Jam-Packed Piety

Operated by a community of monks, the Jampot sells organic confections in Michigan’s Upper (upper) Peninsula
Friar Basil runs Jampot’s storefront and handles its finances. Photographs by Adam Johnson

Nestled among a luscious forest backdrop is a quaint cottage with a bright red door. Inside, the compact storefront, home to the Jampot, maintains a simple, streamlined design that gives prominence to an array of jams as well as baked goods and confections.

The name, which refers to the business’ principal product, seemed appropriate for the proprietors, the Society of Saint John. “We realized it would be jam-packed with stuff,” says Friar Basil, who runs the storefront and finances for Jampot, which is 3 miles east of Eagle River on M-26 along the northern edge of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. It was started nearly 30 years ago as a means to support the Society of Saint John, a small monastic community called a skete.

A handful of monks arrived in the Upper Peninsula during late summer of 1983 and began picking berries. Teaching themselves, the monks began making jam by the following summer.

All of the baked goods, confections, and jams are made with non-GMO, organic ingredients. Since everything is all-natural, product availability rotates. Ingredients such as dairy, eggs, and fruit are sourced from Michigan purveyors.

Wild Thimbleberry is the most popular jam flavor, by almost four to one over others such as Wild Blueberry, Wild Strawberry, and Strawberry Rhubarb. Caramels are the most popular confections, but the chocolates and brittles, including cashew and pecan chipotle varieties, are strong contenders as well.

Out of the six monks in the skete, at least four or five work at Jampot every day starting mid-June through close in mid-October. Workers are in the store from 8:30 a.m. until close at 5 p.m. making and selling their products.

During the season, there is almost never a time when there is nobody in the shop, says Basil. “Once the leaves go, the customers do too.”

Business is hardly ever stagnant at the Jampot though. Even when the customers are gone, the monks work year-round to fulfill online orders.

Jampot doesn’t sell everyday staple foods, so the strong customer base says a lot about the quality of the business. Basil says that Jampot appeals to a steady stream of return customers, who are usually from out of town.

“The best advertising and certainly the most effective we’ve had over the years is just word-of-mouth—satisfied customers telling other people,” says Basil.

Most sketes, like the Society of Saint John, support themselves through some sort of enterprise. Basil says monastic communities often make and sell baked good such as fruitcakes. In Iowa, the New Melleray Abbey produces handcrafted caskets and urns from their own walnut, oak, and cherry trees.

While Basil wouldn’t specifically say how much Jampot brings in for the skete, the business comprises the majority of its financial support, he says.

They’ve also contributed to the community. Over the years, the skete has developed walking trails along Jacob’s Creek and Falls. The monks have expanded their property with the help of the community and planted an orchard of over 100 fruit trees of apples, pears, plums and peaches.

“We are doing a lot of things to help the community here too as well as support ourselves,” says Basil. “Jampot has been an important part in revitalizing the tourist economy in our area because it seems to draw people back.”

Jampot was set to reopen for door sales on April 29. During the season, Jampot is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 6500 State Hwy. M26, Eagle Harbor; store.societystjohn.com