Michigan Beer Fest

Along with @stevendkrause, I attended the Michigan Beer Fest on Friday evening in Ypsi’s Riverside Park. Sold out venue opened at 5 p.m. The line looked like this from the bridge over the Huron River, near Depot Town.

Riverside Park Opening Line

For thirty-five bucks, you get a five ounce cup and a plastic baggy with fifteen tokens, each good for a three ounce sample. They provide a map, but it’s an ambling scene, more wandering than purposefully itinerant. The only factors affecting my thinking as we went in were 1) need to get some food, 2) want to stop by Original Gravity’s booth, 3) prefer IPAs, and 4) venue closes at 9 p.m. I’m not so excited about the wildest experimental brews, but I sought to intermix the stuff I thought I would like with the stuff that was funky and offbeat. Here’s the list:

  1. Rad 2 the Max from Pike 51 (top three of the night)
  2. Belgian Saison from Bob’s Brewery (came with bratwurst)
  3. Reclamation IPA from Ore Dock, only representative from UP (forgettable flavor)
  4. Root Down Ginger Beer from Original Gravity, Milan, MI
  5. Coconut Cream Ale, 51 North, Lake Orion (terrible; coconut cream pie and bud light, as if sipped from Hawaiian Tropics bottle)
  6. Sassafras Dark Day IPA from Olde peninsula in Kalamazoo (odd vanilla scent; sassafras note, pleasant)
  7. Cheboygan Brewing Co, Blood Orange Honey (too fruity for me; light and summery)
  8. Mistress Jades Hemp Ale, Sherwood (p good)
  9. Spiney Norman IPA, Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City, MI, (top three of the night; a good, hoppy IPA)
  10. Also tried Mangalista Pig Porter from Right Brain (bacon; brewed with pig heads; sip is plenty)
  11. Ol’ Dale, Mountain Town Brewery, Mt. Pleasant
  12. Twice Licked Kitty from Rupert’s Brew House
  13. 4C’z Slam IPA from Farmington Brewing Co. (never again)
  14. Low End Theory black IPA, Batch Brewing Company
  15. Barrelman English IPA from Shorts
  16. Hop in Yer Rye from Saugatuck Brewing Co. (top three of the night)
  17. Figpa IPA from Dark Horse variety station

Not much else to add, besides these photos:

Brewed in Mt. Pleasant

Hippie Drum-Bagpipe Band

Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA)

A few weeks ago, I attended a “Regional Faculty Conversation” about the new Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA), an effort to update and improve seamless transfer among Michigan’s community colleges and public colleges and universities. There were three such conversations across the state in three days. I attended the four-hour get-together at Washtenaw Community College along with approximately 50 faculty and administrators from other programs in SE Michigan (e.g., Jackson College, Schoolcraft, Washtenaw CC, Henry Ford, Wayne State, Saginaw Valley State, UM-Dearborn, and EMU). The new MTA is an update to MACRAO, which has been the acronym used to name a comparable agreement initiated 42 years ago (though not updated since) and also for the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers.

The MTA was approved by the state-wide Council of Presidents last September, and it is scheduled to begin this fall. According to those who led the conversation, the state legislature prompted the update to MACROA in 2011. Generally, the agreement is a good idea. It is student-friendly and it stands to encourage efforts across two- and four-year colleges to make sure their lower division courses bear family resemblance. It brings Michigan into alignment with comparable efforts in other states. And it is long overdue. Forty-two years should not pass without such an agreement being revisited, but that’s the sort of thick-crust stagnation that becomes possible absent any high education authority in the state.

I’m writing a bit about MTA, though, and translating my notes into this entry, because the agreement includes a significant change related to writing. This slide sums up that change. Additional materials from the meeting are available at the Michigan Center for Student Success website.

Essentially, the highlighted lines indicate that the old agreement, MACRAO, required students to complete a two-course sequence in writing. MACRAO is clear about this point: students had to complete six credit hours in English Composition. The MTA, however, allows students to satisfy the agreement (and therefore, to become eligible for a full general education waiver) with one composition course and a second course in composition or speech. The new requirement requires less writing, and yet we are at the same time hearing continued pleas for more writing on all sides, particularly among campus stakeholders.

It might not seem like much, but this change creates conditions at odds with the design of first-year writing programs premised on a Comp I and Comp II sequence, in which Comp I offers foundational experience with writing in college and Comp II builds upon and extends those experiences to include research-based academic writing. The new MTA appears to create a path into the university along which students could satisfy general education never having explicit, direct experience with research-based academic writing. Stop for a moment to consider this. I mean this as a fair characterization of what the MTA sets up, and I would urge caution before weighing in with axiological conclusions, tempting though they might be. Late last summer, Michigan WPAs wrote, signed, and sent a letter expressing concerns about this change, but the Council of Presidents approved the MTA and assented to its Fall 2014 implementation in spite of the request for more consideration of the change to writing and input from faculty colleagues with expertise, training, and experience in rhetoric/composition/writing studies and writing program administration.

This preamble should be enough to catch others up on a few of the concerns that continuing faculty conversations might address.

  • At the May 15 Regional Faculty Conversation, there was quite a bit of discussion about convening a subcommittee who would suggest changes to the MTA that would clarify the focus of the composition course required to satisfy the MTA. Without such clarification, the MTA (as written) appears to allow one-credit writing courses (i.e., nothing explicitly prohibits this). It also allows combinations of Comp I and speech. Comp I could be online, accelerated, basic skills focused, or just about anything ranging from computationally scored five-paragraph themes to full-on project-based and portfolio-assessed courses. The subcommittee would, as much as possible, define common ground for the composition course. But would its input be incorporated into MTA? At the May 15 meeting, it remained unclear whether revisions, amendments, or footnotes could be introduced after this fall. Notably, the MTA doesn’t include any explicit provision for updates or future revisions.
  • Input throughout the process was either mishandled, miscommunicated, or never regarded as especially important by those organizing and leading the project. It’s not clear. Perhaps there was a sense that representation was adequate? To be fair, input would have slowed the process down, and it would have been resource-intensive to invite and involve more people. Math faculty were able to convene a group who collaborated to define the expectations for the math course. But writing did not receive a comparable invitation until recently, after the agreement was approved. Pressing this point–why, exactly?–brought to the surface different characterizations of how the MTA developed, from one version suggesting it was measured and deliberative, evenspread over the two years it was developed to another version indicating that the change to the composition requirement happened at the last minute.
  • The rationale for the change to writing is also difficult to pinpoint. Nobody would confirm it at the May 15 meeting, but it has elsewhere surfaced speculatively that the last minute change was an effort to bring Michigan State on board with the agreement. That is, because MSU only requires one composition course and a speech course, it creates conditions amenable to transferring to or away from MSU, which, once it was on board, was the largest public university in the state to participate in the agreement (i.e., University of Michigan does not). Whether or not this is valid, the changes to the writing requirement should have been based on something more substantive, e.g., evidence from participating institutions about how students with or without a two-course writing sequence during the first two years of college fare relative to their counterparts who do not take two writing courses. If they graduate at equal rates, maybe there isn’t anything more to consider here (aside from the caveat that high-achieving high school students oftentimes by-pass the two-course sequence because of exemptions and waivers).
  • Authority for the agreement remains ambiguous. That is, Michigan does not have a higher ed authority, and the MTA does not come with an implementation officer (even temporarily; its implementation is steered primarily by a 13-page handbook and a few similar documents, including FAQs and checklists. Who should programs contact for an authoritative stance on whether or not a program can require a course for MTA-eligible students, provided that same course is required for all FTIACs? The MTA seems to be rolling out with loose consent, and the agreement itself, as written, doesn’t spell out strict conditions that adopters must follow. For instance, at EMU, we’re told we can continue to require Writing Intensive courses as a fixture in General Education, but we cannot require all students satisfy ENGL/WRTG121: Comp II or its equivalent because that’s considered a “proviso,” and provisos are prohibited by the MTA.

That’s enough for now. Like I said, I don’t see much urgency in guessing how this is going to play out. I put my name in for the committee and would consider pitching in if and when such a group convenes. I suspect we already have more consensus across programs than we have had much chance to explore, much less articulate. And in fact, one of the most promising take-aways from the regional faculty meeting was a sense that we could begin exploring something like a SE Michigan alliance of writing programs that would help us tremendously toward articulating what we hold in common curricularly and also bench-marking for the persistent WPA arguments concerning part-time lecturer (over)reliance, full-time lecturer teaching loads, course caps, and so on. Other than that, as far as the MTA is concerned, we will continue to seek better institutional data that can tell us how FTIACs who take the two-course sequence compare with FTIACs who take only ENGL/WRTG121: Comp II compare with transfer students, in all matters of retention and graduation rates as well as performance in upper division WI courses. Better data will help us understand whether we have cause to be concerned, whether we have exigency to make further adjustments to the writing curriculum at EMU.

With Gravity and Tailwinds

My aunt who lives in Marquette emailed yesterday to say Team Road Kill will start the 26-mile trek from the River Park Sports Complex on Hawley Street north along Co. Road 550 toward Big Bay. We’ll hit the pavement shortly after 8 a.m., just two minutes behind the mayor’s team. I still don’t know whether Big Bay is a town or a body of water or both, but I reluctantly agreed some foggy-headed time ago (February? March?) to run with Team Road Kill–a five-person co-ed group made up of my brother, dad, aunt, and cousin. It only recently dawned on me that being a member of the team also meant running five miles. Five miles in the same day.

I haven’t been to Marquette since 1992, and I’ve never visited Big Bay. Thanks to Google Street View and some of my dad’s handiwork running an elevations report, I’m starting to have some sense of Co. Road 550, its slopes and grades, shoulders and hazards. When there was discussion among the team earlier in the month about who gets the steepest hills, who gets the two-mile stretch, who gets the start gun fanfare of Leg One, and who gets the champagne and confetti glory at the finish line, I laid low, kept to myself. Waited. This tactic worked brilliantly. Everyone else on the team claimed these in turn: two-miler, hills, finish, start. This left me with the peaceful (if banal) UP spring jog that is Leg Two.

My rigorous preparation for the relay has been equal parts of watching Power 90X infomercials, clicking through segment after segment of (is it uphill or isn’t it?) Co. Road 550 on Google Street View, and trying to determine, based on the elevation report my dad sent, which miles will be mine. You can see below how I’ve tried to highlight my five miles, but is also happens–wishfulness error?–to be more down-sloping than I could have hoped for.

Big Bay Relay

That email from my aunt (no, not the one insisting that I wear a size L t-shirt, rather than the 2XL I asked for; yesterday’s email) included a hopeful weather forecast: high 80F, cool start near 50F, light winds from the south. Between the wind and the down slopes, here’s hoping I don’t have to do much running other than lightly lifting each foot in slow alternation until it’s finished.

Original Gravity

I enjoyed a first taste—to be honest, three first tastes— of Original Gravity brews at the Michigan Beer Festival late last month. I sampled their Belgian Training Wheels and 440 Pepper Smoker before an OG-veteran I was with persuaded me to try their Southpaw IPA. The Pepper Smoker was peculiar (smoky and peppery), but not the sort of thing I’m sure I’d want in a full glass. The Belgian Training Wheels was good, although I find a lingering banana-like note about which I remain undecided (i.e., better keep on the training wheels). But the Southpaw was one of the most memorable beers I had at the event, and OG’s setup was impressive down to their custom taps. I’d never visited their brewery in Milan, a small town 15-miles south from here along US-23, but after the Beer Fest and after hearing more about the place, I made mental note of it, adding it to a short list of places in the area worth visiting.

D., Is., and I spent Saturday morning and early afternoon at the Toledo Zoological Gardens, and the nice thing about the zoo, besides the baby elephant, the sloth bears (what I think of as my middle-age totem), and hippos, is that Original Gravity is located directly on the route back home. In fact, that could be the advertising pitch for our visit to the Toledo Zoo on Saturday: On the way home, you can exit in Milan, Mich., have a sandwich and a pint of Southpaw, and take a growler of Belgian Training Wheels to go.

We tried their veggie and grilled cheese sandwiches and ordered a side of hummus—all were better than expected, a definite cut above the competition. In fact, this has been one of my complaints about neighborhood brewery in Ypsi: the food is meh. OG doesn’t have an elaborate menu, but they’re doing it right. Great sandwiches made with fresh, local bread (Erie Bread Company, I think). The draw of Southpaw: great. And the growler of Training Wheels, well, probably more than I needed because I just won’t drink a full growler in a week. But I wanted to re-run the lingering notes experiment, and the growler—half of which remains in the fridge—was more than enough to collect new data.

Next time I get a growler, it’ll have to be before a cocktail party where I can share it with others interested in local/regional brews. And I don’t know whether OG will be bottling any time soon; either way, I’d happily go back, which of course means I am working to pencil in another family excursion to the Toledo Zoo soon.

Aisle Mich

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately about the Buy Michigan Now program. There’s a related festival in Northville this weekend. We didn’t make it over there, but the local television news coverage has portrayed it as a Michigan products showcase, with products amounting mostly to local foods, fashion, art.

This is the second annual festival, which means the BMN group has been around for a couple of years. Their web site challenges visitors to take a pledge. Nearly 5,000 people have done so to date. Like many pledges, with this one people promise they will think differently, that they will speak positively of Michigan:

I hereby pledge to play an active role in building a strong, vibrant, and diverse Michigan economy. I will be a part of the solution by speaking positively about the state, learning about our products and services, and making a concerted effort to buy from Michigan businesses. I will Think Michigan First!

I suppose this kind of thing will become increasingly common as we (all?) square with the consequences of economic dissipation–a products and services onslaught from elsewhere, too frequently from anywhere else but here. Despite the emphasis on economic stimulation via spending and consumption (also this fee structure for landing in a database), programs like these are reasonable attempts to affect how people think about the local. Granted, BMN is more Long Here than Long Now. But it’s a start, even if what the planet (and Detroit by proxy) really needs is more Long Here and Now.

It starts me thinking about related improvements. Ignoring for a second the spatio-categorical inertia common to all major grocery stores (specialty food markets seem willing to tinker with this), it would make sense for grocers to reconfigure ever so slightly around buy local programs like this one. BMN provides a PDF grocery guide, for example (Why is Bell’s not on the list?). But just think: if, instead of carrying the list around, I could walk into a store and pass through an area where products all came from the state I live in, I would be much more likely 1) to recall those products as viable options and 2) to purchase them. But radical rearrangement is at odds with an existing infrastructure unsuited to relocating some subset of dry goods, frozen foods, produce, and meats (even if Meijer already does something like this for a “Lunch on the go” cooler curiously positioned in the middle of aisle 7 or 8). Another route would be an added layer of labeling: big blue stickers on Michigan products (faceted classification for grocery products). And another would be some sort of intelligent environment device­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­–an app for the smartphone–that adds locative snapshots to a illuminate a product’s trail before arriving at the store and, while it’s at it, puts it in the context of a couple of recipes. Still a few years off (bad news for the ‘N’ in BMN, if so), yet redefining encounters with products in the spaces where we typically find and buy them might make appreciable progress toward a $10 per week spending habit that would, so the BMN promotional materials argue, scale all the way up to $38 million if adopted across the state.