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Friday, July 11, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/24/2013

Tecumseh store features products made in Michigan

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

We Michigan natives know maple syrup and are always ready to debate anyone from Vermont that ours is more mellow, a deeper amber, and that our maple trees are blessed by the Great Lakes Lakes climate.

But, hickory syrup? That’s was a new one on me, until I ventured into the Grey Fox Floral Co., in Tecumseh.

The syrup, made by Derek and Pam Brereton in their Adrian home, is one of hundreds of products in the Michigan Wares display that are made by local artisans who welcomed Jan Fox’s invitation to bring in their products.

The Grey Fox, a floral design and retail shop, is located on Evans Street in a large house in downtown Tecumseh. When the economy took a downward turn, Mrs. Fox divided the space into five entities to increase traffic. Michigan Wares is one of the five.

The other businesses include Tecumseh Coins, operated by Mrs. Fox’s husband, Gary Fox, a retired Springfield High School teacher. He emphasizes collectibles and appraisals. Nettie’s Used Book Nook and Dip Stix and Stuff are the other businesses under the Grey Fox umbrella.

Viewing the Michigan products that range from granite home décor, handmade hats and bird feeders to designer candy and one-of-a-kind fabric purses is like attending a small craft festival. The selling is left to Mrs. Fox and her employees.

There is no need to ask anyone how the hickory syrup tastes. You can taste for yourself using tiny spoons and an open bottle of syrup. After one spoon, I judged the syrup to have an earthy quality, but not as sweet as maple. Of course it has a nutty flavor; it comes from a nut tree. Unlike maple it is not a product of sap, but of the bark.

Mr. Brereton is a retired professor of anthropology at Adrian College who enjoys projects in his retirement that have included a birch bark canoe. His interest in the syrup was tapped when he read an ad for hickory syrup in Lehman’s catalog. Lehman’s is an Amish hardware store in Kidron, O. The ad prompted him to try to make syrup using the maple syrup method of collecting sap. But, no sap came.

He then heard it could be made from boiling the bark. The Breretons have a supply of hickory trees on their property near Manchester, Mich., which gave them a head start on production. But now that the product is well established in the market place, he says that he and his wife Pam have to forage for bark.

Soaring Hill Hickory Syrup is sold mostly in eight and 16-ounce jars, but the Breretons will also oblige with half gallon and gallon containers. In addition to the Tecumseh store, the syrup is sold at Zingerman’s and Morgan and York in Ann Arbor, and each Saturday at the Ann Arbor farmer’s market from mid spring through Christmas.

When granite is the subject, the average person thinks of kitchen counter tops. But Dan Schulte of Petersburg, another one of the Michigan vendors, sees slabs of the hard rock as a media for candleholders, lazy Susans with matching napkin holders, cheese boards labeled Michigan State or University of Michigan, and other designs.

Mr. Schulte, who has a lawn and landscape business in Petersburg, said he got the idea for the granite artwork from another vendor at a trade show when he was selling eco friendly water bottle carriers. He decided the granite products would be a hotter product in more ways than just sales and now he makes them in his shop in Petersburg. The company name is Midwest Rocks of Fire.

In addition to the Tecumseh store he and his wife, Jennifer, travel to shows and expect to have space when the Shipshewana on the Road show comes to Sylvania. Midwest Granite in Toledo is the source for the scrap granite slabs.

The handcrafted products that are made by Sue and Mark Schalk at Two Branch Ranch, near Saline, Mi., are especially welcome in winter. The Schalks are alpaca breeders and utilize the processed sheared wool to make beautiful items that guarantee warmth.

The stockings that are made on a special machine are Mr. Schalk’s specialty while Mrs. Schalk’s weaving skills focus on the scarves and rugs. They also sell raw wool and wool roping to hobbyists who do hand spinning. They have raised alpacas for 10 years and currently have 21 of the animals.

Their products, sold under the Two Branch Ranch label, are also sold every Saturday at the indoor Saline Farmer’s Market at Liberty School.

Information on specific products of other vendors is available at greyfox@tc3net.com



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