Category: Our Great State

Save money (and your sanity) with this Spring Break road trip

Kid exploring a store in Traverse City, MI

It’s cold outside now but take a minute to imagine yourself on Spring Break. Lounging by the pool. Sipping your favorite beverage. Taking a dip in the warm water.

Too bad you can’t get pool weather on Spring Break unless you travel all the way to a place like West Bay on Grand Cayman. Or West Bay, Texas. Or West Bay Beach in Traverse City.

Wait, Traverse City? In Michigan?

Yes! The West Bay Beach Resort on Grand Traverse Bay features dining igloos and an outdoor pool heated to 95 degrees! It’s one of several ways right here in Michigan to have a hot Spring Break without flying south or booking a cruise in the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s like swimming in a hot tub,” said Michael Scandariato, hotel general manager. “Weekends have been very busy with families (at the resort) and the igloos have also remained very busy.”

swimming pool and view of outdoor dining igloos in Traverse City, MIEven as COVID-19 vaccines get slowly distributed, there remains an elevated risk in traveling across the country or overseas. That’s making road trips more popular than ever for Spring Break.

By taking a road trip within Michigan, you can save a few bucks and experience things that only the Mitten State can offer. And you can still enjoy some time poolside, too!

The Traverse City area offers lots of unique things to do for Spring Break, with options for both indoor and outdoor recreation. By taking advantage of a Traverse City Escape Package, you can even get special lodging rates combined with discounts on dining, shopping, outdoor activities and more.

Here are some ideas to help you start planning:

  • The outdoor heated pool and igloos at West Bay Beach Resort provide the perfect illustration of the indoor/outdoor fun you can have in the Traverse City area on Spring Break. You can relax inside a poolside igloo with dinner or drinks, then step outside and hop into the 95-degree pool for a swim. The heated pool is open to resort guests and to visitors who reserve a dining igloo.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is most popular in the summer, but it’s a four-season attraction that features some special character in the spring. While some trails remain open all winter, many more are ready for visitors come March and April.  person running down a sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Traverse City, MIPlus, they’re uncrowded! Many families enjoy crawling up the park’s iconic Dune Climb, which rewards you with a stunning view of Glen Lake from the top. And if you’re really adventurous, you can keep heading west from the top of the Dune Climb all the way to Lake Michigan and back.
  • Springtime weather in the Traverse City area can vary a lot, from sunny days warm enough to spend at the beach to cool afternoons where you may need a raincoat. That’s why the variety of things to do both indoors and outdoors is such a blessing. The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is open by reservation during the pandemic and offers lots of hands-on activities for children age 8 and under.
  • For a cultural experience that’s entirely outdoors, the Michigan Legacy Art Park is a fantastic Spring Break attraction. The park showcases more than 50 sculptures along walking trails that run through a 30-acre forest preserve. Spring temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold make for a comfortable stroll through the woods to see contemporary art the whole family will get a kick out of.

From axe throwing, boutique bowling and other indoor fun at The Den at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa to biking, hiking and other outdoor recreation on the TART Trails, there’s plenty  couple playing a virtual game at The Den at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa of opportunity to experience a memorable Spring Break right here in Michigan by visiting the Traverse City area. You could even go ice skating where the Detroit Red Wings train!

And you can do it all safely, thanks to COVID precautions being taken by Traverse City-area hotels, restaurants, shops and other attractions.

Just because we’re all leery of planes and crowded cruise ships doesn’t mean you have to cancel Spring Break. You don’t even have to endure a never-ending car ride. There’s a close-to-home option for a Spring Break excursion in the Traverse City area.

Check out Traverse City Escape packages to find a place to stay and start looking forward to Spring Break 2021!

‘Dog winery’ one of many pet-friendly destinations in Traverse City

dogs playing with a stick on a sand dune

Otis was a yellow Labrador retriever who used to greet visitors in the tasting room at Bowers Harbor Vineyards with a friendly wag of his tail, while Cooper and Brix were Bernese Mountain dogs who added some special personality to the Traverse City winery. Though all three dogs have passed away, their spirits endure through bottles of wine labeled with their portraits.

After all, dogs are a part of life at Bowers Harbor.

“We are pretty much known as the dog winery,” said Bethany Heinrich, tasting room manager.

Bowers Harbor is just one example of the many pet-friendly wineries, restaurants, hotels and more in the Traverse City area. When you plan an escape to Traverse City this winter, you don’t have to worry about who’s going to watch the dog while you’re away. Your furry friend can come along for the fun!

Until Michigan’s indoor dining restrictions get lifted, you can bring your dog to Bowers Harbor and enjoy wine and cider by the glass, or by the flight, along with snacks and dips in an outdoor area with tables, heaters and fire pits. The menu includes the “Otis,” a semi-dry white, the “Cooper,” a sweet white, and the “Brix,” a sparkling wine that’s bubbly just like its namesake canine.

dog standing in the stone at a vineyard

Lucy, a Golden Doodle, is the new wine dog at Bowers Harbor Vineyards in Traverse City. The winery is one of many pet-friendly destinations in the Traverse City area. In addition to wine with dogs on the labels, Bowers Harbor sells dog wine stoppers, dog cork cages, dog treats and stuffed dogs.

Guests love to see dogs on the labels and they also get a kick out of meeting Winston, an English Cream Retriever who is the winery’s current vineyard dog, and Lucy, a Golden Doodle who is the new tasting room greeter. There’s even a snow dog at the vineyard this winter, too.

Lucy is too new to Bowers Harbor to have a wine named after her, yet. But when you order a glass of the “Winston” –  a half-Cabernet-Sauvignon-half-Merlot – part of your purchase will be donated to the Cherryland Humane Society to support dogs and cats awaiting adoption.


While some Traverse City-area restaurants have remained open for pet-friendly outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants across Michigan are expected to reopen for indoor dining Feb. 1. That’s great news for people eager to get back out and explore the state after an unusual year during which many of us – humans and dogs, alike – spent much more time than normal at home.

The Traverse City area makes a great winter destination for you and your dog because of pet-friendly establishments such as Bowers Harbor, and because there’s so much outdoor recreation to enjoy. At Bowers Harbor, for example, you can “snow-cial” distance right on site by wandering the expansive vineyards with your dog on foot or snowshoe.

dog playing on the beachThe Traverse City area also is home to beaches and trails that are delightful for dogs. To whet your appetite for the bounty of pet-friendly attractions, check out the Vasa Pathway in Williamsburg where there are groomed trail loops of 3 to 25 kilometers, the paved Leelanau Trails that runs 17 miles along picturesque forests, farms, vineyards, lakes and ponds between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, or the 80-acre Holiday Woodlands Preserve on the east side of town.

Pets also allowed in many areas of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“As a whole, Traverse City is very pet-friendly,” said Heinrich, who has three dogs of her own including a Catahoula, black Lab and a shepherd mix. “The hiking trails are some of the best options and quite a few beaches are dog-friendly, too. And it seems like every year a new dog park pops up.

“Traverse City is very active, so anything we can get out and do with every member of the family is definitely a selling point. Our pets are a large part of our family.”

RELATED: Meet Lucy and other dogs waiting to greet you at attractions in the Traverse City area

When you and Fido need a rest at the tail end of a day of exploring, there are many pet-friendly places to stay in the Traverse City area. Right now, you can get discounted lodging with a Traverse City Escape Package that includes coupons for dining, shopping, wine and more.

This 330-mile trail system, the Snowmobile Capital of the Midwest, is in Michigan

snowmobiling in Munising, MI

It seems perfectly fitting for 2020, which has been unusual in so many ways, that a lack of significant snowfall has delayed activity in the Upper Peninsula’s Snowmobiling Capital of the Midwest, centered around 330 miles of trails near Munising.

But weather reports indicate that a return to normal is coming as the late December and early January forecast shows snow accumulations to hit the area in 7 of the next 10 days.

friends pose in front of the frozen Eben Ice Caves in Munising, MI area“There’s never really a problem or a question if we’ll have enough snow,” said Cori-Ann Cearly, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “It’s always just a matter of when.”

The region averages 230 inches of snow each winter, making Munising and Alger County the perfect destination and starting spot for sled riders looking for a complete trail system that allows travel between towns, through magical woods, and to majestic ice caves and ice structures that daring climbers scale daily.

The groomed terrain matches any snowmobiler’s taste for adventure, or an easy day on the packed surfaces to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Miner’s Castle. The wide berths and stress-relieving scenic views are the perfect tonic to the tumultuous year stained by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the virus in Alger County has been minimized by safety measures and social distancing. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in winter

“Going on an adventure and seeing things that bring you joy is something we all really need right now,” Cearly said. “The most important thing is that it offers an opportunity for activity that is safe and healthy.

“The trails are like a highway in the woods, and it’s a place that we can slow down take your time and just be outdoors.”

Here is what Munising visitors will find:

330 miles of trails groomed daily

Members of the Snowmobile & O.R.V. Association of Alger County (SORVA for short) begin grooming the trials Dec. 1 and continue as long as the snow lasts, which is usually into April. The system provides access from Au Train to Shingleton and all trails and points between, Cearly said.

Widened trails improve safety

The trails that already allowed riders to glide across the snow will now include a median of sorts. SORVA brought in brush-hogging equipment over the warmer months to provide more room to ride – a key safety factor when sled operators encounter each other while traveling in opposite directions. Cearly estimates that the paths have 30 percent more room. While the width could allow three riders to fan out side-by-side, it is still strongly recommended to travel the trails single-file.

Low-lying areas have been in-filled

More off-season trail preparation has brought even better grading and filling to eliminate large depressions and holes. Don’t worry, there are still great hills and varying terrain, but riders won’t hit pothole-like conditions while zipping around the trail. Previously snowfalls would not completely fill and level the terrain since the snow packs down and forms around the hole, just like a pothole that will jar you while driving on pavement.

“All of this has been done to make it a better experience,” Cearly said. “You’re going to have just as much fun, probably more, because it’s going to be such a smooth ride.”

Smaller season crowds and better rates

Now, to be fair, with hundreds of miles of trails and countless off-trail spots to ride, there’s rarely snowmobile gridlock. History, however, shows that winter is slower than the summer influx of sightseers. Lodging rates fluctuate with demand, so that means there are even better deals to be found at area hotels.

If you don’t have your own machine, you can potentially find rental sleds available at a lower cost as well. It’s the perfect time for a quick winter weekend up north.

Shake off the holiday (and pandemic) stress: The holiday haze is real as we spend much of November and December rushing around shopping and only to hunker down with the turn of the new year. Break out of the cabin fever doldrums and see natural beauty that will relieve all the pent-up pressure.

Learn more about all Munising has to offer here.


Snow biking or Nordic skiing? Pick your path thanks to Marquette’s trail grooming ‘passion’

Winter bicycling

It snows a lot in Marquette. Like, upwards of 200 inches a year! You might even say that Marquette makes snow better than anywhere else in the country.

Yet, what really makes this part of Michigan special is the way the community makes all that powder perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Take fat tire biking, for example. There are more than 60 miles of single-track snow bike trails in Marquette County faithfully groomed by volunteers from the Range Area Mountain Bike Association (RAMBA) and the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN).

“There’s a passion for it here,” said Todd Poquette, director of adventure for the 906 Adventure Team, which runs the annual Polar Roll fat bike race. “The quality of the trails is, bar none, head and shoulders above other areas. The quality, and the number of miles.

“You can come here and ride your fat bike in the winter all weekend and not ride the same trail twice.”

RELATED: See how Marquette “Whack Jobs” continue to pioneer trail grooming for snow bikes

people making snow angels next to bicycle

Marquette County has become known as the fat biking capital of the Lower 48 states because of its extensive network of groomed snow bike trails and events such as the Polar Roll, which is taking on a different format during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is not a virtual event and it’s not a time trial,” said Todd Poquette, race director. “This is an adventure. This is ‘Either you finished, or you didn’t.’”

Whether you’re new to fat biking or a seasoned veteran, you’ll find single-track trails in Marquette County to match your skill level. For experienced riders, there’s the epic 25-mile snow bike route featured in the movie “Cold Rolled.” For beginner fat bikers, the NTN North Trails in Marquette offers a dozen inviting miles of groomed single-track, and there are several more miles on the RAMBA trails starting out of “The Hob” in Ishpeming.

You can even find a fat bike race or two to join this winter:

  • While many winter events around Michigan are being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Polar Roll is moving forward with a new format. Riders will complete a course on their own any time during a 45- to 60-day window. (Check The Polar Roll Facebook page for updates.)


  • Another winter fat bike race in Marquette County, The Fat-Ish, is adopting a new format with a little different approach. The event will be held on a particular day – Saturday, Jan. 9 – but will be conducted as an individual time trial. Each rider will get an assigned time to depart on either a novice or an advanced course.

Whether you’ve been training all year, or you haven’t taken your fat bike out of the shed since last winter, you can enjoy challenging yourself at The Fat-Ish or the Polar Roll. Or you can come rent a fat bike and give snow biking a try by mapping your own route on some of the 60-plus miles of groomed single-track in Marquette County.

Of course, when it comes to winter recreation, Marquette is much more than a hub for fat biking. It’s an entire playground of outdoor activities.

person standing in front of a beautiful winter lake scene throwing snow into the airYou can ski and snowboard at Marquette Mountain, snowshoe at Presque Isle Park or go ice skating at Marquette Commons. You can go hiking, snowmobiling and ice fishing. If you’re really adventurous, you can give ski jumping a try at the Suicide Hill Ski Bowl, spend an afternoon with the Upper Peninsula Luge Club in Negaunee or go ice climbing up a frozen waterfall.

It’s no wonder that USA Today readers voted Marquette County the country’s “Best Small Town for Adventure.”


Cross-country skiing is another way to get outside for some recreation in the beautiful Michigan winter. Perhaps as mentally and physically challenging as any outdoor winter activity is the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, another extraordinary event on the calendar this winter in Marquette. The country’s premier cross-country ski epic offers courses as long as 50 kilometers, with participants going off in several separate waves of no more than 30 skiers at a time this year to limit crowding.

Noquemanon Ski Marathon racersFifty kilometers is a long way, but it’s just a fraction of the 125-plus miles of cross-country ski trails in Marquette County. There’s over 30 miles of highly groomed point-to-point and loop trails for a variety of skills levels at Forestville Trails north of Marquette, for example, and side-by-side classic ski tracks at the Blueberry Ridge Trail south of the city. There are lighted ski loops at the Fit Strip right in Marquette, and trails with a wilderness feel through a giant old-growth forest at Saux Head near Big Bay north of town.

“All of the trails are clearly marked and mapped, so it’s easy to select a loop or loops to take you as far as you feel like skiing,” said Jeff Stasser, a part-owner of Down Wind Sports who has watched Marquette County’s trail systems develop and expand over the years.

“Each of the systems offers a good variety of beginner and advanced terrain. We are fortunate to have good, long winters to enjoy them.”

Whichever path you choose, don’t go into hibernation this winter. Make plans now to come out and enjoy Marquette’s winter playground!

How to score great winter deals at a Northern Michigan ski resort

a family enjoying winter fun in Otsego, MI

Much like the summer golfing season – when Gary Vollmar and the staff at the Otsego Resort re-imagined protocols that let people enjoy the outdoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic – the team has developed a new vision that focuses on fun and safety for the winter ski season.

“People need to get outdoors to breathe fresh air and relax, it’s a great break from what has been a really stressful time,” said Vollmar, who purchased the resort in 2018 and has made substantial investments to make it a year-round destination. “We are getting creative in finding ways we can maintain the safety of our guests and staff while still being able to experience winter in northern Michigan.”

“We are rethinking our annual events and activities to find solutions that provide people with familiarity and stability along with safety.”

The resort, located about 1 mile off I-75 and downtown Gaylord, has done that with extensive ski and dining plans that allow for social distancing, capacity control and calls for extensive sanitization efforts. The 2020-21 winter marks the third year the formerly private ski hill will be open to the public.

The mountain’s natural bowl sits at the highest point in the famed Michigan Snow Belt, assuring exceptional skiing throughout the season on its 32 ski runs that are accessed by five chair lifts and a handle tow. The property has three tubing lanes, three terrain parks for snowboarders and 6.2 miles of marked cross-country ski trails.

downhill skiing at Otsego, MI resort“There’s something for everyone who wants to get out of the house and be active,” Vollmar said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time on skis or if you’ve been at it for years, the hills are like new because the resort had such limited access for so long.”

Otsego Resort also has an unparalleled setting overlooking 20 miles of the Sturgeon River Valley. The one-of-a-kind view in Michigan is due to the lodge sitting above the runs instead of the usual shape where guests stare up at a mountain from the bottom of the slopes.

Resort guests will find thorough safety precautions because of the pandemic, including:

  • Limit of daily lift tickets sold.
  • Online purchase is strongly recommended.
  • Lift lines will require mask use and allow single riders or 2 riders from the same household.
  • Tubing will allow linking of only those from the same household.
  • Installing smaller capacities in each building and staging lines outside as much as possible.
  • Plexiglass partitions are present to protect guests and employees.
  • One way traffic flow to minimize interaction between guests.
  • Floor stickers and door signs reminding about social distancing throughout the resort.
  • Masks are required upon entry into any building.
  • All touch areas will be sanitized often.
  • All employees will be health screened upon entry.

On the food and beverage side of operations, the resort has added multiple dining tents and igloos for up to six people of the same household to reserve and enjoy. There are also more outdoor fire pits to safely gather and social distance around. Reservations are recommended and masks will be worn by servers. The resort will re-evaluate indoor dining once allowed by the state, and that will come with proper sanitation practices.

“Everything is designed with safety and the best possible service in mind,” Vollmar said.

With remote-learning freeing up friends and family to travel for outdoor adventures, Otsego Resort designed mid-week “Ski & Stay” packages with two lift tickets and overnight lodging for $49 per person on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The resort also created “$10 Bump Days” for mid-week ski and dining deals on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The promotion features:

  • $10 Rentals
  • $10 ski lift tickets
  • $10 tubing passes
  • $10 rental skis
  • $10 pepperoni or cheese pizza
  • $10 burger & beer special

For the weekend traveler, Otsego Resort’s “Ski & Save” packages are available for two weekends in the new year, offering great deals for couples, friends or families. The offers are valid Jan. 8-10 and Jan. 29-31, subject to availability, and can be booked by calling 989-732-5181.

Here are the packages:

Two for Two: Two-night stay and a two-day lift ticket for two adults for $428.

Family Fun: Two-night stay and a two-day lift ticket for two adults and two children for $568.

Under the Vollmar’s ownership, the 80-room resort, which also has a hilltop retreat with eight executive-style rooms and a great room featuring a floor to ceiling see-through fireplace, has elevated position among Northern Michigan getaway locations.

“We have a constant focus on what we can do to make a visit here an incredible experience,” he said. “We want to stand out in the community and the industry for our customer service and ability to create a home away from home feeling. We can give people a place to look forward to visiting year-round.”

7 ways to have fun this winter in Lower Peninsula’s snowiest city

Family getting ready to ski in Gaylord, MI

Your holiday shopping list isn’t the only thing to check off this time of year. Now is also when to make plans for a winter’s worth of outdoor activities to enjoy.

After all, Michigan is the ultimate winter wonderland. And here’s the Ultimate Winter Checklist to help you really get into the season.

These outdoor activities will get you started on a path – or a trail or a hill! – to a great winter. And guess what? You can enjoy each and every activity in the Gaylord Area, which is the snowiest place in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Even though winter is just beginning, the spring thaw will be here before we know it. So, start planning a winter full of fun now, and when the world-famous Gaylord snowman cam shows a scene draped in white, you’ll be ready to get out there and make the most of it!

Gaylord, MI skiingHere are a few highlights from the Ultimate Winter Checklist to get your wheels turning as you think about how to make this winter a memorable one:

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – Lots of places in Michigan get a bunch of snow. But not every place takes care to groom that snow into trails that are perfect for cross-country skiing. From the scenic Aspen Park right beside downtown Gaylord to the immaculate Forbush Corner in nearby Frederic to the Pine Baron Pathway nestled deep in the Mackinaw State Forest, you’ll find miles of groomed cross-country track in the Gaylord Area – including some trails that are lighted for skiing after dark!

Of course, sometimes nature draws you off the beaten path into the quiet bliss of Michigan’s wilderness. The Gaylord Area also offers endless miles of ungroomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, alike. For example, Pigeon River Country State Forest, also known as Gaylord’s “Big Wild,” is a heavily wooded attraction featuring rolling hills, cascading rivers and glimpses of wildlife around every turn.

Start planning a cross-country ski adventure in the Gaylord Area!

Winter rafting – The Gaylord Area is home to the Sturgeon River, which just happens to be the fastest-flowing river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The speedy current means the

winter rafting in Gaylord, MI

Two different outfitters in the Gaylord area offer guided winter rafting down the Sturgeon River, the fastest-flowing river in the Lower Peninsula.

Sturgeon rarely freezes, so even on many of the coldest days of the year you can get out on the water (with an experienced guide) and enjoy a winter rafting trip.

If you’re unsure about being on a boat in the freezing cold, don’t worry. We’re not talking about whitewater rafting here. With an experienced guide at the helm, you’ll stay dry as you soak up the incredible beauty of the river with snow heaped on its banks.

Winter rafting down the Sturgeon is a bucket-list kind of thing you just have to experience.

Here’s a quick lesson in Winter Rafting 101!

Downhill skiing, snowboarding and tubing – Not only is Gaylord the snowiest place in the Lower Peninsula, but it’s also the city with the highest overall elevation. That means winter comes earlier and stays later. And, of course, the altitude is great for speeding down the slopes!

The Gaylord Area’s two premier ski destinations – Treetops Resort and the Otsego Resort – offer a combined 50-plus downhill runs carved into the scenic Pigeon River and Sturgeon River valleys, with options for all skill levels. Each resort also offers terrain parks for epic snowboarding as well as family-friendly and extreme tubing runs.

Then, after a busy day on the slopes, you can chill (without feeling cold) with some igloo dining in the Gaylord Area!

Start planning a downhill ski and snowboarding excursion to the Gaylord Area!

Snowmobiling – Another geographic blessing for the Gaylord Area is that it’s smack dab in the middle of Michigan’s Tip of the Mitt. That makes it an ideal hub for accessing 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.

Snowmobiling in Gaylord, MIFive hundred miles! That’s like going halfway to Florida without ever having to leave the snowy confines of northern Michigan. Whether you head north, south, east or west, you’ll find great sledding for miles in any direction. Then you can come back to Gaylord, park right outside your hotel room for the night and do it all over again tomorrow.

Get the Gaylord Area Snowmobile Trail Report along with a trail map and weather forecast!

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Whichever activities you choose to cross off the Ultimate Winter Checklist, you can find a place to stay in the Gaylord Area and make this your best winter yet!

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:




Change of plans: Spend fall ‘football weekends’ in Traverse City

couple walking through a vineyard in Traverse City, MI

Football is a tough ticket this fall, with high school crowds in the southern half of Michigan limited to friends and family members and the Detroit Lions playing games in an empty stadium. Some fans already have gone to extraordinary heights just to catch a glimpse of the action.

But even though the fall football season is much different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, autumn in the Traverse City area is its usual beautiful self.

friends walking through the woods in Traverse City, MIWhile you wait to root for the green and white Spartans or cheer the maize and blue Wolverines on TV later this year, you can come to Traverse City right now and celebrate the vibrant reds, yellows and oranges of a fall color tour. You can mimic a football tailgate by checking out some of the Traverse City area’s nearly 20 breweries and 40-plus wineries. You can grab a seat at the bar and enjoy some classic football food at one of the region’s many unique restaurants and watering holes.

And guess what? It’s easy to get a season pass to all the glories of fall, too. Money-saving Fab Fall packages are available in the Traverse City area from now into December with lodging deals as well as discounts on dining, shopping and attractions.

RELATED: Get your front row seat for fall fun in Traverse City

With the calendar cleared of football road trips to Ann Arbor, East Lansing or Ford Field, you have a fall full of weekends to visit Traverse City and enjoy everything else that’s great about Michigan’s best season of the year. Here’s a look at just some of the ways to get your fall fix in the Traverse City area:

Pre-game coin flipBreweries or wineries…or both? You don’t need tickets to a football game to enjoy a great tailgate party! The Traverse City area long has been a delicious destination for wine lovers, its vineyards blessed with ideal grape-growing geography and climate. The region also is home to a burgeoning microbrewery scene featuring the popular Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire along with nearly two dozen other innovative craft beer makers each with their own unique fall flavors to taste.

Opening kickoff – Put on your favorite cozy sweatshirt and take a drive through the Traverse City area on a fall color tour that fans of all football teams can appreciate. Check out these ideas for some of the best places (and the best ways) to enjoy fall color in Traverse City.

On offense – Just like in a football game, you can keep the action on the ground with a fall hike through one of the Traverse City area’s gorgeous nature preserves or with a ride along some of the region’s many miles of bike trails. Or, you can take to the air with a scenic chairlift ride or a hot air balloon tour. You can even get into the water in family bicycling on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, MIa kayak for a new perspective on fall colors or do your best to stay out of the water and trees while playing a round on one of the Traverse City area’s championship golf courses while it’s cloaked in the season’s beauty. The region is full of outdoor recreation to enjoy in the fall, from quiet strolls along the beach and picturesque hikes through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to peaceful trout streams where you can cast a line and haul in the catch of the day.

On defense – Protect your pocketbook by getting a head start on holiday shopping with great fall deals at the unique shops, galleries and boutiques all over the Traverse City area. Whether browsing the tree-lined streets of downtown Traverse City, the one-of-a-kind Village at Grand Traverse Commons or one of the area’s quaint port towns, you’re sure to find some special treasures – and a tasty bite or two – as you enjoy a memorable fall day.

Special teams – Don’t punt away another opportunity to experience the beauty of fall in northern Michigan. Now is the time to see what makes autumn in the Traverse City area so special. Be sure to visit a U-pick farm where you can pluck apples right off the tree, pick out a pumpkin for the porch back home and allow yourself the simple pleasure of navigating an old-fashioned corn maze. And don’t forget to indulge in some donuts and cider, of course!

Halftime show – COVID-19 has done a number on live events this year, including cancellation of many events typically held in the fall. Fortunately, not everything is on hold. For example, you’ll find local musicians performing at restaurants, breweries and wineries throughout the Traverse City area all fall. Plus, the annual Traverse City Beer Week is still on tap for Nov. 13-20! You can plan your visit around Beer Week or any of these upcoming events.

couple hugging while looking at the sunset over the bay Traverse CityPost-game festivities – At the end of each day’s fall adventure, retire to one of the Traverse City area’s many unique hotels, resorts and B&Bs where you can relax and recharge for more fall fun the following day. Save money by booking your place to stay with a Fab Fall package!