Claire and Jerome Vandenberg are innkeepers at At Willow Pond B&B in Fenwick, just outside Greenville and northeast of Grand Rapids. Claire and Jerome have secrets…. secrets they are willing to share with you provided you keep them under your hat. Promise?
At Willow Pond is smack in between two communities so self-contained, they are sometimes perceived as reclusive. They have shops with food stuffs and fabrics, furniture and quilts and hand-made lace you would never know were there if the innkeepers weren’t willing to tell you. That’s because the Mennonites to the east and the Amish to the northwest aren’t online and often don’t even have telephones. They don’t advertise anywhere, except by word-of-mouth. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a sign in a front yard — and that’s your only clue to these secret gems sprinkled throughout the rural countryside.
Claire says they shop at The Country Pantry, a bulk food store and more at 6440 E Carson City Rd in Sheridan, 989-584-6291. The store features a deli with delicious meats and cheeses and a wide variety of produce the owners and nearby farmers grow. It also features baked goods and homemade snacks, hand-made lace and amazing chiming clocks and…. And the owners breed Labradoodles. Business cards and a sign out front are the extent of their advertising.
The owners are friends of the family that owns Whitetail Hollow. Their store is out in the country and features beautifully-crafted rustic, hand-made log furniture. They also offer a wide variety of decor and gift items, candles, blankets, art and more. Like The Country Pantry, Whitetail Hollow has no presence on the World Wide Web and doesn’t advertise. The store is located at 5139 Town Hall Road, Sheridan, 989-291-5599.
The Amish are another story. North of the City of Greenville and south of Lakeview, discover Farm Country Cheese House, which makes and sells “Artisan-style Amish Cheese.” It is not owned by Amish: the Amish make the cheese. And while it does boast a website, it also posts a sign saying “No Pictures.” That’s why there are no pictures of it or any Amish store in this post.
Here, more than 25 varieties of cheese are made from grass-fed cows, hand-milked by the Amish who own them. You can watch them make the cheese from behind a huge viewing window, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Within a couple miles of the cheese house, you can also visit Mary’s Bake Shop as well as a rustic hand-made furniture store and numerous homes with signs advertising quilts, rag rugs and hand-made baskets. Just stop in, any day except Sunday.
Amish? Mennonite? What’s the difference? Sara from The Country Pantry told Claire that while their beliefs are essentially the same, there are a few simple differences. Amish worship in people’s homes; Mennonites have a place of worship. Amish have beards; Mennonite don’t. Both dress modestly, although the Amish are more plain while the Mennonite wear color. Both use horse and buggy and work their farms with horses. Mennonite have phone and electric power; Amish do not.
If you’d like to explore these extra-well-kept secrets, At Willow Pond invites you to stay with them and take it all in. Besides giving you a luxurious night’s sleep and freshly-laid eggs in the morning — even a horseback ride or a fishing pole for the pond, Claire will make sure you have directions to these and other hidden-away shops just waiting-to-be-discovered.
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