EAST LANSING, MICH. - A mix of supporters and protesters greeted Country Mill Farms as it returned to the East Lansing Farmer’s Market.
Sunday marked the farm’s first day back at the market since a federal judge ruled East Lansing must allow the Charlotte apple orchard to sell produce at its farmers market.
Country Mill Farms was denied a vendor’s license by the city in March because of a December Facebook post in which farm owner Steve Tennes announced his orchard would continue to hold weddings, while reserving the right to deny same sex weddings.
Tennes, a Catholic, filed a federal lawsuit against the city in May. Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy group, is representing him.
On Friday, in the first major decision in the case, federal district Judge Paul Maloney granted Tennes’ request for a preliminary injunction that would allow him to return to the market for the remainder of the season. Maloney wrote that Tennes was likely “to prevail on the merits of their claims for speech retaliation and for free exercise of religion.”
A steady stream of customers visited the Country Mill Farms booth at the farmers market on Sunday to purchase apples, cider and donuts, at times weaving through a group of about a dozen LGBT community members and supporters holding a demonstration near the booth.
David and Jane Lopez left the Country Mill Farms booth with bags full of donuts, apples and cider. The couple drove from Southgate Sunday morning to show their support for the farm.
David Lopez said he was nervous the farm would be overwhelmed by protesters.
“That’s really not the message we want him to get,” Lopez said. “We just didn’t want him to have a bad experience on his first day back.”
Heather Marlow, of East Lansing, stood beside the booth with her partner and 3-year-old daughter. Marlow said she and others from the LGBT community wanted to attend to support the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.
“We’re just gathering to say there are a lot of LGBTQ people in the city,” Marlow said. “We should support each other and support businesses that are tolerant.”
Nadia Sellers, of Okemos, and her daughter, Sade, attended the market Sunday, but avoided the Country Mill Farms’ booth.
“I don’t think they should be here,” Nadia Sellers said. “I don’t think they represent our community. It has no place in America, and it definitely has no place in a small community.”
Scott Alley, of Stockbridge, made a stop at the Country Mill Farms booth to show his support. He said he also made sure to visit the farm in Charlotte when Tennes’ lawsuit was announced in early summer.
“We felt for their situation and came out to support them,” Alley said. “We wanted to make sure First Amendment rights were protected.”
© 2017, Lansing State Journal