to perform a March 13 concert in Grand Haven that was abruptly canceled. So instead, he did one on Facebook, which is still available.

“It was hard to lose a lot of work,” he told his online audience in between songs. “A lot of my peers and my friends and my mentors are feeling the same hurt and everybody in this industry and a lot of industries are.”
“I use social media because I have to, but I’m not a big fan,” he said the Sunday following the online performance. “Friday night [for my concert] I was a really big fan. It almost felt like this is what social media is for.”
He was even able to get some recompense for his lost income via a link to a PayPal site. “[Making money] wasn’t the focus, but I did,” he said, likening it to a virtual tip jar.
And unlike in a concert setting, Davis wasn’t limited to a single audience in one place; he had a virtual crowd tuning in from Marquette, Boston, South Carolina, and other locales he couldn’t have reached in Grand Haven. “I had comments from Italy, Spain, Florida — it’s a global deal.”
Davis also will be missing out on a teaching seminar he was going to lead at Michigan State University, which he hopes will happen down the road. In the meantime, he plans to keep connected and earning by offering online classes for guitar, mandolin, banjo, and songwriting, along with doing virtual concerts for kids, who will be home from school for the duration. “I’m looking for ways to engage children, and provide some sort of income.”
When does he anticipate things will return to some semblance of normality? “People tell me May 1. That’s an assumption I don’t have a lot of faith in,” Davis said.
Those who like Davis who are losing performing or exhibiting opportunities do have one other option, courtesy of the Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology in Bellaire. It has established the Crosshatch Artist Emergency Fund. Crosshatch co-founder Amanda Kik said the Begonia Charitable Foundation in Bellaire provided $5,000 in seed money for the fund, and other donors added to the fund. “A lot of artists and musicians are working in the gig economy. They can apply for up to $500,” she said.
Those interested in applying can go to “It’s heartbreaking reading some of the applications,” Kik said, noting how some state “Here’s how much I’m not going to make.” She is also hoping other individuals and foundations will step forward to donate to the fund.
She said the next big public gathering for the organization isn’t until the end of May, so she’s hopeful that remains on schedule. Until then, the monthly guild meetings and other groups will all be done virtually.
At Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City, owner Shanny Brooke is offering a gallery-wide sale of 15 percent off or free shipping, with her own art 40 percent off. It runs through April 5. Those interested can see the art by clicking through the posts on the gallery’s Facebook page.
Higher Art Gallery isn’t the only retail store changing its methodology. Clothing store Captain’s Quarters in downtown Traverse City is offering a virtual tour of the store through its website and shipping for those who want some new clothes but don’t want to go out in public.
Rotary Charities postponed its most recent seminars; its next public programs are not scheduled until the first week of April. “We haven’t made the call on what to do about those yet,” said Colleen Masterson-Bzdok, the organization’s director of capacity building and operations. “Our office is closed, and we are all working from home. All of our meetings are now going to be calls or video calls with Zoom.”


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