The Connecting Landowners, Growers and Markets project spent its third year implementing the startup of new small farm operations in Ann Arbor Township (AAT). The contacts with landowners and growers achieved in previous years resulted in a sizeable number of successes. A meeting of AAT landowners and interested growers was convened in early 2011 to facilitate lease arrangements (see attached land availability listing); one lease–which includes farmer housing as well as access to tillable land–was consummated on the Oswell property; with several more leases in development including one on property that had been divided for housing. The small farm conservation easement–which requires that land be farmed in addition to prohibiting non-agricultural development–was utilized for the first time in a unique partnership: Washtenaw County Parks is purchasing a property, providing trails for the public in a woodlot and leasing ten acres for 15 years to an experienced young farmer. An historical article on land preservation in Washtenaw County was published in the monthly newspaper Ann Arbor Observer, authored by the SARE project manager (attached).
Much activity also occurred on the 150-acre township-owned property. Three new farms were established at the Tilian Farm Development Center, with two more farms starting operations in 2012. The historic barn was cleaned out, a wash/pack station was constructed, a cooler was installed and fundraisers were held. In addition, four hoophouses were erected in nearby fields, with other land used for growing crops (see attached photos). The Farmer Residency Program and Farm Incubator Program received grant funding and is starting up in 2012 with a year-round CSA. Ann Arbor Township continues to support these new businesses by initially waiving lease fees and providing access to the historic barn. The SARE project manager held a fundraiser with local food and music at his barn that raised $2,000, and obtained a $2,500 donation from Glen Arbor MI-based Cherry Republic (purveyor of gourmet cherry products) from sales at its new Ann Arbor store.
Tilian farmers enjoy two years of shared resources at the township property but then must move to a new location. In the most dramatic result of this project, AAT is purchasing a conservation easement on a 64 acre property with funding support from the federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program and the City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt program; the fee simple interest in the property is then being sold to Tilian farmers Nate Lata and Jill Sweetman of Green Things Farm (greenthingsfarm.com) at the agricultural value, with a five-acre building site identified for the construction of a house and outbuildings. It is anticipated that several small farms will be housed on that property in future years. Other such arrangements are being pursued for other Tilian graduates, and the township is considering making other parts of its property available for long-term leasing.
The primary outcome of this project is to establish small farms producing for regional markets using purchase of development rights (PDR) to reduce land costs, improve farm profitability and preserve farmland in a near-urban setting.
In the short term, the project will identify and introduce interested landowners and potential farmers to learn about opportunities to work together and establish small farming operations. In the intermediate term, those relationships will be established and farmers will be encouraged to seek guidance in formulating sound business plans to meet market demands. The long-term outcomes (third year and beyond) will be to have established several operations and to share the results and lessons of our work with others in the immediate region, before reaching out to southeast Michigan, the entire state and beyond.
This project is being viewed as a demonstration for other communities interested in agricultural profitability, land use at the urban/rural interface and local food production. It is expected that new relationships will be created, small farm operations will be established, more local food and other produce will enter the marketplace and lessons will be learned to provide insight and establish the area as a center for innovative approaches to preserving farmland.