Kathleen Bittner Koch wasn’t thinking about fate a few years ago when all she wanted was to find a place in Northern Michigan to start the farm of her dreams. She and her family chose a place near Cedar, unaware that the village located in the heart of Leelanau County had been settled by Polish immigrants. That heritage has held strong in Cedar for well over a century, as home to the annual Cedar Polka Fest and Pleva’s Meats, opened in 1946 and just now closing its doors. Today, one need only drive through the rolling countryside reading the Polish names on mailboxes and farms to know those roots run deep.
So, where does fate come in? Kathleen is from Hamtramck, Michigan, a town famous for its Polish heritage. Not only that, Kathleen’s family owns and operates the well-known Polish Art Center in Hamtramck, and has done so for decades. More than 250 miles away, Kathleen found a home in a town rooted in the culture that has enveloped her entire life.
After moving north, Kathleen and her husband started their dream farm, the Polish Heritage Farm, specializing in raising, among other animals, Mangalitsa pigs. But a few years ago, when a storefront in downtown Cedar opened up, Kathleen couldn’t fight the draw to return to the family trade. In 2016, she opened the new Polish Art Center.
When you walk into the store, it’s hard to decide what is more immediately captivating, the explosion of color gleaming from the handmade art, decorations and gifts, or Kathleen’s palpable energy and passion for all things Polish. The decorative displays and thoughtful curation of everything in the art center is a direct reflection of her family’s dedication, stemming from her father’s life-changing trip to Poland many years ago.
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