Hello St Johns

Moving from an area with a population of over 380,000     to a small town of less than 8,000 is quite a change.

Last month my husband and I said goodbye to the Quad Cities.

Goodbye Quad Cities

We have spent this last month learning all about our new home in the middle part of Michigan (lower peninsula) – St Johns.

As someone who loves trees, the tree-lined streets are so beautiful, especially this time of year as the leaves all turn glorious colors of yellow, orange and red.  In the Quad Cities I could find areas of trees here and there but not like in St. Johns.  Just driving to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, the post office – there is no where I can go in the town without beauty all around me.

The town has such charm as historic, turn-of-the-century homes line many of the streets.  In the neighborhood where I live the houses are not set right on top of each other as they were in my old neighborhood.

While enjoying small town charm, friendly neighborhoods we are only 30 minutes from the capital, Lansing, so if I get too bored, there is the big city close by.

St Johns is surrounded by agriculturally rich land known for raising mint.   The growing of spearmint and peppermint is unique to this area, using the rich black soil that prevails. Mint farming began with a two-acre crop of peppermint in 1913. The county ranks first in the production of mint in Michigan, with approximately 5,000 acres of mint farmed. Each year the mint farming heritage is celebrated at the “St. Johns Mint Festival”. The Festival is a weekend long celebration of activities for all age groups which attracts over 60,000 people to the City.

For its size, St. Johns offers many amenities that enhance the quality of life for residents. “Points of pride” for City residents include:

  • Concert in the Park series of weekly musical performances in the summer
  • The historic Wilson Center Auditorium which hosts rock concerts, open-mic nights and theatrical productions throughout the year
  • Farm Market located in Court House Parking Lot during growing season
  • Old US Route 27 Motor Tour with classic cars

I also wondered if there would any really good places to eat.  THERE IS!

Main Street Cafe – great food and even great homemade pies – especially our favorite coconut cream pie.

pie

And the greatest thing is the friendliness.  Back home walking down the sidewalk everyone seemed to avoid making eye contact.  Sometimes I would smile and say hi.  Often the response I would get was “Did you just speak to me?  Are you some kind of nut?”

So great to walk down the sidewalk and everyone you meet smiles and says hi and might even stop and talk for awhile.

So – the verdict is in – I’m a happy resident of a small town – St. Johns, Michigan.

From Corn Fields to Mint Farms

Growing up in Illinois I am used to seeing acres and acres of corn fields any time I drive though the countryside.   Although Iowa is the top corn-producing state in the country, Illinois is a close second.  Some of the top-producing counties are in Illinois.

Seventy-five percent of Illinois’ total land area is devoted to farmland and much of that is in corn.  That’s a lot of corn!

The corn grown in Illinois is not the corn you buy at the store and put on your plate with lots of butter and salt.  That is sweet corn bred for its sugar content which is what makes it so tasty!  One of my favorite sweet corns is called “peaches and cream.”  It is a hybrid and combines white and yellow kernels.  Oh!  What a treat it is!  I usually buy several dozen ears in the early summer and put in the freezer so we can enjoy it all year long.  Nothing is greater than sitting down at the dining room table in the middle of a snow storm with a plate of steaming hot peaches and cream corn waiting to be enjoyed.

sweet corn

The corn grown in Illinois is field corn that is bred for starch.  This corn is used in food products like cornmeal, corn chips and corn syrup.  It is also used in making ethanol and polymers.  However, primarily it is grown for animal feed.

How do you tell the difference?  Sweet corn is shorter, has larger tassels visible, and is often a lighter green.  Field corn is taller, has smaller visible tassels, and is darker green. Sweet corn is harvested in mid-summer while field corn is harvested in the fall after the plant starts to die and the corn kernels become very dry.

Corn is seen in the field that belonged to the Gibson family farm businesses which was auctioned off by a court appointed receiver in Morocco

I love taking road trips through the countryside in the fall to watch the farmers as they harvest the field corn.  Although my husband enjoys it also, all the dust that it produces is a little hard on his allergies.

corn harvest 2corn harvest 3corn harvest

Growing up watching the corn as it grows in the field from the small plants in the spring to the tall stalks in the fall and watching the harvest, I never thought much about it until I moved to Virginia.  I married a young man in the Marine Corps who was stationed at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia just outside Washington DC.  As we explored Virginia that summer I enjoyed the mountains and the many historical sites, but I began missing all those acres and acres of corn.  When fall came I think I was as much homesick for the corn harvest as I was for my family.  As we headed back to Illinois after my husband’s discharge from the Marine Corps, I could not wait to see the corn fields.  Living a few years later as a missionary in the Philippines I once again longed for my corn fields.  Somehow home is associated in my mind with corn fields.

Now I am moving to Michigan.  While Michigan also grows corn, the area where I am moving is noted for its mint farms.  Driving around the area I did see a few fields of corn but nothing of the acres and acres of corn here in Illinois.  St Johns, Michigan calls itself “Mint City” and Clinton County, where St Johns is located, ranks first in Michigan in regards to total mint production.  In August every year the city holds a Mint Festival celebrating its history in mint farming.

I did some checking to see exactly what Michigan agriculture has to offer.  I found Michigan is:

  • #1 producers of tart cherries in USA
  • 6th producer of dairy milk
  • #1 producer of potatoes for potato chips
  • supplies the eggs for all the McDonald’s east of the Mississippi River
  • sells over 2 million Christmas trees every year

(these facts are taken from:the “Pure Michigan website: https://www.michigan.org/article/trip-idea/michigan-agriculture-facts-might-not-have-known)

So – I’m taking a last trip through the countryside to see my corn fields.  I imagine next fall I’ll be asking my husband for us to take a road trip south to see the farmers harvesting the corn.