Nov/Dec 2021 MEC

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November/December 2021


COUNTRY LINES Midwest Energy & Communications

O C HR ISTMAS TREE Michigan’s Unsuspecting Big Business

Why Fiber Internet Is Better

Director Elections Propane Safety


Not hearing is believing.

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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.







ST JOSEPH /teammidwest CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS AND CASSOPOLIS SOLUTIONS CENTER 60590 Decatur Road, Cassopolis, MI 49031 M–F 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

PAW PAW SOLUTIONS CENTER 59825 S. LaGrave Street, Paw Paw, MI 49079 M–F 8 a.m.–5 p.m. ADRIAN SOLUTIONS CENTER 1610 E. Maumee Street, Adrian, MI 49221 M–F 8 a.m.–5 p.m. CONTACT US Midwest Energy & Communications 800-492-5989 Email: BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Clarence “Topper” Barth, Chairperson, Three Rivers 269-279-9233

Ben Russell, Vice Chairperson, Constantine 269-506-1590 Ron Armstrong, Secretary, Lawton 269-299-0443

Investing in Your Service Experience Robert Hance, President/CEO

Mother Nature had a couple of cranky days in August. Really cranky. In the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 11, a huge storm hit southwest Michigan, leaving nearly 5,000 customers without power. Round two came later that afternoon, impacting customers in both our southwest and southeast service territories. And just as we were making progress, round three hit southwest Michigan again on the morning of Aug. 12. Three waves of major storms within a 28-hour period, each bringing damaging winds and impacting customers north to south and east to west across our entire service area. In total, we had 45 broken poles and countless miles of downed power lines. Between our own crews, contract crews, and tree crews, we accumulated nearly 3,500 man-hours before all service was restored on Aug. 14. We haven’t seen storms and damage like that for a very long time, and on the heels of these types of events, we often engage in the “what could have been” conversation. When I started my tenure as your CEO almost 20 years ago, my primary charge from the board of directors was to improve system reliability. So, we rolled up our sleeves and developed a plan that included a number of efforts, including a strategic and aggressive line clearance program. We worked our way across our 4,000+ miles of line and cut trees to create a 15-foot ground-to-sky clearance on each side of our lines, the standard recommended by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It took many years to reclaim our rights-of-way, and we are now in a proactive maintenance mode that includes annual regrooming and spraying. Visit to learn more about our approach.

John Green, Treasurer, Dowagiac 269-470-2816

Line clearance minimizes the likelihood of trees and animals coming in contact with power lines. Also, it gives us better access to our distribution system so crews can get equipment in to make repairs. Our rights-of-way were such a mess that it took longer to clear a path to reach a broken pole than it took to change the pole and make related repairs.

Gerry Bundle, Cassopolis 269-414-0164

While I can only speculate, I believe that this type of storm 15 years ago would have left many of our customers without power for a week or more, as was experienced this time around by customers of other utilities. While many of our customers were initially very vocal about our aggressive approach to right-of-way clearing, many more now praise our efforts in the aftermath of events like the August storms. Our investment in line clearance and other reliability measures is an investment in your service experience.

Dan Bodette, Wauseon 419-337-8007

James Dickerson, Bloomingdale 269-370-6868

Erika Escue-Cadieux, Onsted 419-346-1088 Fred Turk, Decatur 269-423-7762



Midwest Energy & Communications is an equal opportunity provider and employer.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to mention generator safety. Improperly installed generators put you and our lineworkers at risk. Invest in safety by having your generator professionally installed. We will never be able to eliminate outages. We have a highly complex, largely overhead infrastructure that always will be subject to weather, equipment failure, and other issues. Because we are dependent on transmission providers to bring power to our substations, your service experience is also dependent on the work they do to maintain their systems. I’m glad to say that other electric providers are finally following our lead, making needed investments in infrastructure and right-ofway maintenance to offer a better service experience. Even more importantly, I’m proud that we led the charge nearly two decades ago on behalf of our customers.

MEC NEWS OF NOTE Upcoming Director Elections One of the seven guiding principles of cooperatives is democratic member control. When you take your electric service from Midwest Energy Ben Russell Gerry Bundle Dan Bodette & Communications, you are more than a consumer; you are an owner who has represented by Ben Russell of a voice and is encouraged to take an Constantine. The district includes active role in the organization’s life. Porter (Cass County), Constantine, Florence, Mottville, and White We are governed by a nine-member Pigeon townships in Michigan and board of directors, and each is elected Washington, York, and Van Buren to serve a three-year term. Directors townships in Indiana. are elected by and represent you and others who live in their district. This Gerry Bundle of Cassopolis is the is an important role, as directors current director in District 7, which make critical decisions on behalf of all includes Jefferson, Calvin, Ontwa, co-op members. and Mason townships in Michigan and Harris and Osolo townships in Indiana. Three board seats are up for election next year. If you are a co-op electric District 9 is currently represented by customer interested in serving, please Dan Bodette. The district includes contact us for an application packet, Hudson, Dover, Madison, Palmyra, then fill out the required forms and Medina, Seneca, Fairfield, Ogden, Riga, secure 30 or more valid co-op customer and southern portions of Blissfield and signatures. Your completed packet Deerfield townships in Michigan. It also must be returned to our Cassopolis includes Brady, Mill Creek, Gorham, office by 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 to be Chesterfield, Royalton, Franklin, Dover, placed on the ballot for one of the three Pike, Clinton, and German townships terms ending in April 2022. Ballots will in Ohio. be mailed and/or emailed to the district members on Feb. 4 and counted on All three directors plan to run for Feb. 25. Board members must reside in re-election. the district they represent. For more information about serving on Seats in Districts 6, 7, and 9 will be the board of directors, please call the up for election. District 6 is currently cooperative at 800-492-5989.

Vote For Your Director Electronically You will have the opportunity to vote electronically if you choose. You will receive an email from the MEC election coordinator with instructions on the voting process on or around Feb. 4. Please verify that we have the correct email address on file by logging into SmartHub and going to My Profile> My Information. You can also call us at 800-492-5989. Please verify your information by Dec. 17. In the meantime, please add noreply@ as an approved sender in

Fuel Mix Report

The fuel mix characteristics of Midwest Energy & Communications as required by Public Act 141 of 2000 for the 12-month period ending 6/30/21.

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

Regional Average Fuel Mix

Emissions And Waste Comparison lbs/MWh

Type of emission/waste

Regional average*

Sulfur Dioxide



Carbon Dioxide



Oxides of Nitrogen





High-Level Nuclear Waste

your email account. Since every email provider is unique, we recommend that you refer to the support section of your email account for instructions on how to do this.

Your co-op

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



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


The Weather Outside Is Frightful B

ut inside your home, it’s so delightful—warm, cozy, and energy efficient!

The holidays tend to bring a flurry of activity to many families whose schedules are already stuffed to the brim, and we aren’t talking about the yummy stuffing that’s served with the Thanksgiving turkey kind of stuff. There is shopping to do, cookies to bake, decorations to display, friends to entertain, and then a big sigh of relief on Jan. 1. Though fun and festive, holiday activities and traditions can put a strain on your finances. Instead of “bah-humbug,” try implementing some of these simple solutions to help you cut costs, saving you money and energy around your home.

operated candles are a safe energy-efficient option while still providing that holiday glow.

Holiday Lighting And Decorations

• Heating

• Switch to LED holiday lights. LED lights are brighter, last longer, and use less electricity than traditional, incandescent lights. Turn off room lights and enjoy the holiday ambiance.

• Light the fireplace. It adds warmth and a cozy mood to the room.

• Use a timer to manage lights. Set timers to automatically turn your holiday lights on at dusk and off at bedtime to cut down on energy costs. • Decorate without lights. Get creative—try reflective ornaments, candles, ribbons, and garland. Battery-

• Turn down the thermostat. Take advantage of having guests in the house to generate heat.

By using these tips this holiday season, you won’t find yourself on the naughty list. Happy holidays to all and to all, happy savings. To learn more, call 877-296-4319 or visit

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

Stay Safe Around Propane e take pride in keeping your home or business protected. Propane is a safe, reliable, and clean energy source, but there are some important safety tips to keep in mind:


If You Suspect A Leak: You should always be on alert for the smell of rotten eggs, especially around a gas appliance or tank. If you do smell gas in your home or other areas around any gas equipment, or if a gas alarm signals the presence of propane, you should immediately follow these suggestions: • Extinguish all smoking materials and any other open flames or sources of ignition. Everyone should vacate the building, vehicle, or area. • Move away without using any electric switches, appliances, thermostats, or telephones. • Close the gas shutoff valve on the propane tank or cylinder. • Call MEC at 800-492-5989 immediately from a cellular telephone or a neighbor’s telephone. We will send a service technician out right away. • Return to the building or area only when the service technician indicates it is safe to do so.

Lighting Pilot Lights If a pilot light goes out repeatedly or if it’s difficult to light, that could indicate a safety issue. Do not try to fix it yourself. Please call a qualified professional.

General Maintenance • Do not run out of gas. Doing so will cause the pilot lights of your appliances to go out, which can be dangerous. We’ll need to perform a pressure test before we can restore service. • Make sure the vents of your appliances and your propane tank are clear of debris, snow, and ice. A blocked vent can result in gas fumes getting trapped inside your home, and snow and ice accumulation can break gas connections on the tank. Please remove both regularly. • Do not try to install, modify, or repair valves, regulators, connectors, controls, or other appliance/ tank parts. You could inadvertently create a gas leak. • Have appliances inspected regularly to ensure proper operation. The Propane Education & Research Council offers more helpful information at If you have further questions, please call us at 800-492-5989.



Every year, nearly 20,000 residential fires are linked to fireplaces. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these tips to help you keep your family safe:

1. Consider scheduling a fireplace inspection and

cleaning by a certified professional.

2. Install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor

of your home. These devices offer low-cost protection and provide early warnings of potential problems.

3. Keep flues, dampers, firestops, flashing, and

chimney caps in good condition.

4. If you have small children and/or pets, consider

a secondary screen. A glass screen can reach temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so an extra barrier can protect them from serious burns.



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



To Honor Those Who Served We were proud sponsors of the Michigan Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall this past September. To pay an extra tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, our linemen displayed the flag over Broadway Street in Cass as the caravan made its way from Dowagiac to Edwardsburg.

Thank You! A nostalgic drive-in theatre setting, perfect evening temps, and blockbuster hits set the backdrop for over 700 MEC customers to enjoy our customer appreciation event at 5 Mile Drive In and Capri Theatre on Sept. 18. We’re glad you came out and hope you enjoyed our small way of saying thank you. We can’t wait to see what next year brings!

Happy Holidays

We will be closed on the dates listed below. Make a payment or report an electric outage via SmartHub or by calling 800-492-5989. Drop box payments made at our solutions centers will be processed on the next open business day. THANKSGIVING Thursday, Nov. 25 & Friday, Nov. 26 CHRISTMAS Friday, Dec. 24 & Monday, Dec. 27


Friday, Dec. 31, 2021

1 Set your thermostat to 68 degrees or cooler to give your heating system a break.

3 Easy Ways to Save Energy This Winter



Replace your HVAC filter regularly. Check it monthly to make sure it’s not too dirty.

Open blinds and other window coverings to let natural light in to warm your home. Remember to close them again at night.

SCAM ALERT If someone calls you claiming to represent us and demands payment, don’t give your credit card info to them. Our employees cannot take payments from you over the phone. In fact, all phone payments have to go through our automated system. Do not give your credit card information to a person over the phone.

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



Why Fiber Internet


e often tell our customers that fiber internet is the gold standard of internet service. But why do we say that? Let us explain:

• Blazing-fast speed: With fiber, pulses of light deliver data over tiny glass strands, making it the fastest internet technology available. Even the fastest satellite speeds can’t touch fiber. • Consistent service: Fiber travels enables us to ensure that you get the speed you pay for and don’t share bandwidth with your neighbors. With cable and satellite, speeds often slow down when more people in the same area use it. Some providers even intentionally slow down speeds to avoid system overload. That’s not the case with fiber. • Reliability: When you rely on satellites for the internet, your experience gets impacted by weather and interference. Unless a major storm knocks down the lines or a critter tries to chomp through the strands, you don’t have to worry about Mother Nature impacting reliability. • Resists interference: Internet delivered via coaxial cable is prone to interference because it carries electrical currents. Fiber does not, so it’s not impacted by that kind of disturbance.

Bottom line: Nothing beats fiber. 16 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021

Understanding Internet Speed Have you ever wondered what Mbps means? Speed, also referred to as bandwidth, is measured in Megabits per second (Mbps) or Gigabits per second (Gbps). It refers to the amount of data that can be transferred every second over an internet connection. Your speed determines the type of activities you can do online and how quickly you can do them. A connection speed of 1 Mbps, for example, allows you to browse web pages easily, but it’s not fast enough to stream HD videos on Netflix. According to Netflix, HD videos require a minimum connection speed of 5 Mbps. This is why trying to watch a video over satellite internet can get frustrating. The speeds can’t handle the demand, and they cause playback to stutter or pause altogether.

Which speed is right for me? That depends on how many people you have in your home, the number of devices, and what you do online. The more people and devices that you have, the more speed you’ll need. To make it simple, check out to take a short quiz and find out what’s best for your household.

BUSINESS INTERNET WITH MEC Get customized service from a local team that understands the unique needs of rural business. Service Includes • 100% fiber means blazing-fast speeds and 99.999% uptime. • Symmetrical download and upload speeds. • No data caps. • 24/7 technical support. • Outage restoration priority. • Managed Wi-Fi with industry-leading equipment built for small businesses and home offices. • Free mobile app to manage connected devices, set up guest networks, test speeds, see bandwidth usage, and more. Advanced device control and network security also available. Must use managed Wi-Fi service to access app.

Additional Services Available: • Static IP Addresses - $5 each • Advanced SLA - $100 per month • Ethernet Private Line* • Ethernet Virtual Private LAN* *Pricing available upon request.


Business Internet Package Pricing 1-49 USERS/EMPLOYEES Speed

Monthly Price

100 Mbps


250 Mbps


500 Mbps


1 Gbps



Monthly Price

100 Mbps


250 Mbps


500 Mbps


1 Gbps


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.

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No data caps, no throttling, and no frustration | 800.492.5989 Internet services are not regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

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