Big Head Farm wins big through technology

Coloma resident Alex Garcia, who lives in Chicago during the winter months, picks blueberries Tuesday morning at Big Head Farm in Coloma. Big Head Farm was awarded with a $10,000 check Tuesday as part of a competition through Comcast. The public was invited to pick berries, paid for by Comcast, as part of the festivities. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Coloma resident Alex Garcia, who lives in Chicago during the winter months, picks blueberries Tuesday morning at Big Head Farm in Coloma. Big Head Farm was awarded with a $10,000 check Tuesday as part of a competition through Comcast. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

COLOMA — Karen Warner was the recipient of $10,000 as a result of technology. However, the Coloma farmer nearly missed out on the $10,000 because of technology.

After entering into a business competition sponsored by Comcast, Warner was sitting on her sofa with her laptop and iPad close by. She happened to glance at her iPad and saw the email from those running the contest notifying her she was a finalist. The same email had not come through on her laptop because it went to her spam folder.

“I could have missed it completely if I didn’t have the iPad with me,” Warner said. “I never check my junk mail. You had to sign this paperwork to show that you were eligible. I ran down to the UPS store yelling, ‘I have to get this thing sent up.'”

Warner said she is always in search of free money and applies for grants and other competitions. She did a quick online search for business competitions and found one from Comcast. Warner proceeded to write a 250-word essay on how she would use the money to grow her business.

The organic farmer, who is known for her blueberries and apples, was later selected as a regional winner for the Innovation for Entrepreneurs Contest.

Out of the 16 entrepreneurs and 16 start-up businesses picked around the country, Warner was chosen to represent the Greater Chicago Region by Comcast’s Corporate Group. Warner’s ideas to better improve her business by incorporating technology hit a bell with the company.

“One of the things about farming is that it’s a very dangerous industry,” Warner said. “A lot of times you are by yourself, working with heavy equipment. If you’re out in the field a mile from the road and you get yourself trapped, you still need to let the EMS know where you are. They can get to your address, but not necessarily find you.”

A $10,000 check sits idly by Tuesday, later to be awarded to the owner and operator of Big Farm Head in Coloma as part of a competition. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

A $10,000 check sits idly by Tuesday, later to be awarded to the owner and operator of Big Farm Head in Coloma as part of a competition. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Her plan that was pitched in the written essay was to include smartphones and install Wi-Fi on her property, so she could always be located.

Warner said she plans on using technology to do the record keeping for organic productions and for the point of sales system. Instead of jotting things down on paper, Warner intends to ring up the order at a register and take credit card payments.

“The other thing I did was add the ability to take food stamps,” she said. “I’m still waiting for the technology to arrive, but I am now a vendor for Michigan food stamps. People can come and buy fresh produce if they are low income.”

Using technology

Jack Segal, vice president of communications for Comcast’s Greater Chicago Region, was in Coloma at Big Head Farm on Tuesday morning to present Warner with the $10,000 check. After the check was awarded, Comcast paid for some of the blueberry picking that took place.

“Technology is something you wouldn’t think about on a farm,” Segal said. “(Warner’s) plan had some really amazing uses, including the safety component.”

A few familiar faces from the area came out for the ceremony.

State Rep. Al Pscholka made an appearance and said he was pleased to see Comcast recognize Warner for her ingenuity. Alongside him was state Sen. John Proos, who said he liked to see the entrepreneurial spirit that Warner has showcased.

“Anytime that you can combine technology with the timeless benefit of agriculture in Southwest Michigan, you see the opportunity for growth and job creation,” he said. “Karen’s operation is one example of the hundreds of businesses that are making such a difference in our economy.”

Upon benefiting from the competition, Warner said she will be a resource for any local farmers who have not yet caught onto the technological wave that is sweeping “agri-businesses.”

“People don’t know you’re out here unless you tell them you’re out here,” she said. “You can grow a lot of great product, but a lot of farmers aren’t great at selling their product. If you don’t have your business on the Internet, you don’t exist in today’s world.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 23, 2015)

Cultivating a new brew: Berrien Springs brewer to include on-premise growing, tasting room

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Two years and another seven months.

That’s how long Nick Kuhn has been waiting to unleash Cultivate Brewing Co. to the public. It was two years spent seeking approval and gathering the financial backing he needed, with an additional seven months spent on renovations.

“It took some twists and turns from ownership structure, the location, name and financial backing,” he said. “We were able to purchase the property in June of last year and closed on a commercial loan in November.”

As owner of the brewing company, Kuhn already runs a real estate management business in Chicago, but says this new venture into barley and hops has always been a passion of his.

While the opening date for company at 961 E. Shawnee Road in Berrien Springs remains unannounced, Kuhn said it is set to arrive shortly.

“The date will be revealed very soon,” Kuhn said. “It’s very close and a few more pieces need to come together. We want to be able to offer a good variety of beers. So, we want to have at least seven of our beers on tap. The last three weeks has been just complete mayhem on the brewers.”

Cultivate Brewing is considered a working farm, growing its own barley and hops on premise. Kuhn said he wants craft beer enthusiasts to enjoy this new way of being a part of the craft process. Cultivate Brewing is stationed on an 18-acre farm and will allow visitors to walk through the hops and barley being grown on site.

(Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Nick Kuhn pours a glass of beer from inside his new brewery in Coloma. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Kuhn, a Baroda resident, calls it “farm-to-pint brewing.”

The idea was to merge the two concepts of great soil for growing and the surge in the hops industry.

“Hops needs to grow in between specific latitudes and longitudes, and Southwest Michigan falls within those parameters,” Kuhn said. “There is also this shift in a societal standpoint that people want to know more about where their food is coming from. We are doing something really neat here. We want people experiencing beer, not just drinking it.”

A barley field can be seen next to the brewery, with a nature trail feeding around it to allow drinkers to walk through and read signs about the barley they are consuming.

From the soil to a glass

Nicholas Dumon, brewer and St. Joseph resident, was living and working in Chicago when he first heard about Kuhn’s idea. Dumon was teaching a brewing class when Kuhn and a few of his friends stumbled into the course.

A few days later Kuhn came back and made Dumon an offer.

“With Cultivate Brewing Co., what really stands out is the connection to the land,” Dumon said. “We are situated on a gorgeous piece of land where we have these ingredients to make beer. We have a more imminent connection to where beer actually comes from. That really sets us apart.”

The site is not all farm though.

Cultivate Brewing has a shaded-porch area that seats 50, a tasting room inside that can fit up to 50 people and a patio outside that can hold 60.

Kuhn said the brewery will start out by offering nine traditional styles of beer. It won’t serve food in a traditional restaurant sense, but will include snacks.

Tasting room hours will be from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. The brewery will welcome walk-ins, but Kuhn asks people to schedule reservations for groups of eight or more.

Kuhn said he has always been interested in the creative process of taking nothing and making it into something tangible.

“It’s a fun passion. I think it was Jimmy Fallon who said ‘thank you craft beer for making my drinking habit seem like a hobby,'” Kuhn said. “It’s a big undertaking because you’re not just opening a brewing company, you’re also getting an active farm up and running at the same time.”

To learn more about Cultivate brewing Co., visit its website at www.cultivatebrewing.com/locations.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015)

Benton Township Trustees approve bypass valve installation

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — While it may be summer, Benton Township officials are planning ahead for winter.

Trustees unanimously approved to pay $8,900 to have Great Lakes Specialty Diving install a bypass valve in the township’s intake pipeline to prevent any ice blockage.

Water Plant Supervisor Kyle Tryan presented his findings to the trustees, who had asked him questions about the valve’s function and durability.

“It’s basically going to be a spring-loaded check valve that will normally stay closed,” he said, “but if the screens in Lake Michigan get plugged with frazil ice, the valve would pop open and allow water to go through. This would prevent us from shutting down our water and being stranded.”

While Benton Township didn’t have any problems with ice blockage last winter, it was the winter before when the township had three instances of the pipeline being shut down to clear itself up.

Tryan gave the board a reminder of what frazil ice is and what it does to screens on an intake valve when ice accumulates.

“Frazil ice is where the water gets really cold and ice crystals get stirred into it throughout the depth of the water,” he said. “These tiny ice crystals collect on the intake screens and eventually plug it up.”

The total cost comes in two parts, as the cost of the valve itself is $5,700, installation will be $3,200.

Trustee Carolyn Fowler asked what Great Lakes Specialty Diving, a Benton Harbor company, would do for the total asking price.

“They would have someone build the valve, and then they themselves will go down, bring the flange up, fabricate it and install (the bypass valve) to the flange,” Tryan said.

Part of the service fee would include sending divers down to inspect the bypass valve annually. The four-man commercial dive team would take an underwater camera and record a video for the township to view.

Tryan said the valve would be made out of stainless steel and would require no maintenance. As long as a boat or ship does not run into the pipeline in which the valve is located, Tryan said the valve should last a lifetime.

Another option would be to buy and install a bubbler system, which would force air through the blocked pipeline. However, Tryan told trustees the bubbler system would cost between $15,000 and $20,000 after buying an air compressor and a line to get the air down to the valve.

The valve’s installation is expected to begin by late fall.

There will be a Benton Township workshop meeting open to the public at 9:30 a.m., July 31 at the township hall. The next regular township meeting will be Aug. 4.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 22, 2015)

United Way of Southwest Michigan sets $3.85 million goal

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Another year means a new campaign for the United Way of Southwest Michigan.

The charitable organization announced Tuesday it has set its goal for the 2015 campaign at $3.85 million. The money raised will go toward making changes in United Way’s impact areas of education, income, health and basic needs.

“We really want the community as a whole to come together to support United Way because change is about all of us coming together,” said Scott McFarland, Honor Credit Union’s president and this year’s United Way campaign chairman.

To launch the 2015 campaign, seven companies along with the United Way are dubbed “Pacesetters” in an effort to lead by example for the overall campaign. These organizations start their United Way campaigns early, use a number of best practices, and set goals to increase participation and money raised.

The 2015 Pacesetters were chosen and include Competitive Edge, Edgewater Bank, Honor Credit Union, Kemner-Iott Agency, Meijer of Benton Harbor, Meijer of Stevensville and Mid-West Family Broadcasting.

United Way served 63,000 people throughout every community in Berrien and Cass counties last year. These community members were helped through 48 United Way-funded programs along with several community initiatives.

In addition to the funds raised, many programs leveraged United Way funds to bring in another $2.2 million through federal and state grants. Altogether, the total value of United Way of Southwest Michigan in 2014 was about $7.3 million.

“Thank you for continuing to give your time and dollars to help people right here in Southwest Michigan,” said Anna Murphy, president of United Way of Southwest Michigan. “We are investing in programs and initiatives that change the root cause of our communities’ toughest issues and we hope you will join us again.”

The 2015 fundraising campaign will begin Sept. 14. To learn more or to get involved with United Way, visit its page at facebook.com/unitedwayswmich.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 22, 2015)

Restaurants, servers open up about ‘dine and dash’ customers

Jenny Johnson, a server at Schu’s Grill and Bar, talks with a few customers Monday afternoon in downtown St. Joseph. Restaurants and servers have to be watchful at times to prevent walk outs. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Jenny Johnson, a server at Schu’s Grill and Bar, talks with a few customers Monday afternoon in downtown St. Joseph. Restaurants and servers have to be watchful at times to prevent walk outs. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

A server’s worst nightmare on the job is a “dine and dash.”

Many times the act of eating and running out by avoiding to pay the check can have a large impact on both employees and the businesses themselves.

221 Main Restaurant & Cocktail House suffered a dine and dash last Saturday. Jennifer Cowsert, a server since she was 18, said it happened when 221 Main normally gets them – during the busy night scene.

As a server on weekends and a manager on weekdays, Cowsert said the staff often gets credit cards from customers before they start tabs. This past Saturday, the group that walked out had come in from a different restaurant that had lost power.

“They were under the impression that they would have it under the tab for the other business,” Cowsert said. “There was a $105 tab that a group of them had and they decided to leave, thinking they had put it on the other business’ tab. Since we didn’t get the credit card beforehand, the servers had to pay.”

Cowsert said the largest bill anyone ever stuck her with was $264.

It also hurts the server in other ways.

“If there is a walkout, we still have to give out 2 percent to the bartenders, to the food runners, to the busboys,” Cowsert said. “We tip out quite a bit. When something like that happens, we are basically paying you for eating here.”

Jim Kramer, owner of three downtown St. Joseph restaurants and one in Dowagiac, said while walkouts happen, it’s not as frequent as one might think. He said one a month is typical.

Kramer said rush hour presents the most opportunity for walkouts. He estimated that they cost his restaurants more than $1,000 in sales each year.

“There’s really not much that we can do,” he said. “We let it go. We’ve never really called the police.”

“It’s not something that happens a lot for us,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t notice it. When it does, it’s usually because one of them uses the bathroom, while the other leaves.”

Repeat offenders

Randy Deaton, a manager for Redamak’s in New Buffalo, said normal protocol there is to speak with the server after it happens.

“Every once in a while we’ll call the police if it is a repeat offender,” Deaton said. “Most of the time it happens with our smaller parties. The more people there are, the harder it is for them to walk out on us. Although with the amount of people that come in, it’s surprising we don’t get more.”

At Coach’s Bar and Grill in Stevensville, co-owner Jeannine Van Liere said she has yet to experience an actual dine and dash.

Van Liere said people have forgotten to pay and then come back the next day to pay.

In the event of a walkout, Van Liere said employees are instructed to print out the ticket and write it off as a walkout for the books.

“It’s bad because you’re affecting the actual business and the employees that work there,” she said. “Someone has to cover that. It hurts everybody.”

Kramer said he has sympathy, if the issue is that someone simply can’t afford to pay.

“If you dine and dash here, there is a good chance you’ll get caught,” Kramer said. “If you are that hungry and can’t afford to eat, just let us know and we’ll take care of you. There are two or three homeless guys that we feed at least once a week.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015)

Missing bathrobes: Hotels discuss popular items taken, left behind by guests

Silver Beach Hotel in downtown St. Joseph is one of the many hotels in Berrien County that have to replace items like towels and batteries that are taken by guests. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Silver Beach Hotel in downtown St. Joseph is one of the many hotels in Berrien County that have to replace items like towels and batteries that are taken by guests. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

It’s no surprise people steal towels and robes from hotel rooms. But would anyone take chair cushions or light bulbs?

While Wi-Fi, parking and breakfast is normally free, guests have been known to take just about anything that isn’t screwed to the floor.

Cody Scott, who works at the front desk at the Silver Beach Hotel in downtown St. Joseph, said the normal items taken from their hotel includes towels, batteries and pillows.

Scott has worked at Silver Beach hotel for six months, but has been working in the hotel trade for eight years. In his time there and at other hotels, Scott has seen just about everything lifted from rooms.

“Light bulbs get stolen more than you think as well,” he said. “The strangest thing I’ve seen taken was a coaxial cable to the TV. When I was with Holiday Inn, sheets would go fast. But that’s because they have the super- high thread count.”

It has been the same type of material stolen for the last decade. Scott attributes this to the fact that hotels are not adding different items to the rooms.

“It’s usually the stuff they think we don’t pay attention to,” Scott said. “The batteries are the ones that get me every time, but I guess they are expensive.”

Cindy Southland, desk manager at Comfort Suites in Lincoln Township, said they haven’t had a lot of items stolen from their rooms.

Once in a while a towel or two will go missing, but Southland said their guests are pretty good about it.

“There is not a lot you can remove from hotel rooms anymore. We get a lot of requests for our pillows and mattresses,” Southland said. “Once in a while the bath towels go down in quantity, but we lose more to wear and tear. I think the most surprising thing stolen was a comforter. How they got it out of here I don’t know, but that was years ago.”

Ricquesha Page works the front desk at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in Benton Township, and said they have to replace towels on a regular basis.

“We do have to restock often because of that,” she said. “It can cost a lot because they’re nice towels and plush. We can’t stop every guest and check their bags. It is what it is.”

Scott agreed with that sentiment as he said stolen items cost the Silver Beach Hotel about $5,000 a year to be replenished.

“No, it’s not really something you can control,” he said.

Among the common misconceptions many hotels deal with is the idea things like towels and bathrobes are assumed to be complimentary.

“They definitely are not. We don’t charge for them, but no, they are not free to take.”

Forgetful guests

Another norm that each hotel sees outside of stolen items is what guests leave behind.

From eye glasses to shoes and socks, Southland said there is plenty to find in the lost-and-found area in the Lincoln Township motel.

“You name it, they leave it,” she said. “Medications. Bathing suits. We have several boxes full of cellphone chargers. Those are the most popular thing left behind. I think I could start my own store.”

As soon as an item is discovered after the rooms are cleaned, Southland said the guests are called, and if they are still in the area, they try to get someone to pick it up for them. If they are long gone, Southland takes it over to Postal Connections to have it shipped back.

At Silver Beach Hotel, iPads, cellphones and chargers are constantly found when a room is tossed and cleaned.

Scott said the hotel has a lost-and-found bin that is emptied every 90 days if items are left unclaimed.

“We do get rid of the items after a while,” he said. “Strangest thing we find are (adult) toys. Those are left quite often. The main thing to remember is that you have to check to see you have everything and that nothing in the room is acceptable to walk out with, except for maybe shampoos.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 19, 2015)

Whirlpool begins construction on final stage of Riverview Campus

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Construction began Monday on the third and final phase of Whirlpool Corp.’s Riverview Campus in Benton Harbor.

Activity in the area included clean up of the area surrounding the new wing and the demolition of old asphalt.

“We are excited to begin Phase 3 and anticipate construction will be completed in Q3 of 2016,” said Juliet Johnson, Whirlpool’s Media and Public Relations manager. “This will represent our continued investment in the growth of our company and our commitment to the community.”

Other work will include the driving of steel support girders, known as piles, which are the long poles driven into the soil to provide foundation support for the building.

The pile driving will occur daily into August, Johnson said.

Work will take place on the corner at Riverview and Main streets next to the Riverview Building where the area is fenced off.

“We appreciate the community’s patience and support during this time,” Johnson said. “Once complete, the Riverview Campus will house about 1,325 North American Region employees.”

The original plans for the third phase called for a two-story building with retail space along Main Street, with nothing east of Riverview Drive.

Revised plans called for a three-story building and no retail space, along with more parking east of Riverview Drive. This included the demolition of the former Red Cross building at the corner of Main Street and Riverview Drive for the additional parking.

It has been reported the overall plan will cost an estimated $86 million, including about $65 million to build the Riverview Campus.

The project was undertaken with the support of the Benton Harbor City Commission, Cornerstone Alliance, Berrien County and the state of Michigan.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015)