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Shady Side Farm awarded $168,000 grant

Lamb at MSU
Posted at 3:55 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 15:55:40-04

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Shady Side Farm in Olive Township received a $168,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to protect 123 acres of farmland.

"In '92 we bought the farm that we're on," said Mike Bronkema, co-owner and operator of Shady Side Farm. "The farmer that sold me the land that I'm on wanted to see it preserved. He wanted me to buy the farm because he knew I was going to farm it instead of subdividing it." Bronkema was part of the committee that pushed for the Agriculture Preservation Board. "I realized that preserving farmland in Ottawa County was important, and that whatever we did had to benefit the farmers."

The funds will not only ensure the land is preserved but will also pay for an agricultural easement to permanently protect five parcels totaling 123 acres.

"I realized that preserving farmland in Ottawa County was important, and that whatever we did had to benefit the farmers."

Though Brokema supported the program, qualifying to protect one’s own operation is different.

"(Sitting on the board) has nothing to do with it," Bronkema mused. "Put it this way. It's all the practices that you put in, in your farming, on your farm - in things that you're doing to improve sustainability in your farm is what gets you approved for farmland preservation."

Brokema has previous experience securing grants to achieve his goals for Shady Side Farm including adopting an array of conservation practices.

"We've chosen to put in a lot of different (sustainability) practices that are not considered common on the farm," Bronkema continued. "Farmland preservation is just an extension of some of those programs - they're interconnected."

Sheep browse at Shady Side Farm in Olive Township. The Bronkemas raise grass-fed Polypay sheep for both meat and wool.

Brokemas farm produces beef cattle, lamb meat, lamb wool, and organic dry beans and grains including wheat, oats, corn and barley.

"We diversified one piece at a time," said Bronkema. "The sheep ended up bringing in what we needed into the operation to change the crops out there in the field. You know, in raising the crops, we figured out we had to have a different marketing strategy than what we were doing conventionally."

Officials report the Bronkemas will be the sixth farming family to protect their land through Ottawa County's Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.