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‘No bees, no beer, no food.’ South Lyon brewery battling to change city ordinance over No Mow May

<i>WXYZ via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Ryan and Erin Cottongim
WXYZ via CNN Newsource
Ryan and Erin Cottongim

By Darren Cunningham

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    SOUTH LYON, Michigan (WXYZ) — No Mow May is here and that means some lawns won’t be cut for another month. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a polarizing issue.

Cities like Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Royal Oak support No Mow May, allowing property owners to let their grass grow wild for the month of May. The idea is to provide a greater food source for pollinators like bees.

Ryan and Erin Cottongim, who are beekeepers and co-owners of Witch’s Hat Brewing Company, say the city of South Lyon is telling them “no” to participating in No Mow May.

“How long have you been doing this? And what has the response been from the city,” I asked.

“It’s been four years,” Erin Cottongim said. “First two years, we didn’t hear anything. Last year, we’ve received a warning citation.”

“After that citation, we really tried to get the ordinance changed. Because right now, the ordinance states like the middle of May and what we would like to see happen is to extend that to June,” Ryan Cottongim added.

When asked about the reasoning the city gave them for this, Erin and Ryan Cottongim said they have been told the city is afraid of rodents, which they are adamant isn’t an issue.

“It doesn’t attract rodents unless you put food out there,” Erin Cottongim said. “They’re afraid of ticks. Ticks exist there whether it’s short or long.”

“It’s really just aesthetics that we believe that they’re concerned about,” Ryan Cottongim said. “They want it to look low-cut and the same as everybody else.”

The Cottongims say a code enforcement officer stopped by Tuesday, so it remains an ongoing fight.

I wanted to hear how people living and working in South Lyon feel about No Mow May.

“I do know people that like the wild look. You know, just a natural look and that’s OK. But they’re not often pleasant people to live right next to, with weeds and different things growing in the yard that end up in your yard. So I do like a nice, clean, mowed lawn,” Bob Byrne, a South Lyon Resident, said.

“Well, we need bees. We should all do it. I think the city should support it too,” said Lisa Priest, who works in South Lyon.

I reached out to the city for their side of the story. City Manager Paul Zelenak declined an interview, but he explained some city council members researched No Mow May considerably and found a number of concerns.

But as a long-term solution, Zelenak said city council decided to include it in the budget, installing pollinator gardens in the parks.

That’s one route that Ana Heck with Michigan State University extension says is effective.

“The idea behind No Mow May is trying to keep more food on the landscape for bees, and there’s a lot of ways that people can do that,” Heck said. “It doesn’t have to be forgoing mowing all month long. But it can just be trying to protect and increase the number of flowers for bees.”

In the meantime, the Cottongims say they have no plans to abandon No Mow May.

“No bees, no beer, no food,” Ryan Cottongim said. “That is our business. That is our livelihood.”

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