In this essay published in our late August edition of the Sun, Empire native Jessica Sharry reflects on moving from Northern Michigan to Finland and back, on practicing yoga, on immigration, on food, and on nature.

Local troubadour and gardener Chris Skellenger and former Buckets of Rain treasurer Mike Binsfeld have created a new nonprofit called Row by Row, which helps economically challenged Guatemala women establish community gardens on vacant public land. Buckets of Rain previously taught bucket drip irrigation to communities in Lesotho and Detroit. Skellenger also plays guitar and sings at Boonedocks, Little Traverse Inn, French Valley Vineyard, Cherry Republic, and Lake Ann Brewery with an assortment of his musical friends. And Skellenger is the new nursery manager at the expanded Northwood’s Hardware & Garden Center in Glen Arbor. “We are so happy to have Chris Skellenger to help us get this going,” said co-owner Jeff Gietzen. “He is a skilled, legitimate nursery person.”

There is no real government support for Guatemala’s first responders. When they’re not on a fire or ambulance call, they are out in the streets getting donations in coffee cans from passing drivers to fund their meager salaries and minimal equipment. Most of them have to fight fires in jeans and t-shirts. Serious injuries are endemic to their work. When Guatemalan Fredy Maldonado showed Burdickville’s Mike Binsfeld the situation, Binsfeld stepped up the Buckets of Rain commitment to include money for fixing fire station roofs and ambulances, and to provide medicine for the community. Through his efforts and those of Leelanau County resident Kathy Fordyce and her outreach to local firefighters at the Cedar Fire Dept., desperately needed gear is now making its way to Guatemala.

“Come here, my joy, my happiness,” Liubov Shchegelska tells her grandson, Tim, in Ukrainian as the 2-year-old boy plays in the yard outside his parents’ Traverse City apartment. Tim’s parents are Viktor Grebennykov and Diana Grebennykova, natives of Ukraine who moved to northern Michigan in 2019 when Viktor—an Olympian in the 2012 London games—became coach of the Lake Leelanau Rowing Club. Liubov, who is Diana’s mom, could almost tune out the war ravaging her homeland—the conflict that sent her across borders and into the United States just two weeks before—but also allowed her to meet her grandchildren, Tim, and his 4-year-old sister, Ellis, for the very first time. On this day she could almost tune out the war. Almost.

Lake Leelanau Rowing Club coach Viktor Grebennykov and his wife Diana—both natives of Ukraine who currently live in Traverse City— aren’t hiding news of the war in their homeland from their young children. But they moderate which videos and photos Ellis, 4, and Tim, 2, see on the television and computer screens, even as the Russian military continues its daily shelling of Ukrainian cities. Nevertheless, the children comprehend the human costs of this hellish war, and how it endangers family members whom they have never met but know from frequent video chats.

Peter Richards had an unassuming Leelanau County life, growing up in Suttons Bay, and graduating from Glen Lake High School in 2004. And then it hit: photography entered his life as he entered Northern Michigan University that fall.

Chocolate making is an incredible journey. For Grocer’s Daughter this journey starts in Ecuador. Near the small town of Calceta, in western Ecuador, sits the Fortaleza Del Valle cocoa cooperative. Nearly 900 small, family cacao farms rely on the cooperative to obtain expensive Fair Trade and Organic certifications, carefully process their beans and ensure that they will be sold for a fair, living wage.

The Leelanau School featured a special graduation speaker during its commencement ceremony on June 3. Alum Arya Khoshnegah, together with his sister Laila, left Iran as teenagers and enrolled at the private boarding school north of Glen Arbor, just before the 1979 revolution that changed the fortunes of their family and their country. Leelanau, which specializes in experiential learning and small class sizes in a beautiful setting, graduated 19 seniors who hail from 11 states. Distinguished alumni have included survivors of wars and natural disasters, children of statesmen and accomplished actors.

The January 21, 2017, Women’s March on Washington, D.C. attracted more than half a million demonstrators to the banks of the Potomac. Writer Anne-Marie Oomen of Empire, and other Leelanau women shared their experiences from that day.

Like many in Flint’s Latino immigrant community, Yaquelin Vargas said she didn’t learn until late January that Flint’s drinking water was lead poisoned. Vargas, a U.S. citizen, said she drank tap water while she was pregnant, and as she first began breastfeeding Lydia, now 8 months old, who suffers from lead poisoning.