Polish Art Center & Heritage Farm

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: kmbfri1382@gmail.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!

Polishfest 2016

A “family-oriented festival” of Polish live music, song, folk dance performances, ethnic foods, crafts and culture will be presented on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 from noon to 5 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (Commons Room, 1st Floor). This cultural event is FREE and open to the public. A variety of cooking demonstrations and food sampling, make-n-take kids crafts, folk art demonstrations, and a holiday craft and gift mart will be centered around “A Celebration Of Christmas in The Old Country.” This year’s festival will also celebrate the rich culture, music and folklore of Pittsburgh’s Lithuanian Community. Take a trip to the “Old Country” without leaving Pittsburgh. It’s FREE!

Featured entertainment will include: Bociai Lithuanian Chorus, Frania’s Polka Celebration, Lajkoniki Polish Folk Ensemble, Living Traditions Folk Ensemble, Radoslaw Fizek (Polish Folk Songs and Christmas Carols) and the Echos of Lithuania.

For more information, contact L.G. Kozlowski, Festival Director, at lgk505@aol.com or 814-969-5940.

Polishfest ’16 is partially sponsored by the Polish Falcons of America and the Polish Falcons Heritage Foundation.

Poles bring home 11 medals from Rio

By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

For 16 days, Poland’s most avid sports fans went about groggy and bleary-eyed from watching live Olympic coverage that began each day around midnight due to the time difference. Others settled for rebroadcasts and wrap-ups later in the day. Despite periodic outbursts of Polish national pride, when it was all over, some felt unfulfilled.

Things got off to a good start when Polish cyclist Rafał Majka won a medal, bronze, on the first day of the Olympics. The first Olympic gold was captured by rowers, Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj, in women’s double sculls. Earlier, Maria Springwald, Joanna Leszczyńska, Monika Ciaciuch and Agnieszka Kobus captured bronze in the women’s quadruple sculls, and canoeist Marta Walczykiewicz added a silver medal to the collection.

But the unquestioned heroine of the Rio games was hammer-thrower Anita Włodarczyk, referred to by the Polish media as “Golden Anita.” She not only won the gold medal when she hurled her hammer an amazing 82.29 meters, but also broke her own world record by 1.21 meters. In addition, the two-time world champion and three-time European champion became the first woman in Olympic history to outdo the men’s hammer-throw champion – in Rio an athlete from Tajikistan who threw 78.68 meters.

One of the event’s biggest disappointments was Polish men’s hammer-thrower, two-time world champion Paweł Fajdek, who not only was sure of a gold medal but planned to break the 86.74 meter record set by a Russian in 1986. But, it turned out that Fajdek didn’t even make it through the elimination phase. The honor of Poland’s male hammer-throwers was defended by Wojciech Nowicki who won a bronze medal in the sport.

Oktawia Nowacka, a career soldier in the Polish Army, brought home the bronze in modern pentathlon, a sport combining fencing, free-style swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and a 3,200-meter cross-country run. A bronze medal was also won by woman wrestler Monika Michalik.

Discus thrower Piotr Małachowski had his heart set on Olympic gold, but had to settle for silver. His claim to fame, however, transcended the strictly athletic realm, when he decided to auction off his medal to help a little Polish boy. Three-year-old Olek (Aleksander) Szymański has a rare eye cancer and stands to lose one of his eyes. The only hope for saving it is at a New York eye clinic where the necessary surgical procedure costs $264,000. Małachowski got the ball rolling, and others have been pitching in.

This year’s Polish Olympic team was not without its whiff of scandal. Brother weightlifters, Tomasz and Adrian Zieliński, were disqualified and sent home on doping charges. They hotly denied consciously ingesting any illegal substance, but the tests conducted by the anti-doping lab proved otherwise.

As the Rio Olympics were winding down, it appeared Poland might not end up with the 17 medals predicted by optimists, but with the same ten the country had won at the previous three 21st-century games: Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012). The balance was tipped by mountain biker Maja Włoszczowska who came in second over a grueling, curvy, hilly, obstacle-strewn course. A major disappointment was the Poles’ failure to win bronze in the handball finals where they lost to the Germans.

All told, Polish Olympians brought home 11 medals from Rio de Janeiro: two gold, three silver and six bronze. Of the participating 206 National Olympic Committees, in the final medal tally, Poland came 33rd. Although the Poles’ performance wasn’t quite as spectacular as expected, for what it’s worth, it cannot be denied these were Poland’s best Olympic games of the 21st century!

Elizabeth Furiga: How to Navigate a Milk Bar

The milk bar or “bar mleczny” is a culinary holdover from communist times. These no-frills establishments feature homemade Polish meals at little cost. In the Communist Era, the milk bars were subsidized so that all Polish workers could afford a meal. Then and now, the restaurants serve mostly dairy and flour-based vegetarian dishes. If you don’t eat meat and are traveling in Poland, a milk bar is a great place for you to eat, however, navigating one can be a little tricky.

Milk bars are usually run by lunch ladies in aprons that look like stern Polish grandmothers and don’t speak a lick of English. This makes for an interesting experience ordering at a milk bar if you know little to no Polish. It’s a good idea to learn the names of a few basic Polish dishes before you go to a milk bar. That way, you can recognize the item on the menu and point and say “Proszę” (pronounced Prosh-eh), and the name of the item (if you can muster that or just point if you can’t).

Because the government subsidizes milk bars and many of the ingredients they use, you can still to this day get soup, an entree and a drink for about $4 USD, making milk bars a favorite among seniors, university students and the working class.

Milk bars have reached a mythical status in Polish pop culture. Films have depicted communist era milk bars as having dishes and silverware bolted to the table. While this may have been true (although I highly doubt it) milk bars now use cheap generic plates, which customers clean off the tables themselves. Despite the shabby presentation, the taste of the potato pancakes with mushroom sauce, strawberry Polish style crepes or tomato soup far outweighs the picnic style tableware.

Milk bars are not the place to come and linger after a meal. Most patrons eat quickly and quietly with their heads down, absorbed in their meal. Conversation is verboten.

If you ever get a chance to go to Poland, especially Warsaw or Kraków, make sure to look for a milk bar. It might seem intimidating to order somewhere where no English is spoken, but the reward of delicious, cheap Polish food is worth the hassle.

CMU International Film Festival to screen Polish film Karbala

This year, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) will screen a Polish film, Karbala, at their International Film Festival on March 20 at 3 p.m. at CMU’s McConomy Auditorium (5032 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213). The screening will be the American Premiere of the film. Karbala tells the story of 32 Polish and 16 Bulgarian soldiers as they defended City Hall in Karbala for four days in 2004.