Fight to Preserve Farmland Packs Commission Meeting

Posted at 1:24 PM, Nov 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-07 18:07:14-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.– Buying local from businesses and farmers is a big movement in West Michigan. But, there’s a possibility that farmland could be turned into commercial development if money is not budgeted to preserve it. And, supporters are worried what that would mean for the local economy and the health of West Michigan.

Restaurants, like Grove in downtown Grand Rapids, has a motto of “Earth to Table.” It relies on local farmers for a lot of its business.

“The local food movement is really catching on here in GR in just the past few years,” said General Manager, Jill Norris.

Creating fresh dishes using Michigan grown meat, fruit and vegetables is what Essense Restaurant Group prides itself on. Their restaurants include Bistro Belle Vita, and Cherry Street hotspots, Greenwell and Grove.

“It’s more healthful.,” said Norris. “A lot of time they are sustainable and they use less pesticides.”

That’s why those in the food industry are worried about dwindling funding to preserve farmland, and the threat of losing it to commercial development.

Farmers, restaurant owners and several others, packed the Kent County Commissioners meeting Thursday morning to let commissioners know that money must be kept in the budget to fund agricultural preservation. Commissioners were even surprised by the few dozen that showed up and literally stood in unison during public comment.

“Our concern is often times, if a farmer wants to retire, they will sell their land and often that land will become development or it becomes a subdivision or maybe it gets re-zoned for commercial or somewhere along that long,” explained Norris. “By having those funds to keep that land in agriculture, it wont be actively farmed at that time but will be held in trust. Maybe somewhere down the line, someone can come in and farm it again.”

There is $25,000 in the 2014 budget to staff the Agricultural Preservation Board. But matching funds the county used to give are zero.

Those fighting to keep this funding say its up to our local officials to set the standard and show the community that these sustainable farms are  important.

The Kent County Board of COmmissioners will vote on this forthcoming budget later in November.