Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sacred Place: A father and daughter share their vision of home

Zinta Aistars and her father, Viestarts Aistars
Come join us!

If you are in the greater Kalamazoo, Michigan, area this Friday, May 2, come to the Kalamazoo Art Hop and enjoy a city full of art and refreshments while you view.

I am proud to announce that my father and I are having our first combined art show at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, 1249 Portage Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 5 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. We will both be present to meet and greet, answer any questions. All work on exhibit will be for sale.

Sugar and Cinnamon Hens (Photo by Zinta Aistars)

ZINTA AISTARS Artist Statement (Photography)

While my primary passion and occupation is as a writer, creating images in the mind’s eye with words, photography is a second art form that intrigues me with its potential to show us the world from a perspective we may have otherwise missed. Putting a lens before the eye can open the eye to detail, to the changing qualities of light and shadow, to the surprise of composition, putting together unexpected elements. But mostly … light. Light changes the ordinary into the extraordinary. It burnishes the rusted and old into gleaming gold. It turns the discarded into treasure. It creates magic in the every day.

Since I moved to a 10-acre farm in southwest Michigan in March 2012, I have become addicted to photography. There’s no other way to put it. Wherever I go as I walk this land, I carry a camera in my pocket. I don’t even go to the mailbox without my camera in hand. I live in a place that is a blend of forest, field, pond and sky, and a distant horizon that invites a dream of beyond. Over these past two years, I have built a collection of photos that show the changing seasons, the changing hours of the day and night, and the diversity of wildlife that shares this corner of my paradise with me.

I call this place Z Acres, and to me, it is a sacred place. Every hour here brings a blessing. It is my living prayer and my answer to prayer. Photography is how I share that blessing.

To learn more about my world and my work, visit .

Dandelions, watercolor painting by Viestarts Aistars 

VIESTARTS AISTARS Artist Statement/Bio

Born in the summer of 1927 in Dobele, Latvia, Viestarts Aistars was the eldest of four sons in a family with a legacy of love for the arts.  He immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of World War II, when Latvia was occupied by the Soviet army and the Aistars family was listed for deportation to concentration camps in Siberia, where many Latvians died. Chicago was Aistars’ first home in the United States, and he enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied art while learning to speak English. His education was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, but he returned to the Art Institute after the war and finished his degree, married, had two daughters. Aistars moved to Kalamazoo in 1959 to become a part of a large and vibrant Latvian community.

Much of Aistars’ work reflects the home he lost, his sacred place, with frequent themes of Latvian culture and folklore, seascapes recalling the Baltic Sea, or the forests he wandered in his childhood. Perhaps it is not such a coincidence that many of these scenes have a resemblance to the landscape of Michigan. His favored mediums are oils, watercolors, and charcoal pencil.

Viestarts Aistars has had his artwork exhibited at the Detroit Art Museum, Indiana Art Center in Indianapolis and South Bend, Indiana, The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Grand Rapids Art Museum, as well as Latvian art exhibits in Seattle, Washington, New York City, Reading, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, Ohio, to name only a few. He has had more than 60 one-man art exhibits in the Midwest and Eastern United States, including Boston, New York City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and many other cities nationwide. Aistars has won numerous prizes and his work has been purchased by countless private collectors, also by the State Museum in Riga, Latvia, and the Art Museum in Jelgava, Latvia. A painting of a Latvian woman in folk costume hangs today in the Riga Pils (Riga Castle), the president's residence in Riga, Latvia.

To see more of Aistars’ work and read his story, visit Viestarts Aistars blog or his Facebook page

PDF of the May Art Hop brochure (We are location #55)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Growing a food hub from a sprout

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
April 24, 2014

Jeremy Andrews, CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) with his crew (Photo by Erik Holladay)

Connecting local farmers with people who want to buy the vegetables and animals they raise is what a food hub does. Jeremy Andrews is one of those creating such connections in the Battle Creek (Michigan) area. Zinta Aistars has the story. 

Sprout Urban Farms at 245 N. Kendall in Battle Creek is always sprouting new growth. It’s what happens on a farm. The nonprofit food sovereignty organization has roots that reach back to 2009, improving food accessibility throughout greater Battle Creek with a 2-acre urban farm, a network of 35 community gardens, and a mobile market that travels to underserved neighborhoods. One of Sprout’s newest outgrowths, Grown in BC Food Hub, has just surfaced.

"I’ve heard someone say, and it’s true, once you’ve seen one food hub, you’ve seen …. one food hub," says Jeremy Andrews, CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) of Sprout. Every such hub is different, he explains, serving the unique needs of the surrounding community.

The new effort, Grown in BC Food Hub, guided by MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, will connect local farmers with buyers for their produce. Buyers include schools, hospitals, assisted living facilities, housing developments, restaurants and other food service providers. 

"We started with Bright Star Farm, the 2-acre youth-run farm on Kendall," says Andrews. "That filled a need for healthy food in the neighborhood. That went along with our Community Garden Resource Center, the greenhouse at 103 Limit Street. But along the way, we befriended a lot of local farmers around Battle Creek. There was a disconnect between local farmers and local food service providers. The food service providers are buying food that travels long distance, sometimes thousands of miles, instead the food grown right here. So we wanted to start not another farm, but a way to support the farms already here. We need to keep that dollar here."

Sprout works mostly with small farmers that Andrews has gotten to know for their sustainable, chemical-free farming practices, and who pay a fair living wage to their farm workers. 

"By small, we mean more like 10 acres than tens of thousands of acres," says Andrews. "Anything less than 100 acres for the most part. Right now, we are working with Green Gardens Community Farm in Battle Creek, EarthSmith Food & Forest Products in Dowling, Canaan Farm Orchard in Climax, Under the Stone Garden in Scotts, Long Valley Farm in Vicksburg, and others. We have 12 farms on our list now."

And the market is rich. Buyers for the local produce, Andrews says with visible excitement, include Bronson Battle Creek. The hospital buys up what doesn’t get sold in farmers markets and adds that produce to their menus. 

"It’s a cool symbiosis," Andrews says. "We’re also composting their food scraps, along with what we pick up at the local food bank."

FireKeepers Casino, Malia Mediterranean Bistro, Arcadia Brewing Company and Hogzilla BBQ are also on the fast-growing buyer list. 

Andrews is strolling down Michigan Avenue, downtown Battle Creek, as he talks about the new food hub, and he points out one restaurant, and another pub, and a third tavern where he delivers produce or is working on meeting a new food need. As he walks, he is interrupted by friendly greetings every few steps. He’s a known presence in Battle Creek. 

"We’re not just building a business," he acknowledges. "We’re building relationships, friendships. We’re connecting to people on a real level."

Andrews sketches out a quick diagram on a piece of paper. With the food hub at the center, other circles spiral out of that center. Larger wholesale efforts include the food providers. Mobile markets provide access for those who might otherwise go without, the underserved, the low income, the elderly. 

Another circle includes small restaurants. Another encircles the Community Garden Resource Center that now also includes a seed bank, educational workshops, and a tool library. Yet another is a growing farm-to-school program.

"More and more schools are asking us about starting community gardens for their students," he says. "That’s our end goal, to get good food into schools, into kids. We’re working with every school in Battle Creek right now at some level, whether it’s a garden, or composting, or support. We want to be the change that needs to happen."

Andrews admits, not hiding the grin beneath his signature mustache, that he ...


Monday, April 21, 2014

Quality Snacks: My radio interview with Andy Mozina

by Zinta Aistars
Airing on WMUK 102.1 FM
Kalamazoo, Michigan's NPR affiliate
Arts and More program

Kalamazoo writer Andy Mozina will be reading from his short stories called Quality Snacks as part of the Michigan Notable Book tour.
The event takes place April 23 at 5:30 at the Richland Community Library.
Quality Snacks mostly revolves around middle-aged Midwestern men from different backgrounds as they navigate relationships and divorce.
The book comes out in print on May 1st.
On Doritos
Andy Mozina in the radio studio
Mozina, an English professor at Kalamazoo College, used to have an addiction to Doritos chips. 
"The MSG is an addictive substance. And when I was in college I could easily buy a bag and just sit there  and eat it. And that continued far longer into adulthood than it should have," he says. "And then I realized what was's an addictive substance. Doritos is an addictive product."
While Mozina was going cold-turkey to get off of Doritos, he wrote a story about it. Now, he says, he doesn't touch the stuff.
Lies Make Great Stories
Mozina says he has a lot of trouble looking at his life or others' lives and putting that in writing. He says he finds it interesting, but it's just not quite offbeat enough for his style. Mozina says he likes exaggerating situations sometimes for the sake of a good story.
"It's very hard to take life straight I think. And I think just to get through things moment to moment, I will just say things that are not the case," he says. "I hope always that whoever I'm with knows that I'm exaggerating a little bit." 
A Quirk, A Twist, A Surprise
Instead of writing a story and then adding a twist to it, Mozina says ...

RADIO EDITED VERSION (as it aired) (4:17)

Arts and More programs air Tuesdays and Fridays at 7:50 a.m., 9:50 a.m., 4:29 p.m., 5:44 p.m., and Saturdays after "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sharing traditions from Brazilian gardens to Kalamazoo tables

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
April 17, 2014

A two-year-old company using 400-year-old recipes has found its niche among food lovers.  Silvana Quadros Russell, founder of Brazilian Oven tells Zinta Aistars the story of the cheese buns of her native Brazil that Americans are coming to love.

Silvana making cheese bread (Photo by Erik Holladay)
They may be new to Kalamazoo (Michigan), but the delicious little cheese buns, known as pão de queijo in Brazil, have been on kitchen tables in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Colombia since the 18th century. Silvana Quadros Russell, founder of Brazilian Oven, LLC, has been enjoying the cheese buns of her native land since she was a child.

"My father grew the cassava plant in our garden in San Paulo," says Russell. Cassava plants, also known as the yucca or mandioca plant, are used to make the tapioca flour from which the buns are baked, known for their crusty outsides and the chewy, moist insides. "He’d bring in the cassava root from the garden, peel, and eat. It was organic before anyone called anything organic. We ate cassava like people here eat potato."

Russell was born in Brazil, but came to the United States almost 19 years ago with her American-born husband, whom she met in Brazil, where she had worked in public relations. Here, feeling the language barrier kept her out of the profession for which she was trained, Russell did not resume work in public relations, but stayed at home to raise the couple’s two children, a daughter and son. 

"I studied English, but it was British English." Russell laughs. 

Instead, her interests developed along with her nostalgia for her favorite foods back in Brazil.

"After moving here and becoming a stay-at-home mom, I decided to embrace the cooking challenge," she says. "With no culinary training, I started to call my mother and friends in Brazil to ask for recipes. I used to call the 1-800 numbers on the packages of flour, sugar, oil and everything I could get a hold of it. At first, I would tell them that I liked their products. Then, I asked for recipes. While my baby was sleeping I was very busy on the phone."

Russell got busy experimenting with her growing collection of recipes. The more time she spent in the kitchen, the more skilled she became. The compliments from impressed friends started to pour in as she brought treats to parties and gatherings.

"There were lots of trials and errors, but ..."


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Business is mushrooming for Grand Rapids' first gourmet mushroom CSA

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
April 17, 2014

Golden Oyster Mushrooms at The Urban Mushroom

The Urban Mushroom is bringing gourmet mushrooms to West Michigan's fungi-loving foodies. Zinta Aistars learns why growing this uber-local food is one entrepreneur's dream come true.

Josh Kruis, left, and Trever Clark, right
Occupation: Shroomologist. It’s a far cry from being a digital marketer for Yahoo! Inc., but that was the career change Trever Clark made so that he could open The Urban Mushroom for business in August 2013.

“That’s what I call myself,” Clark grins. Mycologist would be the more accepted name, if less fun. It was an idea that had been mushrooming in his imagination for quite some time, to run a gourmet mushroom CSA, or community-supported agriculture, selling shares of mushrooms to customers on a weekly basis.

The vision came to him while Clark was living in a beach house, telecommuting to his digital marketing job from Costa Rica in 2012. It’s not what most would dream about while walking sandy beaches, but in Clark’s mind, he saw fields of fungi.

He traded in the beach house for a small industrial building at 2345 Chicago Drive in Wyoming that was once used for truck repairs. The new-old building is in an industrial area, no beaches, and just inside, an old refrigerator hums behind a worn counter, surrounded by well-used and gently ripped leather couches where Clark has been known to catch a nap when pulling an all-nighter, working on spores or building equipment or composing strategy.

“This laminar flow hood, we built it ourselves,” he says as he points out a steel box used to prevent contamination of mushroom cultures. Light glows from the cabinet in the otherwise dark room and Clark’s face beams with pride. “These usually run around $20,000 commercially, but we were able to build one for around $300.”

It’s that kind of ability to build something from nearly nothing and keep the bottom line trim that Clark and his business partners, Josh Kruis and Frank Montel, along with part-time employee Richard Marmion, trust will take them to success--and quickly.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in information technology … IT,” Clark says. “But I never liked IT. I switched majors several times, but at least digital marketing allowed me to work on my own, run some websites, e-commerce, that sort of thing. It gave me the chance to experiment a little in sustainable agriculture on the side.”

Clark had attended a permaculture course in Wisconsin at some point, and what he heard, saw and learned stuck with him. Even while in Costa Rica, he kept thinking about growing mushrooms.

“I picked up some overpriced Oyster mushrooms one day, $8 for a quarter pound, and I thought: I could grow these.” He did grow the mushrooms on a piece of cardboard, then placed coffee grounds in a bucket, cloned some of the mushrooms into the mix, “and they grew!” Next, he inoculated his landlord’s compost pile, and once again, mushrooms appeared.

“This was great!” Clark says. “I can do this! So, yeah, that’s when I ..."


The photos here are by Zinta Aistars; visit Rapid Growth to view photos by Adam Bird.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cheese brings smiles for Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
April 10, 2014

Kids (newborn goats) at Evergreen Lane Creamery (Photo by Erik Holladay)

In the past decade goat cheese has been one of the fastest growing cheeses in the specialty food product market. Michigan has more 1,000 reported milk goat operations. Zinta Aistars talks with the cheese makers at Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery in Fennville, Michigan, where milk from goats (and cows) comes about through a cooperative effort.

Photo by Erik Holladay
Cheese! You can’t say it without smiling. 

Especially if it is artisan goat and cow’s milk cheese made by the expert hands of Cathy Halinski at Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery at 1824 66th Street, just south of Fennville and up the road from Saugatuck. It’s in an area some would call middle of nowhere, but Cathy and husband Tom Halinski call home.

The Halinskis found home in an old country house, shaded by century-old trees, with several outbuildings, sheds and barns, 40 acres of land that stretch a half-mile deep from the road, and eight acres of apple orchards. They moved there in 2000 with the thought of turning the place into an organic farm.

"Cathy found the place driving by," says Tom Halinski. "We moved to this area in 1996 from Chicago, to a place with a couple acres, but it was a gated community, and we weren’t allowed to have the ducks and horses we wanted."

Because the Halinskis kept a boat docked in Saugatuck, they looked for work there in their area of expertise: informational technology. 

"The jobs we found here were actually better paying than in Chicago," Tom Halinski says. But the couple found they wanted more than just the neat gardens allowed in a gated community, and the farm they came to call Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery fit the bill. It even had a goat wandering the house. 

"Our dogs found her in the house when we went to look at it," he says. "She was starving."

They bought the house, they bought the farm, they bought the goat. Bailey became the matriarch of the goat herd the Halinskis would keep at Evergreen. 

"We started breeding the goats," says Cathy Halinski. "That’s how I got interested in cheese. We had all this goat’s milk."

Bailey lived to age 12, and died a couple years ago, but her legacy in cheese and kids lives on. Evergreen Lane Creamery opened its doors to the public in 2008. Today, the barn is filled with kids, newborn goats, while the does still lie in the hay, heavy with waiting. It’s spring, and the nights are long with does giving birth.

"That’s where our partnership, our business model, is unique," says Ron Klein, owner of 46-acre Windshadow Farm & Dairy in Bangor. Klein and his wife Suzanne handle the breeding of La Mancha, Nubian, and Saanen dairy goats, bringing the kids to Evergreen Farm when they are a day or two old. The partnership between the two farms is called Meadowland Divas, a cooperative division of labor and resources.

"The most important part of cheese-making is your milk source," Cathy Halinski nods at her partner, Ron Klein. 

"And the converse is true," says Klein. "You can have great milk and be feeding it to your pigs. We’re doing the animal husbandry, and that’s freed Cathy to do her cheese-making."

"It’s like a marriage!" Cathy grins, looking over at Klein. 

Klein and his wife, the real one, Sue, who keeps a day job as an attorney, get up every two hours or so during nights to care for the newborn kids. Even with the division of labor, the work is hard and at times seems never-ending. Once transported from Bangor to Fennville, the playful little goats are penned up and fed through an automated feeder.

"Great innovation," Klein says. "Before that, we had to ..."


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Threefold Vine Winery is honestly U.P.

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Upper Peninsula's Second Wave
April 9, 2014

The owners of a U.P. winery (that's Michigan's Upper Peninsula) and vineyard have been building their business over several years, but recently, they've started to build it in a different place--Stephenson. They talk about the reasons behind the move and what keeps them making wine in the U.P. Zinta Aistars has the story. 

Says so on the label: Honestly U.P. 
The wines and honey mead raised, grown, nurtured, harvested, fermented, bottled, and served at Threefold Vine Winery is all Upper Peninsula, and owners Andrew and Janice Green are proud of it. 
In 2002, the Green family, including five children, broke ground to begin planting four of their 510 acres on their farm on the Garden Peninsula. More than 30 varieties of grape cuttings were planted, and a great deal of trial and error led to a line of red and white wines that quickly earned the devotion of wine drinkers in and beyond Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 
Now, however, the Greens have watched their at-home family (and their labor force) shrink as children inevitably grow and leave the nest. With that, they have decided to downsize their farm as well. 
"We are now open for wine tasting at our new farm in Stephenson," says Andrew Green. "The wines we are selling now are from last year's harvest, reds and whites, from bone dry to very sweet."
The new Threefold Vine Winery is located at S232 Menominee Street in Stephenson, in Menominee County.  The winery and tasting room are located at the historic bank building just off U.S.-41, 21 miles north of Menominee and 42 miles south of Escanaba. 
It's a soft opening, Green says, without fanfare, as they are still working on renovations. Regular hours of noon to 5 p.m. will begin in May through October, and by appointment the remaining months. 
"Local grapes, that's what people know us for," says Green. "But you can't take grapes with you, so the guy who bought our old place is allowing us to go back for a couple of years to gather cuttings and get them established here. We're down to 160 acres here, but the vineyard size will remain the same."
While vineyards require a more painstaking process to transplant--one that Green expects will take three years at minimum--he was able to move his beehives. Along with being vintners, the Greens are also beekeepers. 
"Our honey meads are among our best sellers," he says. "We harvest our honey and ferment it, put it in bourbon barrels we brought up from Kentucky, and we let it age for about nine months. We ferment different U.P. fruit and berries together with the honey: raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries grown in Paradise. Our raspberry honey wine took best of show at the Colorado State Fair a few years ago."
Part of the Greens' move to Stephenson involves building a new network with local fruit farmers. "We plan to provide a market for fruits that our neighbors haven't been able to sell. You know, the bruised fruits, the ones left over. They're perfect for wine." 
Farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) are very active in the area, says Green, and the Greens are a determined part of the local food movement, which is growing in popularity most everywhere. Green wants to do his part in keeping his new community fiscally healthy and his customers healthy.
"People want to know where their food comes from these days," he says. "They want to know who is growing it. With bees, we've been seeing colony collapse. Bees can travel a few miles, so it's hard to control if they go where there are pesticides. People are beginning to think about why we are seeing so many food allergies. As farmers, we get mad when we get accused of poisoning people, but we need to wake up. I'm thankful for the organic movement."
He greets the changing market with its lean toward local and organic and looks forward to building his brand within it. 
"We're smarter now," he laughs. "The learning curve since our first vineyard is shorter. Jan and I are developing a system that ..."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Human Rights Journey

by Zinta Aistars
Published in LuxEsto, Spring 2014

Corrine Lewis with her husband Bruce Dresbach

From her home in Brussels, Belgium, where she lives with husband and law partner Bruce Dresbach '83 and their three sons, Corinne Lewis ’81 reflects on her winding journey that's not nearly done yet.

It has taken her to Tokyo to practice law; to Geneva to work with displaced persons; to Bangladesh to work with refugees; to Houston and to London to teach immigration law and human rights; to the United Nations as a legal office; and to the Congo, speeding through the night with the car's headlights dimmed to escape capture.

That wild (and wonderful) ride began at Kalamazoo College.

"K was my foundation stone," Lewis says. "I had never been abroad before I was a student at Kalamazoo College. For my career and personal choices, Kalamazoo College provided a supportive faculty, a unique combination of classroom and real world experiences." Lewis nods with appreciation. "It was a fabulous experience."

Like so many incoming freshmen, Lewis had no idea where she was going when she first came onto campus. She majored in English and minored in French, a language she had enjoyed in high school, but her future goals were undefined. Like most, she enjoyed study abroad—France—but it wasn't until the writing of her Senior Individualized Project (SIP) that even a hint of what was to come showed its first blush.

"I wrote my SIP in French," she says. "And I don't recall the details, or how the idea for it came up, but it was about women in World War II. I started to take a closer look at human rights in war."

Even as Lewis graduated and moved on to law school at Indiana University, her goal was not entirely clear—but growing clearer. "I wasn't yet sure about the specialty, but my studies were generally in international matters. There were no human rights courses at that time."

Her path, however, was undeniably moving her forward. Along with continued studies, Lewis met her husband, Bruce Dresbach, at law school. He was a Kalamazoo College graduate, too, and they had actually met, although only in passing, during their K years, although the memory of it didn't "take."

"You could say we first met when I worked in K's admissions office," Lewis smiles. "He was visiting the campus during his high school senior year, two years behind me, and only years later did we realize we had sat at the same table at a scholar athlete luncheon. We were both on the swim team."

At Indiana University, meeting (again) when introduced by yet another Kalamazoo College alumnus, the two finally started to pay attention. They realized they had a great number of common interests. Not least among those was an interest in going abroad again.

"Clearly, K was absolutely an influence on both of us. Our undergraduate years were an important time in our development. K gave us the confidence and courage to follow our interests and passions."

Those interests and passions had them both asking their families for the same graduation gift when their law degrees were completed: airline tickets to Japan.

Lewis explains: "We both wanted to live abroad. We wanted to see American law from the other side. One of our professors advised us to just go to Japan and trust that we would get a job."

Twenty letters of application later, Lewis held seven job offers in her hands. Japan was hungry for U.S. lawyers during a time when the country was flush with cash, buying up U. S. companies. Both Lewis and her husband were quickly employed, but her experience as a woman lawyer in Japan was quite different than his. Lewis was hired as in-house legal counsel working on acquisitions of U.S. companies and international transactions by the Kao Corporation in Tokyo.

"It was an incredible cultural experience. A company of 2,500 people, and I was the only woman that wasn't a secretary. In my interview, I was asked what size uniform I wore," Lewis laughs. "I was so much taller than the other women. They all wore pink and gray uniforms. The women were astounded to find out that I didn't cook—and the men all wanted to meet my husband. They wanted to meet a man who would marry a woman who couldn't cook!"

Undeterred, Lewis fully enjoyed the experience. Mornings at the office began with five minutes of group exercises; a bell signaled the opening and close of the work day. Community and companionship were the strengths of the Japanese lifestyle, and the two young American lawyers fit right in.

After three years, however, Lewis was itching to return to the United States again, and Kao Corporation, having a branch in Wilmington, Delaware, was willing to put through the transfer.

Lewis shrugs. "But you know, without that cultural challenge, I got bored." Lewis returned to school, this time to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to earn her master's in public international and comparative law. Foreign adventure beckoned once again, and she took a position as legal officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with postings in UNHCR Geneva Headquarters, at Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, and in Brussels, Belgium.

"I could have made a lot more money as a corporate lawyer, but by then I knew I wanted to work with human rights," Lewis says.

Maybe not more money, but certainly more adventure. In Bangladesh, Lewis was in the midst of a quarter million refugees, and she dove in to help people deal with the tangle of legal issues that arise when losing home and life as one has known it. She loved this work, which dealt, she says, with "such pertinent issues, protecting the rights of these people."

For a week, she was sent to the Congo to interview refugees from Rwanda about the genocide that had occurred in their homeland. "Governments were complaining that money was being spent on people who had participated in the genocide, so we were sent over to sort out the situation. We weren't told much beforehand, just briefed that some of the rebels were holding hostages. There were great tensions between the rebel groups, and the government in Congo then was very unstable."

When word got around what the representatives from the UN were talking to refugees, things got uncomfortable. "The refugees were forcibly returned to Rwanda so that they couldn't talk to us. We got up one morning, and all those people were suddenly gone. They seized most of the cars and the drivers, but let us go free. We had a car and drove out that night as fast as we could go—with our lights turned off. Oh yes, I was afraid."

Corinne and Bruce with their three sons
Lewis was also thinking about her children. By then, she and Richard had three young boys at home: Tristan, Julien, and Sebastian. Parental obligations were sobering, and the family had to consider safety over adventure.

School felt safer. Lewis resumed her studies and completed her PhD in London, now defining her focus to international refugee law and studying political influences on international law. Returning once again to the U.S., she taught international and human rights, and laws affecting refugees, at the University of Houston Law Center in Texas.

"Human rights in business was a developing area around that time in 2010, and my corporate law background was helpful. Corporate responsibility was becoming more important, effects on the environment but also on human rights. We were talking about human trafficking, about how businesses must incorporate human rights principles into their business decisions. Corporations can't just think about making money. For instance, mining in Africa—you have to look at how that affects the people who live there, how they are pushed off their land and the land is ruined."

Lewis was in her element when working with human rights, advising businesses, and the only thing missing was … home? Once again, the family decided to return overseas, this time to Brussels, Belgium, and this time, for good. In March 2011, Lewis and her family planted their flag and set down roots, not only with a home base but with a business.

Lex Justi ("An obligation arising out of the right of humanity in our own person." ~Immanuel Kant) is a specialist law firm that provides legal consulting services to multinational companies in human rights issues.

"Having our own law firm gave us the ability to each practice in our own areas of law," Lewis says. "Human rights are a basis for peace. In general, I'd have to say that Europe is ahead of the United States on human rights; it's a good place for us to be. Business with a consideration for human rights has been fully taken up by many large European companies, whereas in the U.S., when you look at Nike, BP, Shell, it takes a problem to create proactive policy and raise awareness."

Living abroad has given Lewis a clearer perspective, she feels, on the strengths of both sides of the ocean, and also on those areas of weakness. She sees these as a lawyer but also as a mother. "The boys have a very intense education here, and there are times I regret that they don't have more time for their own interests, as they might in the U.S. At the same time, education is accessible to everyone here, as it should be. Sports, the arts, all the cultural aspects are open to them. Europe leans toward the socialistic, the U.S. is very capitalistic. I would encourage a combination of both."

Lewis pauses thoughtfully. With the family keeping a second home in Petoskey, Michigan, where they spend their summers so as to stay closer to family there, they maintain an inside perspective on American life, too.

"I don't mean to say one system is better than the other," she says. "But we can learn from one another. Kalamazoo College taught me that, too—to look at home from an international perspective. When you live abroad for a while, you are able to step away and gain distance, have a different way of looking at things, be curious and start to ask questions. That's the importance of a liberal arts education. I am really thankful to K for that."

Corinne Lewis '81 writes, speaks, and publishes regularly on business and human rights. Her recent article "Corporate Responsibility to Respect the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples," is contained in the Minority Rights Group International’s 2012 annual report, and her article "Businesses’ Human Rights Responsibilities and the Prevention of Displacement" will be published in an upcoming issue of the University of Oxford’s Forced Migration Review.Routledge published UNHCR and International Refugee Law by Corinne Lewis in June 2012.


LuxEsto Spring 2014
An American Perspective on Health Care Overseas
by Zinta Aistars

Corinne Lewis '81 has lived abroad for much of her adult life, ticking off countries she has called home, at least for a while, like others might name vacation spots. Today, she lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and three sons—but the family also calls home a summer residence in Petoskey, Michigan.

"When you live abroad for a while, you are able to step away and gain distance, have a different way of looking at things, be curious and start to ask questions," Lewis says.

One such area for comparison has been health care. If not as an expert, she has formed opinions and insights as a patient, as a mother, but also as someone intensely focused on human rights.

"Personally, I think it is important that everyone has the ability to obtain health care and given my human rights penchant, this is consistent with a right to health," she says.

Health care in Belgium is universal and forms part of the social security system, Lewis explains. "We are reimbursed for one-half to two-thirds of our medical expenses, and private insurance is available to take such reimbursements up to 90 percent. It is a system that I find highly administrative and confusing at times due to the paper work. There can be an uncertainty as to how much a particular expense is reimbursed, which varies and can depend upon whether the doctor is charging the fixed rate set by the government or a higher rate. Even so, pharmaceutical expenses are quite low given the reimbursement rates."

Lewis offers another personal perspective when it came time to choose where—and how—to give birth to her sons. "I spent seven-and-a-half months of my first pregnancy in Bangladesh, where I received minimal health check-ups because I was in a remote region of the country. Women in Bangladesh had babies all the time without going to a hospital. I realize that women with complications do die, but I tend to view child birth as a natural process rather than a medical situation."

When Lewis came to the United States for a doctor's visit, she was astonished at the clinical nature of medical services. The clinical approach made her uncomfortable. "As my assignment in Bangladesh came to an end, I did not feel comfortable having the baby with only the rudimentary emergency care available. I began to look into where to have the baby and read quite extensively on natural births."

What Lewis discovered was that Holland had one of the lowest natal and mother mortality rates with its predominantly home birth system. She was not able to arrange for a home birth in the United States. "Given my age at the time, 37, I was ineligible for most birth centers in the U.S.," she says. "I was considered too old and thus, at risk of complications. My husband was in Holland, so I decided to go there. I found a midwife who lived in our neighborhood and two weeks later gave birth at home in a bath after nearly 24 hours of labor.

"Under the Dutch system, insurance paid for a woman to come to the home after the birth and to help with laundry and to show me how to care and feed the baby. This was incredibly helpful given that we were new residents and without family there. I discovered that Belgium had what can be loosely translated as ‘well-baby clinics’ where one takes a newborn baby for check-ups and vaccinations at little to no cost. This is a government-funded service staffed by doctors who take the time to answer the myriad of questions I had. It was fantastic."

Lewis's other two sons were also born at home. For the second birth, she had planned a water-birth as well, but went into labor before the birthing pool was set up. "We soaked in the water while we waited for the midwife. The water is like the warm amniotic fluid for newborns. I didn't require any stitches after the births given that water has a relaxing effect on muscles and tissue. We had friends over for drinks in the evening after the birth of our third child, and within two days I was out taking walks again."