Category: Community

MI Best Stories: Michigan Sugar and Pioneer Sugar

farmer showing sugar beets to his sons

It’s easy to take those sweet treats in your pantry for granted, who thinks about the story behind that big, red bag of Pioneer Sugar.  We do!

MLive and Michigan Best’s Amy Sherman was curious to know more about the sugar she uses so often, especially when she learned that Pioneer Sugar comes from a Michigan-based company, Michigan Sugar Company. Her curiosity was piqued when she read Michigan Sugar Company’s purpose statement,

“Michigan Sugar Company aims to make life sweeter, both literally and figuratively, for our grower-owners, employees, customers, partners, and communities. Whether it’s a bag of our pure, all-natural sugar helping you bake your favorite family recipe, sponsorship of an important community event, providing a quality and stable work environment, delivering an order on time and as expected, or helping maximize profits for our grower-owners, Michigan Sugar Company has been Making Life Sweeter since 1906.”

Check out the videos below to learn more about Michigan Sugar and how you go from a sugar beet (or 7) to a bag of sugar.

We’ll be posting new videos exploring Michigan Sugar Company each week, be sure to come back to learn more!

Episode 1, in this first episode exploring Michigan Sugar, Amy Sherman talks with Rob Clark about how the company came to be and what makes Michigan Sugar so special.


Episode 2, in this episode Amy Sherman talks with Michigan Sugar Company’s president, Mark Flegenheimer, whose family has been in the sugar business since the 1920s


Episode 3, in this episode Amy talks with Pedro Figueroa, Michigan Sugar’s vice president of sales and marketing. They talk about the details of the sugarbeet processing, Pioneer Sugar’s new red bag, and how Pioneer Sugar is one of the few sugars that is 100% vegan certified.


Episode 4, in this episode Amy talks to Ellen Smith, the executive director of Human Resources at Michigan Sugar. As a locally grown, locally owned business, Michigan Sugar is proud to support local communities through its owner-grower farms and large employee base at its processing plants. Find out about what kind of employment opportunities are open at Michigan Sugar, and how to apply (


Episode 5,  in this episode Amy talks with Jim Ruhlman, Michigan Sugar’s executive vice president. They discuss the agricultural side of the sugar production process and how the ‘root’ of the company is the 900+ grower-owners, who not only farm the actual sugarbeets, but also collaborate on seed varietal testing and approval.


Episode 6, in this episode Amy talks with Jason Lowry, Michigan Sugar’s vice president of operations. We learn the processing details from farm to factory (spoiler: it involves sugarbeet ‘french fries’) to red bag of Pioneer Sugar.


Michigan Sugar Company fun facts:

  • Michigan Sugar Company has been operating since 1906 and has been farmer-grower owned since 2002
  • There are 900 farmer-grower owners
  • Michigan Sugar Company has tested around 300 seed varieties, narrowing that down to up to 20 varieties that have been approved for use in the specific field growing conditions of their farms
  • 18% of a sugar beet is sugar
  • Michigan Sugar company growers plant and harvest 160,000 acres of sugar beets annually
  • That means 1.1 billion pounds of sugar are produced per year
  • It takes about 7 sugar beets to make 1 bag of sugar
  • Michigan Sugar operates 4 sugar beet slicing factories, including the oldest sugar beet slicing factory in the USA, located in Caro, Michigan.


Episode 7, in this episode Amy Sherman talks with Corey Guza about the science of creating amazing sugar.


Episode 8, Amy Sherman talks to the 2020 Michigan Sugar Queen Shaelynn Lavrack about life as the queen.


Episode 9, Amy talks to Adam Herford, chairman of the board and one of the over 900 grower-owners of Michigan Sugar. His multi-generation, over 100 year old farm, W.A. Herford & Sons, has been growing for and working with Michigan Sugar since his great-grandfather. He gets into the details of the grower-owner setup as well as the crop rotation, weather, and sustainability.


Episode 10,  in this episode Amy talks with Kevin Messing about his role as a field consultant for Michigan Sugar.


Episode 11, in this episode Amy talks with Kelly Scheffler, Michigan Sugar’s Bay City factory manager. Kelly walks us through the day-to-day operations of Michigan Sugar and some of the history, including how the currently operating factories are the original factory buildings, built in the 1900s, and upgraded and expanded since then. Kelly and his family have been a part of that long Michigan Sugar history for 3 generations, since his dad and continuing to his son.


Episode 12,  in this episode Amy talks with Elizabeth Taylor, the Ag relations and communications manager for Michigan Sugar. Elizabeth is in charge of the popular sugarbeet processing plant tours for Michigan Sugar. In normal times they average about 1,200 people through in a year, during their tour season from the end of September through February.


For more sweet goodness from Michigan Sugar, check out our Michigan’s Best, Sweet Treat of the Week on or visit the Michigan Sugar Company website,

National coffee day with Biggby

Eric Hultgren holding a Biggby coffee sitting in bed

What could you do with 200 hours? The average coffee bean’s journey from farm to coffee cup is 200 hours and mutliple stops along the way. Biggby wants to change that, and is taking steps now to be 50% farm direct by 2023 – a move which will benefit farm employees, communities and sustainability.

Check out the video below to learn more, as Eric Hultgren explains how many steps it takes for a coffee bean to become a cup of coffee on National Coffee Day.

Find out more about Biggby and farm direct coffee at:




In a Time of Screens and Falls in Munising, MI

Across Michigan kids are learning virtually, one of the upsides of this is that if they aren’t in a classroom – they can learn from anywhere. So why not take them to one of the most breathtaking spots in the state, Munising, MI? Munising is home to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, nearly 20 different waterfalls, 7 lighthouses, and did we mention incredible shipwrecks?

If this is your first time in Munising the interactive app makes it easy to navigate the area and plan some truly memorable adventures for your kids. Plan your trip today at and create your own Michigan adventure.




Historic Michigan burger chain embraces past to move forward

Halo burger meal

The Halo Burger legend was built on three things: Fresh ingredients, treating people with respect and having a community-centered spirit that was created under the decades-long ownership by Bill Thomas and his family members.

Those founding principles have returned to the seven drive-through and dine-in restaurants since the leaders of Halo Country LLC took ownership of Halo Burger restaurants in 2016.

“It’s obvious to me that they’ve tried to go back to the similar stuff that we had,” said Terry Thomas, who took over from his dad and now serves as an ambassador for Halo Country.

Terry Thomas sat down with MLive’s John Gonzales recently to talk about traditions and the importance of being a leader in the community.

Watch as Terry talks about how he started working for his father at the age of 13 and what his first responsibilities were at the restaurant that has been a Flint area icon for 97 years.


Petoskey Area boasts 5 of the state’s best fall color routes

A road through a tunnel of trees in Petoskey, MI

Both high school and college football may be cancelled and many students are learning remotely from home instead of in a classroom, but no matter how much will be different this fall due to COVID-19 some things will certainly be the same.

One thing you can count on, pandemic or not, is that the leaves will change colors soon in northern Michigan.

How soon, of course, is always up for debate among meteorologists, who think the Great Lakes peak could come a bit later than usual this year. But whether the leaves a road through a tunnel of trees in Petoskey, MIburst into color a few days earlier or a few days later than normal, you can plan your fall color tour knowing that the Tunnel of Trees will be a sight to behold.

The 20-mile stretch of M-119 north of Petoskey is regarded as Michigan’s top fall color tour route. Yet, some people will argue that for fall color, there are even better routes in the Petoskey Area!

In fact, the Tunnel of Trees is just one of five great fall color routes worth the drive:


RELATED: Check out the Petoskey Area Fall Color Guide

In addition to color tours, there’s a lot of other activities in the Petoskey Area communities of Harbor Springs, Bay Harbor, Alanson, Petoskey and Boyne Falls/Boyne City where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of fall. Here are just a few examples you may want to add to your itinerary:

  • Hiking through woods ablaze with fall color in the Bear River Valley Recreation Area or through wetlands out to the Lake Michigan beach at the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Harbor Springs are just two of many hiking trails in the Petoskey Area where you can step right into the thick of fall and be a part of the season.
  • While we’re on the topic of trails, don’t forget to bring your bike or to rent one from a Petoskey Area shop. Whether you prefer off-road mountain biking through the woods or paved trails that go past incredible, scenic overlooks, there’s no shortage of beautiful biking trails in the Petoskey Area.
  • Speaking of beauty, fall is an especially refreshing time to tee it up at any of Boyne’s 10 world-class golf courses including the glorious Bay Harbor, one of the best in the country, or at an old-school classic track such as Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix.
  • Follow in the footsteps of Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway on a self-guided walking tour of Hemingway’s Michigan. Hemingway spent many summers in the Petoskey Area and there are several sites with plaques that detail his time spent here.
  • Pick a pumpkin or savor fresh produce at any of the Petoskey Area’s many farm markets including Pond Hill Farm. Thefamily-friendly destination north of Harbor Springs offers afarm-to-table café, winery, brewery, pumpkin patch, farm animals and more. Fall Fest weekends Sept. 26-Oct. 25 feature pumpkin smashing, hayrides and, of course, cider and doughnuts.
  • There’s lots to do in the Petoskey Area for adventure seekers, too, including Zipline Adventure Tours at Boyne where you go soaring down a mountain for some 3,000 feet on the longest zip line in Michigan. Less adventurous? Go for a scenic chairlift ride up the mountain instead. Both Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands offer complementary chairlift rides for resort guests, while day guests can buy tickets online.
  • Of course, the Petoskey Area is also the best place to hunt for Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey stone! Come see if you can find a special treasure all on your own.
  • Fall is the perfect time to visit a Petoskey Area winery for a sample or two. Book a ride on a winery tour or find a new favorite bottle at your own pace. You’ll also come across craft breweries and distilleries, and when the weather’s nice there’s still lots of outdoor dining to enjoy all over the Petoskey Area.

Fall is a popular season in the Petoskey Area, so find a place to stay and start planning your visit now for Michigan’s ultimate color tour and a host of other autumnal activities. As of now, masks are still required indoors and social distancing is a must.

Try to travel midweek for the best deals and lightest crowds, and keep in mind that sometimes the temperatures drop before the leaves do so don’t wait too long to get your fall visit to the Petoskey Area on the calendar.

Michigan’s Little Bavaria turns 175, discover what makes the city unique

St. Lorenz construction, in Frankenmuth, MI

When Heidi Chapman, the Director of the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, was taking German classes in high school, she and her father had difficulty communicating in the language because of the different dialect she was learning and the one her father had spoken since he was a child.

While Chapman learned today’s traditional German, her dad and other multi-generational families in Frankenmuth spoke “Frankish,” an old-school version that has dwindled in popularity even in the country it was born.

“People from Germany come to visit, and they want to meet someone who speaks Frankish because it’s used here still,” said Chapman. “We’re a language island even to natives.”

Frankenmuth, MI early settlementIt’s an illustration of how deep the German roots are in the community that is widely known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Frankenmuth’s story begins with a group of 15 settlers who finally made it to the bay area roughly 15 miles southeast of Saginaw in 1845. The arrival came after a months-long journey that had the newcomers experience more grief than glory.

Here’s a snapshot of what they encountered along the way:

  • Departed from Nuernberg on April 5, 1845, and traveled by foot, wagons, and trains.
  • Boarded a ship and the drunken captain steered it into a sand bank of the Weser River.
  • Winds and storms later forced them to sail around Scotland instead of through the English Channel.
  • They had a second mishap in a collision with an English trawler.
  • More winds drove the ship north into icebergs and dense fog for three days.
  • Food spoilage in the ship that was damp and overcrowded.
  • A train ride – between steamship voyages – was interrupted by a collision with a coal train.

That left them with only a 12-mile hike to where they settled and they were joined by a group of 90 more Germans a year later. Waves of family members and friends came and aided in the city’s development.

“They had a tough go of it,” Chapman said, understating the hardships of the first group. “But they never stopped. That was their mentality, they were determined to stay true to their word.”

TRACKING THE TIMELINE: Learn key dates in Frankenmuth’s history

The promise was to settle the land as an exclusive German-Lutheran community that was loyal to Germany, but it was those same roots, however, that came with suspicion during the world wars, Chapman said. Americans looked askance at the German village in the early and mid 1900s, but by then the community’s foundation was a commitment to each other and their new country.

The Frankenmuth Woolen Mill, during World War I, made socks that were sent to American troops overseas. During World War II, Universal Engineering and its employees pledged enough money to build the “Spirit of Universal” fighter plane, part of an effort that historian Carl Hansen wrote was “necessary to the war effort and the Frankenmuth residents independently needed to prove to a nation they imagined hostile to themselves, that they were indeed loyal Americans.”

A piece of the fighter, whose pilots shot down eight Japanese planes before it was rendered unserviceable because of enemy fire, is on display in the historical museum.

Frankenmuth, now recognized by many for the year-round Christmas store Bronner’s, the Bavarian Inn and famous chicken dinners at Zehnder’s, was built by craftsman who brought their entrepreneurial spirt and work ethic to agriculture and producing beer, cheese and sausage.

DISCOVER MORE: Read stories that provide in-depth detail on Frankenmuth’s history

Frankenmuth, MI 1996“It’s 175 years of heritage that’s on show in just about everything that we do,” said Christie Bierlein, the Marketing Director of the Frankenmuth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s the architecture, it’s the reason behind the festivals and how we embrace community, it’s German language church services and so much more.

“We didn’t just wake up and decide to brand ourselves this way. It’s in our blood.”

The celebration of the town’s anniversary, officially Aug. 18, will be more muted than originally planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the recognition of the historic achievement is being noted with special promotional offers, tours of the historic St. Lorenz church, and in community groups.

Chapman said while Frankenmuth has held on to its traditions, it’s also diversified into a welcoming bedroom community that engages with new residents and visitors, a pleasant step back in time in a trying time.

“Frankenmuth is a friendly place,” she said. “People wave to strangers, say ‘hi’ on the street and take comfort in being a city people love to visit. Relationships matter here.”

Here are tips to plan your first, or your next, visit to Frankenmuth.

What is the backbone of one of the state’s best burgers? Fresh ingredients

Halo burger meal

Fresh beef that is never frozen.

Lettuce, onion and tomato that is cut as burgers are made.

It’s a recipe that has been serving Halo Burgers well since it was founded in 1923 and then later led by Bill Thomas and his family.

And it’s those practices, as well as locally made toasted buns, that Halo Country LLC has restored to the iconic Michigan restaurants in and around Flint.

“The freshness is what makes us a cut above everybody else,” Megan Ahejew, Halo’s community relations manager, told’s John Gonzales recently. “It’s just like you’d make it at home for yourself. We make everything fresh as you order it.”

Halo Burger fans share their thoughts frequently with Terry Thomas, who took over from his dad and now serves as an ambassador for Halo Country.

“People come along and say, ‘Terry, these are still the greatest hamburgs.’ I say thank you and I feel the same way.”

Watch as the Halo Burger process is described by those who know it best.


Public art exhibition is “a gift” to viewers and artists

ARTpath 2019 is here!

Maddie Jackson doesn’t mince words when she talks about her experience painting a massive mural as part of the third annual ARTpath River Trail Exhibition along a 3.5-mile stretch of the path from Old Town to REO Town in Lansing

“It’s important that art is openly available to the public,” said Jackson, of Muskegon. “Working on this project has, honestly, just been a gift. It’s allowed me to get a piece that’s really personal to me out to the public and hopefully brighten someone’s day.”

The public art exhibition, sponsored by the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, features 19 unique art installations from Michigan-based makers and brings visual arts to accessible spaces.

The gallery partnered with donors, the City of Lansing and its Parks and Recreation Department to create the display. The path, accessible on foot, bike or hopping in and out of a kayak from the Grand River, features sculptures, paintings, large scale murals and mixed media.

The pieces, which can be found on this map, are designed to be interactive and engaging with park visitors. Last summer over 62,000 visitors enjoyed the River Trail during the duration of the project.

Watch the video below to learn more.

Visit Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center’s website to discover more about ARTpath.


Nursing Facilities Must Be A Priority in Fight Against COVID-19: Testing is Key to Prevention

A nurse checks a patient

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state, particularly southeast Michigan, it became clear that this virus is most severe to our senior citizens. A shocking 69% of all of Michigan’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths were people over the age of 70. The average resident in our nursing facilities is 82 years old, often with multiple medical conditions. Therefore, it is no surprise that these individuals are particularly vulnerable once the virus enters a facility.

Through June, 46% of the state’s nursing facilities have reported no COVID-19 cases, and a significant number have reported fewer than 10 cases. This raises the question of what causes the spread in some nursing facilities but not others. The answer to that question will help determine proper policy going forward to prevent and curtail the spread among this highly vulnerable population in this highly vulnerable setting.

Melissa Samuel, president/CEO, Health Care Association of Michigan

Melissa Samuel, president/CEO, Health Care Association of Michigan

Research recently released by Harvard Medical School and the University of Chicago has important findings related to COVID-19 in nursing facilities that not only help explain the primary factors causing the spread, but also what does not cause it. The studies conclude that the prevalence of COVID-19 in a community is the main predictor of the virus entering a nursing facility, with larger facility size also being a factor. It further shows that no correlation exists between significant COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing facilities and various measures of overall nursing facility quality, such as the national Five Star rating system that rates all nursing facilities based on surveys, staffing levels and quality measures.

According to David Grabowski, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, “COVID-19 cases in nursing homes are related to facility location and size, not traditional quality metrics such as 5-star rating and prior infection control citations.”

Tamara Konetzka, professor of health services research at the University of Chicago, found “no meaningful relationship between nursing home quality and COVID cases or deaths.” Another study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reached the same conclusions.

Researchers from Genesis HealthCare, Brown University and Florida Atlantic University found that COVID-19 prevalence in the surrounding community and higher number of beds were the most significant and consistent predictors of large outbreaks and mortality rates among nursing facility residents — not a facility’s Five-Star Quality Rating or infection control citations.

At the onset of the pandemic, nursing facilities were not a top priority at either the federal or state level for adequate staffing, personal protection equipment (PPE) and testing. Attempts to control the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 in nursing facilities instead focused on identifying individuals who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 and prohibiting their contact with residents and staff in nursing facilities. However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now show that individuals without symptoms — “asymptomatic” and “pre-symptomatic” individuals — infect multiple people without ever showing signs of the virus themselves.

Given that the virus is often spread by individuals who are asymptomatic, the research notes that if a community has a high prevalence of COVID-19, there is simply a greater risk of new nursing facility residents or staff serving as infection sources. Larger facilities accept more admissions and have more employees, thus they encounter more movement of people to and from the community.

This research tells us that the best way to prevent and curtail the spread of COVID-19 in nursing facilities is to do whatever possible to prevent it from getting a foothold from the larger community in the first place. Providing sufficient PPE for staff and conducting more testing with immediate results are critical to this effort. Only through broad and aggressive testing that delivers immediate results can facilities identify those infected — staff and residents — and quickly take appropriate measures.

Although the state of Michigan has recently implemented short- and long-term strategies to establish universal baseline testing and ongoing testing of all nursing facility residents and staff — a measure which we support — it still takes too long to receive the results. A new testing instrument to be distributed soon by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promises to deliver results in minutes. If this works as suggested, it will give nursing facilities the capability to screen and test both residents and staff and provide the means to swiftly mitigate the spread of the virus.

Testing with quick results is also important to allow residents to visit with friends and family in person once again. Current restrictions have proven difficult for residents, families and staff. For visits to occur in a safe manner, adequate supplies of PPE and proper testing are essential.

We didn’t create this pandemic or choose to have it come upon us. There is no blame or finger pointing. We can make an enormous difference in the outcome of the COVID-19 battle in Michigan nursing facilities with the support from the state and our healthcare partners if we focus on the correct, research-driven solutions.

Please click HERE for further details on the research referenced above.


Melissa Samuel
Health Care Association of Michigan

How you can build new, whether you have lots of time or just a few months

Candie and Dustin Sentz in front of their Eastbrook Homes built home

Having searched a while for a larger home to meet the needs of their newly blended family, Dustin and Candie Sentz know it isn’t easy in this market to find just the right house in just the right place. That’s why the Jenison couple ended up building a new home in Lowing Woods.

The neighborhood of gorgeous new homes west of Grand Rapids not only is the ideal location for the Sentz family, it’s also a great place for any family as it features a community swimming pool, playground, walking trails and winding streets lined with trees and sidewalks.

Plus, because Lowing Woods is an Eastbrook Homes community, Dustin and Candie could build their new home exactly how they wanted.

“We toured some of the houses in here and liked the workmanship and quality of it,” said Dustin, a former builder. “We liked the ability to go on Eastbrook’s web site and look through their plans.

“We went with a lot of the upgrades they offered and we’re thankful we built it the way we wanted because we’re going to be here a long time.”

Dustin and Candie Sentz

Candie and Dustin Sentz chose a Ready-to-Build option that offered complete personalization of the interior and exterior of their new home in Lowing Woods, an Eastbrook Homes community west of Grand Rapids. Eastbrook also partners with clients on building Move-in-Ready and YourCanvas homes.

Dustin and Candie knew they wanted a main-floor master bedroom, so they filtered through the plans on the Eastbrook site and narrowed the options down to a handful. They also wanted a large basement so they could have a sizeable living space on that level of the house, too.

After browsing photographs of existing Eastbrook homes in dozens of communities around the state, Dustin and Candie ended up choosing a plan with an exterior look that’s unique to their new neighborhood. And they were able to partner with Eastbrook to accommodate personal touches such as custom handrails and a lower-level bar.

The couple chose paint colors, fixtures, trim and other features with the help of Eastbrook’s Home Creations Studio. They also selected certain upgrades including a larger garage.

“We were on that web site daily,” Candie said. “For me, it was fun. I had every plan printed out with all the different elevations and brought them to our families and said ‘What do you think about this?’ It was very organized.”

Dustin and Candie chose a Ready-to-Build Home, which is one of three great ways to partner with Eastbrook on building the home of your dreams:


  • offers complete personalization of the exterior and interior of your home
  • takes 7 to 9 months with assistance from Eastbrook’s Home Creation Studio
  • benefits from the streamlined building process Eastbrook has honed over the past 50 years

Check out plans for Ready-to-Build homes and read what it’s like to build with Eastbrook.


  • brand new homes already built and ready for you to move in as soon as 30 days after closing
  • perfect if you need a home right now, or if you’re sick of bidding wars on existing homes
  • beautiful, energy-efficient homes that come with new home warranties

Take a look at Eastbrook’s Move-in-Ready homes and read about how easy it is to get into a new home fast.


  • homes are partially built with the foundation, structural and exterior selections already finalized
  • you get to choose and personalize interior features and finishes including paint colors, countertops, trim, lighting, fixtures, wall details and more
  • takes about 90 days from start of construction and is ideal for getting into your new home quickly with a flexible budget

RELATED: Want to build a new home in around 90 days from start of construction? Here’s how

Dustin and Candie visited their new home in Lowing Woods almost daily while it was being built. Just as it was fun to look through Eastbrook’s home plans, it was fun to pop in and see the progress on their own custom home.

Then, after closing on the home in summer 2019, the couple popped the cork on some champagne to celebrate. They moved in last July, hosted family for the holidays and this Fourth of July enjoyed a golf cart parade through their new neighborhood.

“We were attracted to the community feel they have here and thought it would be a great place to raise a family,” Dustin said. “We’d do it all over again. We’re just so happy with the house.”

Find our more about partnering with Eastbrook Homes in the video below: