Saturday, September 2, 2017

Country Mill’s Forbidden Fruit

The Tenneses join a growing list of florists, photographers, filmmakers, and cake bakers who have lost a portion of their livelihood for upholding a Biblical definition of marriage. Last May, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Tenneses, stating their religious views have no bearing on their involvement in the market and the city violated their constitutional rights.


CHARLOTTE, Mich.—The day before Steve Tennes was born, his father, siblings, and grandmother planted more than 3,000 apple trees on the family’s newly acquired 120-acre Charlotte, Mich., farm, earning him an orchard in his name.

Forty years later that orchard still bears fruit. On a humid, rainy night in June, Tennes wore his signature red polo outside the nearly 150-year-old house where he grew up and he and his wife Bridget now raise their five children. They also run Country Mill Farms, a popular Michigan fruit-picking destination known for its produce, cider mill, and baked goods—and for hosting weddings at times.

This summer Tennes drove me in his golf cart down muddy paths and between rows of pumpkin and blueberry patches; sweet corn fields; and apple, cherry, and peach trees. He told me that each of his kids, including one son who died before birth, now has a namesake orchard. But he also told me that officials in East Lansing, a city 22 miles away that is home to Michigan State University, have banned him and his family from the farmers market there.

That’s odd, since last August the East Lansing farmers market Facebook page read: “We love The Country Mill!” It’s the largest of the five farmers markets at which the Tennes family for seven years has sold apples, peaches, blueberries, cherries, homemade doughnuts, and cider slushies. Tennes has spent years planting and cultivating now-plentiful organic fruit trees to meet East Lansing’s demand: “It’s a long-term investment.”

The good relationship changed late last year when a Facebook user asked if the Country Mill would host a same-sex wedding at its orchard. Tennes, a devout Catholic, responded “no.” East Lansing city officials saw that response and within days repeatedly called and emailed with requests not to come the following week because they feared protests.

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