Nov/Dec 2021 HomeWorks

Page 1

November/December 2021


COUNTRY LINES HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative

O CH RISTMAS TREE Give To The People Fund This Season

The True Value Of Your Electricity Apply For A Classroom Grant Or Scholarship

Michigan’s Unsuspecting Big Business


Not hearing is believing.

WaterFurnace doesn’t think you should hear your furnace and A/C more than you feel its heat and air. You know when a traditional HVAC system is on. Stop and listen. Is the burner turning on? Are the blower and fan running? Is air blasting through your vents? With geothermal, those tell-tale signs are eliminated, because sound from the system is barely noticeable. As a result, you get comfortable, consistent heating and cooling—and none of the noise. With WaterFurnace, silence is golden. Geothermal is the only renewable that provides reliable operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Contact Your Local WaterFurnace Dealer Bad Axe/Cass City Thumb Clg & Htg (855) 206-5457 thumbcooling Berrien Springs WaterFurnace Michiana (269) 473-5667 gogreenmich Big Rapids Stratz Htg & Clg, Inc. (231) 796-3717

Clifford Orton Refrig & Htg (989) 761-7691 Hart Adams Htg & Clg (231) 873-2665 Indian River M & M Plmb & Htg (231) 238-7201

Mancelona Top Notch Htg, Clg, & Geothermal (231) 350-8052 Michigan Center Comfort 1/Aire Serv of Southern Michigan (517) 764-1500 southern-michigan Mt Pleasant Walton Htg & Clg (989) 772-4822

Muskegon Adams Htg & Clg (231) 873-2665

Traverse City D & W Mechanical (231) 941-1215

Portland ESI Htg & Clg (517) 647-6906

Geofurnace Htg & Clg (231) 943-1000

Sunfield Mark Woodman Plmb & Htg (517) 886-1138

visit us at

The Reliable Renewable is a trademark of WaterFurnace International, Inc.

Contents Michigan’s Electric Cooperatives

November/December 2021 Vol. 41, No. 10


EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Casey Clark EDITOR: Christine Dorr GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Karreen Bird RECIPE EDITOR: Christin McKamey COPY EDITOR: Yvette Pecha CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Emily Haines Lloyd PUBLISHER: Michigan Electric Cooperative Association


6 ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS Help is available for Michiganders struggling to pay their energy bills. 10 MI CO-OP KITCHEN Pressure Cooking: Turn the menu planning pressure off with these delicious Instant Pot meals.

Michigan Country Lines, USPS-591-710, is published monthly, except August and December, with periodicals postage paid at Lansing, Mich., and additional offices. It is the official publication of the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, 201 Townsend St., Suite 900, Lansing, MI 48933. Subscriptions are authorized for members of Alger Delta, Cherryland, Great Lakes, HomeWorks Tri-County, Midwest Energy & Communications, Ontonagon, Presque Isle, and Thumb electric cooperatives by their boards of directors.

14 O CHRISTMAS TREE Behind the scenes at Michigan Christmas tree farms: The year-round business of producing a seasonal staple.

Postmaster: Send all UAA to CFS.

Association Officers: Robert Kran, Great Lakes Energy, chairman; Tony Anderson, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, vice chairman; Eric Baker, Wolverine Power Cooperative, secretary-treasurer; Craig Borr, president and CEO.

18 GUEST COLUMN More Than Just a Sports Jersey: How one Alger Delta member's effort and patience helped create a moment he'll never forget.

CONTACT US/LETTERS TO EDITOR: Michigan Country Lines 201 Townsend St., Suite 900 Lansing, MI 48933 248-534-7358

CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Please notify your electric cooperative. See page 4 for contact information.

The appearance of advertising does not constitute an endorsement of the products or services advertised.

Be featured!

Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation

(Required by U.S.C. 3685) 1. Publication: Michigan Country Lines. 2. Publication No.: 591-710. 3. Filing date: 10/1/21. 4. Issue frequency: monthly, except Aug. and Dec. 5. No. of issues published annually: 10. 6. Complete mailing address of office of publication: Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 7. Complete mailing address of headquarters of publisher: 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 8. Full names and complete mailing address of publisher, editors, and executive editor: Craig Borr, Christine Dorr, Casey Clark, 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 9. Owner: Michigan Electric Cooperative Assoc., 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 10. Known bondholders, mortgagees, and other security holders owning or holding 1% or more of total amount of bonds, mortgages, or other securities: None. 11. Tax status: has not been changed. 12. Issue date for circulation data: Sept. 2021. 13. Extent and nature of circulation: Avg # of copies Actual # of copies of single issues each issue during preceding 12 mo. published nearest to filing date A) B) C) D) E) F) G) H) I)

Total No. of copies................................. 243,264 ...................... 243,312 Paid and requested circulation ............ 243,264 ...................... 242,882 Total paid and requested circulation ... 243,264 ...................... 242,882 1) Free distribution by mail.......................... 160 .............................. 160 2) Free distribution outside mail ................. 809 .............................. 887 Total free distribution ................................... 969 ...........................1,047 Total distribution................................... 244,233 ...................... 244,359 Copies not distributed.......................................0 ...................................0 Total ....................................................... 244,233 ...................... 244,359 Percent paid and/or requested circ............. 98.7 .......................... 99.7%

16. Publication of statement of ownership: November 2021 17. Signature and title of editor: Christine Dorr, editor

Use #micoopcommunity for a chance to be featured here and on our Instagram account.


Autumn leaves are proof that change can be beautiful. Hanna Wescott

MI CO-OP COMMUNITY To enter contests, submit reader content & more, visit

RECIPE CONTEST Win a $50 bill credit!

Up Next: Sweet Treats, due Dec. 1; Italian, due Jan. 1 Submit your recipe at, or send it via email (include your full name and co-op) to

GUEST COLUMN Win $150 for stories published!

Submit your fondest memories and stories at community.

MYSTERY PHOTO Win a $50 bill credit!

Enter a drawing to identify the correct location of the photo. See page 18.


3 / Portland office/Mail payments to: 7973 E. Grand River Ave. Portland, MI 48875 Open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Friday

Blanchard office: 3681 Costabella Ave. Blanchard, MI 49310 Open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Friday Night deposit box available at both locations. Electric bill/account questions: 517-647-7554 or 1-800-562-8232 Pay by phone, anytime: 1-877-999-3395

Service questions/outages: 517-647-7554 or 1-800-848-9333 (24 hours for emergency calls) Tri-County Propane: 1-877-574-2740

HomeWorks Connect 1-800-668-8413 BOARD OF DIRECTORS

District 1 — John Lord, Vice-Chairman 2276 Plains Rd., Leslie, MI 49251 517-974-2518 •

District 2 — Jim Stebbins 7139 Peddler Lake Rd., Clarksville, MI 48815 616-693-2449 • District 3 — Luke Pohl, Chairman 15560 W. Hanses Rd., Westphalia, MI 48894 989-292-0427 • District 4 — Kimber Hansen 6535 N. Wyman Rd., Edmore, MI 48829 989-506-5849 • District 5 — Corinna Batora 7655 N. Watson Rd., Elsie, MI 48831 517-256-5233 •

District 6 — Ed Oplinger, Secretary-Treasurer 10890 W. Weidman Rd., Weidman, MI 48893 989-644-3079 • District 7 — Shirley Sprague 15563 45th Ave., Barryton, MI 49305 989-382-7535 • Editor: C harly Markwart, CCC

This Christmas Season, Your Spare Change Could Change A Life By Michelle Huhn, Tri-County People Fund Program Administrator


s the program administrator for our Co-op’s TriCounty People Fund, I’m sometimes lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the local organizations that we have recently granted money to and to see firsthand the real impact those donated dollars are making for families in need throughout our service area. During one such visit this past September, I was reminded how the assistance that we are able to provide for our grant recipients during their time of need can truly change a life. When I walked into Helping Hands Food Pantry (a regular People Fund grantee) in Charlotte, I knew the organization’s executive director, Amanda Thompson, but I didn’t know her story. I didn’t know that not so long ago, she had been on the receiving end of the pantry’s services, during a time of need in her own life. “I know directly what a difference a grant from the People Fund can make in the lives of those who are able to benefit from the funds,” Amanda told me. “I came to Helping Hands in 2012 to help my family get the food we needed at the time. Within a few months, they asked me to volunteer, and in 2018, they asked me to be their executive director.”

You can read more about Amanda’s story and her amazing work at Helping Hands on page 5. The reason I’m writing about it here is that I want you to know that we’re only able to make a difference in the lives of people like Amanda because of members like you. When you volunteer to round up your bill to the nearest dollar each month for the People Fund, that spare change, which adds up to an average of just $6 a year for you, goes entirely to our grant recipients. You might not believe it, but in the 28 years since the People Fund was founded, that $6 a year per participating member has added up to well over $2.4 million granted to local organizations and families throughout our service area. The holiday season is a time for giving, and if you haven’t opted in to round your bill up for the People Fund yet, I hope you’ll consider doing so now. That $6 that might have bought you a cup of coffee or rattled around in the middle console of your car could go toward helping a local food bank like Helping Hands purchase supplies to stock its shelves, or to help an area mother buy a winter coat for her child. Wherever the grants are sent, I can promise you that our volunteer People Fund board of directors and I will make sure to put your spare change to good use in the lives of your neighbors in need.

Opt in to round your bill up for the People Fund via our SmartHub app, or by calling us at 800-562-8232, ext. 1272. 4 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021

Helping Hands Food Pantry Executive Director Amanda Thompson (fourth from right) and her team of volunteers provide food and personal care items to thousands of Eaton County families each year.

Cooperative’s People Fund Helps Organizations Like Helping Hands Food Pantry Change Lives Amanda Thompson, executive director of Helping Hands Food Pantry in Charlotte, knows firsthand what a difference assistance from an organization like hers can make during a time of need.

“For the past 22 years, the People Fund has helped us purchase essential personal care items for our clients in need.” - Amanda Thompson

That’s because just nine years ago, she was on the receiving end of that assistance during a time of need in her own life. It was the relief offered by Helping Hands, a longtime Tri-County Electric People Fund grantee, along with the support of her family, Thompson says, that ultimately helped her to endure that period and turn things around for the better.

care items upon each visit. Clients can request this assistance once every 30 days. Learn more at

“I had some unfortunate life circumstances, so I came to Helping Hands to help my family get the food we needed,” she says. Little did she know she would receive a whole lot more than food when she walked through the doors of the pantry that has been serving Eaton County families in need for nearly four decades. “After a few months, they asked me to volunteer, and then in 2018, they asked me to be their director, so I began mentoring to take on this job of serving our community,” says Thompson. Now, she leads the faith-based pantry in its efforts to serve thousands of struggling Eaton County households each year by providing clients with a 10-day supply of groceries and personal

“We are funded entirely by community donations, so we rely on the support of organizations like the People Fund,” says Thompson. “For the past 22 years, the People Fund has helped us purchase essential personal care items for our clients in need, which is crucial because those aren’t covered by most lowincome benefits. It means a lot to these families to be able to walk away with items like shampoo, detergent, and toothpaste.” People Fund grants are made possible by HomeWorks members who opt to round their bill up to the nearest dollar each month. “Those extra spare cents might not mean much to you, but to the people who don’t have anything, it matters quite a lot,” says Thompson. “Thank you for rounding up to help us help others.”

To opt in to round your bill up for the People Fund, call us at 800-562-8232. MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES


Energy Assistance Programs 2021-2022 Season Winter Protection Plan

Earned Income Credit

Contact: Your Local Utility Company

Contact: • U.S. Treasury Dept., Internal Revenue Service, • Michigan Dept. of Treasury,

Income Guidelines 2021–2022 # in Household 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable federal income tax credit for lowincome working individuals and families who meet certain requirements and file a tax return. Those who qualify will owe less in taxes and may get a refund. Even a person who does not generally owe income tax may qualify for the EITC, but must file a tax return to do so. If married, you must file jointly to qualify. File Form 1040 or 1040A and attach the EITC.

150% Poverty Guide Maximum Income $19,320 26,130 32,940 39,750 46,560 53,370 60,180 66,990

You may claim a Michigan earned income tax credit for tax year 2020 equal to a percentage of the federal earned income tax credit for which you are eligible.

State Emergency Relief Program (SER)

Add $6,810 for each additional member.

The Winter Protection Plan (WPP) protects enrolled seniors and low-income customers from service shut-offs and high utility bill payments during the winter months. If you are eligible, your utility service will remain on (or restored with the WPP) from Nov. 1 through March 31, if you: • pay at least 7% of your estimated annual bill each month, and • make equal monthly payments between the date you apply and the start of the next heating season on any past due bills. When the protection period ends (March 31), you must begin to pay the full monthly bill, plus part of the amount you owe from the winter months when you did not pay the full bill. Participation does not relieve customers from the responsibility of paying for electricity and natural gas usage, but does prevent shut-off during winter months. You qualify for the plan if you meet at least one of the following requirements: • are age 65 or older, • receive Dept. of Health and Human Services cash assistance, including SSI, • receive Food Assistance, • receive Medicaid, or • household income is at or below the 150% of poverty level shown in the Income Guidelines chart above. Senior citizen customers who participate in the WPP are not required to make specific payments to ensure that their service will not be shut off between Nov. 1 and March 31. Service for seniors can be restored without any payments. Note: All customers 65+ are eligible regardless of income. Customers are responsible for all electricity and natural gas used. At the end of the protection period, participants must make arrangements with their utility company to pay off any money owed before the next heating season.

Home Heating Credit

0–1 2 3

Max. Income

$14,168 19,162 24,156

# Exemp.

4 5 6

Add $4,994 for each exemption over 6.

Max. Income

$29,150 34,144 39,138

You can apply for a Home Heating Credit for the 2021 tax year if you meet the income guidelines listed above (110% of poverty level) or you qualify based on alternate guidelines including household income, exemptions, and heating costs. Additional exemptions are available for seniors, disabled claimants, or claimants with 5% or more of their income from unemployment compensation. If you qualify, you may receive assistance to help pay for your winter heating bills. Forms are available mid-to-late January wherever tax forms are provided or from the Michigan Dept. of Treasury (517-636-4486 or The Home Heating Credit claim form must be filed with the Michigan Dept. of Treasury no later than Sept. 30 each year.



You do not have to be a DHHS client to apply for help with a past due bill, shut-off notice, or the need for deliverable fuel through the SER. This program, available Nov. 1–May 31, provides most of its utility assistance during this crisis season. However, limited assistance is available outside the crisis season. If you receive a DHHS cash grant, you may use part of it toward heat and electric bills. Apply online using MI Bridges:

Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program Contact: Local Community Action Agency You may be able to receive help with weatherizing your home to reduce energy use if you meet low-income eligibility guidelines (200% of poverty guidelines) or if you participate in the Dept. of Health and Human Services Family Independence Program or receive SSI. Weatherization may include caulking, weatherstripping, and insulation. Contact your local Community Action Agency for details. Visit to find one in your area.

United Way Contact: Call 2-1-1 or 2-1-1 is a free phone service operating 24 hours daily to provide information about help that may be available in a particular area with utilities and other needs. Dial 2-1-1 or visit to find available services.

Medical Emergency Protection

Contact: Michigan Dept. of Treasury # Exemp.

Contact: Local Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS),

Contact: Local Utility Company You are protected from service shut-off for nonpayment of your natural gas and/ or electric bill for up to 21 days, possibly extending to 63 days, if you have a proven medical emergency. You must provide written proof from a doctor or a public health or social services official that a medical condition exists. Contact your gas or electric utility for details.

Shut-off Protection For Military Active Duty Contact: Local Utility Company If you or your spouse has been called into active military duty, you may apply for shut-off protection from your electric or natural gas service for up to 90 days. You may request extensions. You must still pay, but contact your utility company and they will help you set up a payment plan.

Michigan Veterans Trust Fund Emergency Grant Program

COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA)

Contact: MI Veterans Trust Fund

Administering Agency: Michigan State Housing Development Authority at

The Trust Fund provides temporary assistance to veterans and their families facing a financial emergency or hardship, including the need for energy assistance. Contact the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund at 800-642-4838 or

MI Energy Assistance Program Contact: Utility or 2-1-1 in late November The Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) includes services that will enable participants to become self-sufficient, including assisting participants in paying their energy bills on time, budgeting for and contributing to their ability to provide for energy expenses, and being energy efficient. Shut-off protection is provided Nov. 1–April 15 for all residential customers. The MEAP is supported by the state’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF). An electric utility that chooses not to collect for the LIEAF shall not shut off service to customers for nonpayment between Nov. 1 and April 15. For a list of electric providers that opt out of collecting the LIEAF, go to

In addition to rental assistance, CERA provides heat, electric, deliverable fuels, water, sewer, and broadband assistance to applicants who must demonstrate COVID hardship. Some examples of accepted hardships are on the website, including qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or has experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice. • Eligibility is 80% Area Median Income • Utility caps can range from $1,500 to $2,300 with $300–$500 for credits going forward, depending on family size • Up to 12 months of rental assistance • Broadband benefit • Online app portal and delivered through agencies (such as Community Action Agencies)

Dial 2-1-1 for more information on heating and other human services programs. As connected devices become increasingly popular, it’s important that we know how to secure our digital lives. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers the following tips for protecting smart devices:

Get creative with passwords.

Change your device’s factory security settings from the default password. This is one of the most important steps to take in the protection of internet-connected devices. Consider creating the longest password or passphrase permissible, and use familiar phrases you’ll remember, like the lyrics to your favorite song.

Keep tabs on your apps.

Security Tips For Connected Devices Today’s market offers a plethora of new gadgets and devices that claim to make our homes smarter, safer, and more efficient. But as with any new smart technology, consumers should take extra precautions to ensure these devices are secure. Convenient, connected devices are here to stay—and unfortunately, so are the hackers. But by taking extra steps to safeguard your network and devices, you can keep your digital life as secure as possible.

Most connected devices are supported by a smartphone application. Your smartphone could be filled with apps running in the background or using default permissions you never realized you approved, gathering personal information without your knowledge while also putting your identity and privacy at risk. Check your app permissions and say “no” to privilege requests that don’t make sense.

Secure your network.

Properly secure the wireless network you use for internet-connected devices. Consider placing these devices on a separate and dedicated network.

Connect and protect.

Whether it’s your computer, smartphone, game console, camera, or other connected devices, the best defense is to stay on top of things by updating to the latest security software, web browser, and operating system. If you have the option to enable automatic updates to defend against the latest risks, turn it on. MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES


Co-op Grants $5,000 To Twin River Robotics HomeWorks renewed its support of Portland High School’s Twin River Robotics team this fall, with a $5,000 grant to help fund the squad’s participation in the statewide FIRST Robotics competition this season. The grant check was presented to two team representatives (far left) by HomeWorks employees and family members prior to PHS’s homecoming football game on Oct. 8. Robotics is intended to encourage students to develop an interest in skilled trades and STEM careers. Good luck this season, Twin River team members!

SAVE A LITTLE EXTRA WITH THESE HOLIDAY TIPS  USE LED HOLIDAY LIGHTS • they’re brighter, last longer, and use less electricity.  USE A TIMER TO MANAGE OUTDOOR HOLIDAY LIGHTS • recommended time is under 8 hours.  TURN OFF ROOM LIGHTS • light the fireplace or candles to warm the room and set the holiday mood.


Energy Optimization programs and incentives are applicable to Michigan electric service locations only. Incentive applies to qualified items purchased and installed between Jan. 1, 2021, and Nov. 30, 2021. Other restrictions may apply. For complete program details, visit


Scared Of Santa 1. Kami Smith of Fowler submitted this snap shot of her grandsons, Ian and Ty Smith, taken in 2014. “They weren’t scared of Santa; instead, they seemed to be taunting him in this photo that’s still a family favorite,” she says. 2. Elaine Townes of Six Lakes says, “We took our granddaughters, Natalia and Lilianah, to Bronner’s, and the youngest wanted nothing to do with Santa!” 3. Ruth Armbrustmacher of Fowler submitted this photo of her grandson, Will Shaw, and her granddaughter, Brooklyn Simon, meeting Santa for the first time. 4. Sara Dixon of Grand Ledge says, “I’m not sure how scared our son West was during this visit with Santa, but he was definitely confused!” 5. Kevin Sandborn of Portland submitted this picture of his one-year-old son Jacob. “He’s 4 now, and still not a fan of Santa,” he says.




4 Enter to win a


energy bill credit!


Upcoming Snap Shot Contest Topics and Deadlines Fire & Ice, due Nov. 15 (January 2022 issue) Generations, due Dec. 15 (February 2022 issue) Pet Showcase, due Jan. 17 (March 2022 issue) Go to, select the Energy tab, then choose Member Services>Country Lines to submit your photos and see all of the 2022 Snap Shot themes. It’s fast and easy. To send by mail: include your name, address, phone number, photographer’s name, and details about your photo. Mail to Attn: Country Lines Snap Shots, 7973 E. Grand River Ave., Portland, MI 48875. Photos will not be returned. Do not send color laser prints or professional studio photos.

Submit Your Photos! Members whose photos we publish in Country Lines in 2022 will receive a $10 bill credit the month after publication.



MI CO-OP Recipes

Photos by Robert Bruce Photography || Recipes Submitted by MCL Readers and Tested by Recipe Editor Christin McKamey

PRESSURE COOKING Get food on the table fast.


INSTANT POT LASAGNA SOUP Theresa Pacel, Cherryland

1 1 3–4 1 1 2 1 1 ½ 4 • 1–2 ½

pound ground beef cup diced onion cloves garlic, minced cup chicken broth (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce (Old World Victoria is my favorite) cups water teaspoon dried basil teaspoon dried oregano teaspoon dried thyme uncooked lasagna noodles, broken into small pieces salt, to taste teaspoons sugar, or to taste; start with less and add more if needed cup heavy cream

Cheese Mixture: 1 cup ricotta 1 cup shredded mozzarella ½ cup shredded (not grated) parmesan 1 teaspoon dried parsley



energy bill credit!

Sweet Treats due Dec. 1 • Italian due Jan. 1 Submit your favorite recipe for a chance to win a $50 bill credit and have your recipe featured in Country Lines with a photo and a video. Submit your recipe at, or send it via email (include your full name and co-op) to


Set the Instant Pot/pressure cooker (6 quart or bigger) to the “Sauté” setting on low and cook ground beef and onion until almost done. Add minced garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Turn off and drain well. Return to pot and add broth, marinara sauce, water, dried herbs, and broken noodles. Lock lid and set to “Sealing.” Cook on high pressure (on “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” setting) for 8 minutes, then do quick release. Remove lid and let simmer/warm for 10 to 15 minutes or until lasagna noodles are cooked through. Then add salt and sugar. Mix the 3 kinds of cheese together with the parsley and dollop into soup, stirring until mixed well. Add heavy cream and mix well. Taste again for salt and sugar. Serve! Watch a video of this month’s winning recipe at

INSTANT POT EASY PULLED PORK Victoria Nelson, Great Lakes Energy

1 pork shoulder (about 4.3 pounds) 2 tablespoons olive oil

Dry Rub: 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons black pepper 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon onion powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon kosher salt ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

BBQ Sauce: 1½ cups water 28 ounces Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce (use only ½ the bottle)

Cut pork shoulder into large pieces (about 6 parts). Make the dry rub and rub well into both sides of the meat. Set the Instant Pot to “Sauté” and add the oil. Add meat to brown all sides (about 3 minutes per side). Mix 1½ cups of water with ½ bottle of BBQ sauce. Once all meat has been browned, remove meat from Instant Pot. Add mixture of water and BBQ sauce to Instant Pot to deglaze bottom of pot. Add pork back into pot. Lock lid and set to “Sealing.” Choose the “Manual” setting and set to 60 minutes. Wait for pressure to build (you should see the pressure pin pop up after a few minutes). After 60 minutes of pressure cooking, carefully release pressure to “Venting.” Use forks or tongs to pull apart the pork; it should be super tender and fall apart. Serve on sandwiches or eat as is.


1 teaspoon olive oil ½ cup chopped onions (white or yellow) 3–4 garlic cloves, minced 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks 2 green Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored, sliced into chunks 3 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk 1 teaspoon honey • salt and pepper, to taste ½ teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon curry powder

INSTANT POT MINESTRONE SOUP Laura Campbell, HomeWorks Tri-County 2 3 1 2 2 1½ 1 ½ 6 1 1 1 1 1 1

tablespoons olive oil cloves garlic, minced yellow onion, diced carrots, peeled and diced stalks celery, diced teaspoons dried basil teaspoon dried oregano teaspoon fennel seed cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (16-ounce) can cannellini or kidney beans, drained and rinsed zucchini, chopped (3-inch) parmesan rind bay leaf bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped

Set the Instant Pot to the “Sauté” setting and add the oil and onions. When translucent and fragrant, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the squash, green apples, broth, coconut milk, honey, salt/pepper, cinnamon, and curry powder. Stir; set the pressure cooker to “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” mode and cook for 15 minutes. When the pot indicates it has finished, quick release the steam. Open the pot and, using an immersion blender, very carefully blend until creamy. You can also transfer to a highpowered blender. Stovetop Instructions: Add oil and onions to a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Sauté until fragrant and translucent; add garlic. Add the squash, green apples, broth, coconut milk, honey, salt/pepper, cinnamon, and curry powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender or high-powered blender to blend the soup until creamy.

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste ¹⁄ ³ cup freshly grated parmesan 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves Set a 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot to the high “Sauté” setting. Add olive oil, garlic, onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in basil, oregano, and fennel seed until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in stock, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, zucchini, parmesan rind, and bay leaf. Select “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” setting; adjust pressure to high, and set time for 5 minutes. When finished cooking, carefully quick release the pressure. Stir in kale until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with parmesan and parsley, if desired. MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES


As Prices Rise, Electricity Remains A Good Value In 2021, you can still power your home for a day for less than the cost of a fast food meal If you’ve noticed the prices of your living expenses and everyday necessities going up recently, you’re not alone. According to data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI), overall living costs in the Midwest have risen 5.7% over the past year. Unfortunately, those increases are not expected to wane any time soon. The good news is that when it comes to electricity, rate increases occur slowly when compared to other common expenses. When you look at the chart to the bottom right, you can see that according to the CPI, the cost of rent, medical care, and education increased by 3.4%, 2.8%, and 2.2%, respectively, from 2015 to 2020, while the cost to power a home rose by an average of just 1% nationwide during that same period. The value of electricity becomes even more clear when you realize that even as we’re using electricity to power more appliances and electronics than ever before, in 2021, the average HomeWorks member (using 825 kWh per month) can still power his or her entire home for 24 hours for significantly less than the cost of just one value meal at a fast food restaurant! When you consider that your power was 99.95% reliable in 2020, the value goes up even more. It’s easy to take electricity for granted when it’s nearly always available at the flip of a switch, but it does require a significant investment to continually maintain and upgrade our system to provide the reliability you’ve come to expect from your Co-op. The costs of that maintenance, like everything, are currently on the rise, and our board will be considering a rate adjustment this month to help cover some of those increased expenses. As a not-for-profit cooperative owned by our members, however, any rate increase we implement will be as minimal as possible to cover our costs, and will still keep us in line with or below the rates of our neighboring electric utilities. As a HomeWorks member, you can rest assured that your power will remain a great value for years to come. 12 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021


avg. cost of a Big Mac® value meal

avg. daily

to power $4.44 cost a home* *Based on HomeWorks’ average residential usage of 825 kWh/mo.

Average Annual Price Increase 2015-2020 4.00%

3.4% 2.8%


2.2% 2.00%




Medical Care



Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index

Your Board In Action Meeting at Portland on Sept. 27, your board of directors: • Approved the reappointment of the entire current slate of seven volunteer directors to the board of the Tri-County Electric People Fund for new three-year terms.

• Approved the reappointment of Board Chairman Luke Pohl and CEO Chris O’Neill as the Cooperative’s representatives on the board of Spartan Renewable Energy.

• Learned about Rep. John Moolenaar’s September visit to the Cooperative, where he learned about the HomeWorks Connect fiber internet business and how it fulfills a need for quality rural broadband access within his congressional district. • Received a monthly progress update on the HomeWorks Connect fiber internet business, learning that the business achieved a milestone in September, notching its 6,000th internet subscriber. • Discussed and accepted Policy 103 – Compensation and Benefits For Directors, as revised.

• Learned there were 131 new members in August.

• Acknowledged the August safety report, listing employee training as well as minor public incidents involving electric, propane, or fiber optic.

Time Set Aside for Members to Comment Before Cooperative Board Meetings The first 15 minutes of every board meeting are available for members who wish to address the board of directors on any subject. The next meetings are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 22 at Portland and 9 a.m. on Dec. 20 at Blanchard. However, at the time of this printing, some of our meetings are temporarily being conducted remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Members who wish to have items considered on the board agenda should call 517-647-7554.

Holiday Hours Please note that our offices will be closed on the following days of the holiday season:

Thanksgiving Holiday Thursday, Nov. 25 Friday, Nov. 26

Christmas Holiday Thursday, Dec. 23 Friday, Dec. 24

New Year’s Holiday Friday, Dec. 31

Notice to Members of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative A Special Member Meeting is set for Nov. 22, 9 a.m., at the Cooperative’s Portland office* A Special Member Meeting is set for Nov. 22, 9 a.m., at the Cooperative’s Portland office.* The board of directors will consider the item(s) listed below at its meeting on Nov. 22, 2021, to be held at the Cooperative office at 7973 E. Grand River Ave., Portland, Michigan.* The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and is open to all HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative members. The session will begin with an opportunity for members to provide direct input to the board of directors without filing a formal request under the Cooperative policy. Interested members are asked to come to the lobby by 9 a.m. and request to speak to the board; staff will direct members to the meeting room.* Time constraints on each member’s comments will be at the discretion of the board president, but members are asked to keep comments to less than five minutes. The following item(s) will be discussed and considered: 1. Revising the Cooperative’s electric rates to meet current and future financial needs, based on an independent Cost of Service study. Notice of changes or additions to the Cooperative’s rates or service rules shall be sent to all members, as required by P.A. 167, by publication in Michigan Country Lines at least 30 days prior to their effective date.

Participation: Any interested member may attend and participate in the meeting. The location of the board meeting site is accessible, including accessible parking.* Persons needing any accommodation to participate should contact HomeWorks Tri-County Electric at 800-562-8232 at least a week in advance of the meeting to request mobility, visual, hearing, or other assistance. Comments may also be made prior to the meeting date by calling CEO Chris O’Neill at 517-647-1284 or contacting him via email at Notice of the board meeting shall be sent to all members, as required by P.A. 167, by publication in Michigan Country Lines. *Note: At print time, the Nov. 22 board meeting is scheduled to take place in person at the Co-op’s Portland office. However, dependent on any public health guidelines, safety regulations, and/or executive orders that are issued related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be determined that the meeting needs to be held remotely instead (in which case remote access to the meeting would be provided to any Member-Customer who wished to attend). Any interested member is asked to contact the Co-op at 800-562-8232 at least one week prior to the meeting to confirm the meeting location.


O CH R ISTMA S TR E E Michigan’s Unsuspecting Big Business By Emily Haines Lloyd


he Christmas season is bursting with joy, hope, and a healthy dose of nostalgia. We take it in through all our senses— the sight of fresh snow and glistening lights, the taste of holiday recipes handed down through generations, the sound of carols on the radio, the feeling of holding handmade ornaments. But perhaps nothing brings us so quickly into the holiday spirit than the smell of fresh pine, evergreen, and spruce. Is there anything as completely magical as a fresh-cut Christmas tree? While we get lost in the memories and moments that flood us around our trees, it’s easy to forget that Christmas trees are also a business, in fact, a pretty big business in Michigan. “Michigan is the third largest grower of Christmas trees in the country,” said Amy Start, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association (MCTA). “There are 2 million Christmas trees harvested each year in Michigan, but the magic is that there is one perfect tree for each person or family.” With only Oregon and North Carolina producing more Christmas trees, Michigan farms grow more than 37,000 acres of commercial trees that produce a $35 million industry for our state. With an average growing cycle of 10 to 12 years before harvest, these are an investment in time, land, and resources, making them a huge commitment. Scott Powell, manager of Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, Michigan, is part of the family-owned team that is not only the largest Christmas tree grower in Michigan, but is in the top five producers annually in the United States. “Christmas trees are our business. For every crop we grow, there are real American families who put their hard work in every day,” said Powell. “There is a lot of joy in the work, but also a lot of responsibility as stewards of the land. We take care of it for future generations to work and enjoy.” While Dutchman is heavily involved in providing trees to wholesalers—think big-box parking lots with strung lights, making it easier for families to

Dutchman Tree Farms

Robinson Tree Farm

get their tree during their busy lives—they also have a Choose & Cut business that is run by the teenagers in the family, who have grown up trimming and shearing alongside their families for their entire lives. Others in the Christmas tree and nursery business, like Needlefast Evergreens, a Great Lakes Energy member in Ludington, Michigan, are equally connected by both Christmas trees and family lineage. Started by Bill Nickelson in 1954, the current Needlefast is run by Bill’s son and grandson, Jim and Ben Nickelson. Even Ben’s 11-year-old son has gotten into the business—growing a few rows of strawberries in the off-season and making sure the berries are cared for as he saves enough for next year’s plants. “The entire business is about family,” said Ben Nickelson. “On Thanksgiving morning, our family comes together and loads trucks full of Christmas trees before we settle into our meal. The next day, families from all over come to visit us to find their perfect tree.” While many farms have passed through generations, there are those who are still run by their first generation, like Robinson Tree Farm in Traverse City, Michigan, owned by Darrell Robinson. However, the sentiments run just as deep.

Needlefast Evergreens The Association encourages school field trips and can connect educators with farms in their area.

“You can’t help but be moved as you watch families come year after year, growing up alongside my own family,” said Robinson. “And then you’ll have someone offer to pay for another family or donating one to a family in need—and you know you’re in the right business.”

The MCTA also provides help with coordinating tree donations from Michigan farms for the annual Trees for Troops program. Trees for Troops is a nonprofit program where various farms from around the state donate trees for U.S. troops and their families—to ensure they know others are grateful and thinking of them for their sacrifices during the holiday season.

Nickelson agrees. “Most of the people who visit our farm are lifelong customers. So often in our everyday, we are looking for things to make life easier. But when the family shows up, picks their tree, decorates it—well, we remember to look for the things that make life better.”

“It’s the best crop, for the best reason,” said Powell. “While celebrating the birth of Jesus, we also get to be a part of memories for families, to celebrate and remember those they love and have lost. For our family, it’s very personal.”

The Michigan Christmas Tree Association (MCTA) is a nonprofit membership organization serving Christmas tree growers in the state of Michigan. The MCTA promotes and markets real Christmas trees to the public, while assisting growers in the state with education and business connections to improve the profitability of their farms.

To find a Christmas tree farm in your area, visit



It’s time to apply for HomeWorks’ 2022 classroom grants and college scholarships! For Teachers:

We offer grants of up to $2,000 to help teachers in our service area provide S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education in their classrooms.

Applications due Jan. 17

For more info or to apply, click the Community tab at:

For Students:

Current high school seniors living on our electric lines could be eligible for one of our one-time $1,000 scholarships to help with 2022-23 college expenses!

Applications due March 18

Avoid Shooting Toward Electric And Fiber Lines Recent incidents have caused outages and costly damage to Coooperative-owned equipment Firearm deer season is nearly upon us here in mid-Michigan, and HomeWorks Safety Coordinator Jeff Erridge, an avid hunter himself, has an important reminder for his fellow enthusiasts. “We’ve had a couple incidents recently where members of the public have inadvertantly damaged our overhead electric or fiber internet lines by firing guns toward them, typically while shooting at birds or other animals,” says Erridge. “We just want to remind our members that when they’re out shooting or hunting any type of animal, they should always make sure to avoid shooting near or toward overhead utility lines of any kind.” The results of hitting a utility line with a gunshot, even unintentionally, can be very serious, Erridge says. “These recent incidents on our lines have caused outages for whole

neighborhoods, as well as expensive damage to our equipment. Hitting a utility line can be dangerous, and it can also be considered vandalism, resulting in potential fines or criminal prosecution.”

Fuel Mix Report

The fuel mix characteristics of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative as required by Public Act 141 of 2000 for the 12-month period ended 06/30/21.

Comparison Of Fuel Sources Used Fuel source

Your co-op’s fuel mix

Regional average fuel mix
















Renewable Fuels












Solid Waste Incineration









NOTE: Biomass excludes wood; solid waste incineration includes landfill gas; and wind includes a long-term renewable purchase power contract in Wolverine’s mix.

Your Co-op’s Fuel Mix

Avoiding such consequences, though, is simple. “Just be aware of your surroundings, watch where you’re shooting, and be safe,” says Erridge. “It’s basic firearms 101.” Regional Average Fuel Mix

SAFETY CORNER: Standby Generators If you purchase a standby generator, we highly encourage you to have it installed by a licensed electrician. Adding a standby generator to the electrical system of a home, farm, or business requires a suitable transfer switch to disconnect the electric loads from the power supplier’s utility grid. This is a requirement of the National Electrical Code and all electric power suppliers for two very good reasons: (1) it prevents the backflow of current into the utility’s lines during an outage, which could electrocute lineworkers working to restore power; and (2) it prevents damage to the generator when regular electric service has been restored.

Emissions And Waste Comparison lbs/MWh

Type of emission/waste

Your co-op

Regional average*

Sulfur Dioxide



Carbon Dioxide



Oxides of Nitrogen





High-Level Nuclear Waste

* Regional average information was obtained from the MPSC website and is for the 12-month period ending 12/31/20. HomeWorks purchases 100% of its electricity from Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, Inc., which provided this fuel mix and environmental data.


Guest Column

Picking Out My Own Game Jersey By Brian Maki, Alger Delta Cooperative member


here’s nothing more fitting in this world than picking out your own game jersey. Ask any sports player. The sweat and sacrifice are monumental to end up wearing something that represents you, your school, and your community. It’s really considered the “holy grail” of all sporting experiences. I had been team manager from 1985 through 1988. After practice one night, Marquette’s legendary basketball coach Gordy LeDuc said, “Brian, three kids quit the team today. There’s only nine on the bench.” As a 17-year-old kid, I was still looking for my chance. He asked: “You wanna join the team?” “Sure,” I said. “I’ll keep stats for you. I’ll do whatever it takes, coach.” He smiled. Mr. LeDuc threw me the key to the old storage room, a place where team jerseys were stored. It was a place I knew well but had never believed that I would ever pick out my own jersey in my wildest of dreams. But I did. Thirty-three years ago. On Jan. 26, 1988, my dreams turned into reality. I would no longer be remembered as just a team manager. On that special night, I would crush many failures with my very first shot. With three seconds left, I broke for the ball, and while double-teamed, I heaved a magical 55-foot shot at the buzzer. The horn was long over by the time the ball hit the backboard and went in. Game over. People bolted from their seats and pushed me to the ground, chanting my name. It was (and still is to this day) the greatest moment of my life. The odds were stacked against me that I would ever find myself in that jersey. But, there I was, a winner. This shot was an accumulation of effort, focus, patience, luck, experience, fate, practice, and faith to seal my fate and my destiny into basketball lore. Talk about a “holy grail” experience.

Win a


energy bill credit!

Brian Maki is a computer consultant and enjoys traveling in the U.P., writing, and learning about new technology.

WIN $150!

Share your fondest memories and stories. Win $150 for stories published. Visit to submit.

Where In Michigan Is This? Identify the correct location of the photo to the left by Dec. 20 and be entered into a drawing to win a $50 electric bill credit. Enter your guess at September 2021 Winner! Our Mystery Photo winner is Jodie Samkowiak, a Great Lakes Energy Cooperative member, who correctly identified the photo as Mackinaw Island House Hotel, looking from the marina side. Photo courtesy of Corey Niedzwiecki. Winners are announced in the following issues of Country Lines: January, March, May, July/August, September, and November/December.

In one day, get the most affordable geothermal heating & cooling system for rural homeowners. Improve your home’s comfort year-round while dramatically reducing your heating and cooling costs.

Add Well-Connect geothermal heating for $0 down and as little as $80/month. Typical heating cost savings over $100/month. Well-Connect pays for itself.





Connects to your existing furnace, giving you maximum comfort and maximum savings.

Minimal water flow required, making almost any well capable of heating & cooling your home.

Can be installed in one day, any time of year.

Geothermal Made Affordable







Act now and get a FREE Real-Time System Performance Monitor.



WELLCONNECTGEO.COM Report Outages: 1-800-848-9333



? $5




Become A Connector Today! Learn more by visiting or calling 800-668-8413!

This service is not regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission. *with $5 bundle discount

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.