By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer
Kathleen Bittner and her two siblings grew up in Detroit’s once predominantly Polish enclave-suburb of Hamtramck, surrounded by Polish artifacts at their parents’ business – Polish Art Center. Kathleen not only knows all about imported Polish merchandise, but has become skilled in such traditional folkcrafts as pisanki (Easter eggs), wycinanki (paper cut-outs) and straw Christmas-tree ornaments.
Recently, she opened a branch of Polish Art Center in the northwestern Michigan community of Cedar in the Traverse City area. Like the original Hamtramck location, it offers a wide variety of Polish cultural goods and gift items – folkcrafts, greeting cards, books, maps, CDs and other ethnic artifacts.
A few years earlier, Kathleen said “I do” with PolAm boy Tom Koch who, while growing up, had been very close to his Polish-born grandfather, Kazimierz Szklarski. Tom inherited his green thumb and interest in farming from Dziadek Kazik, who had been raised on a farm in Poland. Later, he had an extensive garden and raised pigeons at his home in Hamtramck.
“After the arrival of our son Tomek, we couldn’t think of a better place for him to grow up than on a family farm,” Kathleen explained. “Since we were both city kids, my husband was initially a bit hesitant to make such a huge move. While discussing it, I reminded him that both our families had been farmers in Poland and his family is still running a hog farm near the northern city of Bydgoszcz. Maybe for us that would not be doing something new but returning to what we were really meant to do all along.”
A woman’s power of persuasion knows no bounds, and the result was Polish Heritage Farm on Lake Leelanau in Cedar, Mich. “It has been quite an exciting year-and-a-half since moving here but we couldn’t be happier,” Kathleen told this reporter. “We have never worked harder but also never experienced something so rewarding!” They raise produce from seeds imported from Poland, have over 150 chickens, heritage-breed hogs, goats and rabbits, as well as a huge vegetable garden.
The PolAm couple, both in their early 30s, is now in their second growing season, so they are still establishing what grows best and what types of crops (red currents, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, fruit trees, etc.) would be worth cultivating in future years. The heritage farm offers pickling cucumbers, radishes, oregano, thyme, basil, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets and tomatoes – all from Polish seeds – as well as farm-fresh eggs.
The family farm also provides freshly butchered USDA certified meat ranging from a side of pork or a whole hog in six large pieces ($4 a pound) to basic cuts in one to three pound sealed packages or according to customer preference ($4.75 a pound). Complete processing including fresh cuts and Old World specialties such as bacon, ham and fresh and smoked kiełbasa are also available. Dressed goats and rabbits are sold whole.
Queries regarding both the Polish Art Center and Heritage Farm should be emailed to: email@example.com or phone: 231-228-2461. I might add that while preparing this article, Kathleen and Tom experienced their second blessed event: a little girl named Leokadia Ray. Is this the start of a new PolAm business dynasty? Let’s hope so!