November 24 – TRAVERSE CITY – The Grand Traverse Conservation District will be awarded nearly $700,000 to set up its Great Lakes Incubator Farm project, which aims to give new farmers the tools they need to thrive in business .
The grant will also be used to help preserve and restore historic farms in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding the funds from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Farmer and Rancher Development Program, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced Wednesday.
“We’re very excited because it’s a project we’ve been working on for a few years,” said Coffi Kpachavi, executive director of the conservation district.
Many farmers are expected to retire in the next few years and no one is replacing them, Kpachavi said.
“It poses a problem for feeding the community,” he said.
Skyrocketing land prices are also a deterrent to budding farmers, Kpachavi said. The Conservation District works with local organizations to find farmland for those who will graduate so they have the opportunity to start their own farm without having to compete with others for the land.
The program will support a new generation of farmers in a five-county region of northwestern Lower Michigan and will last three years. Kpachavi said more details will be available in about a week.
The innovative project addresses a critical need in one of Michigan’s most important agricultural regions, Stabenow said in a press release.
“Another thing that makes it so unique is the partnership with Port Oneida,” said Stabenow. “I’ve worked closely with the Grand Traverse Conservation District to support them in their mission and can’t wait to move this project forward.”
Port Oneida’s rural historic district is home to a large number of older farms, typical of turn-of-the-century farms throughout the Midwest. The area has been farmed for more than 100 years, with houses and fields passed down from generation to generation.
Susan Pocklington, executive director of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear (PHSB), does not yet know how much of the grant will go to Port Oneida, but said the incubator farm project fits into the vision recently presented to national park officials.
This plan included one site, Lawr Farm, which was chosen to grow future farmers. The PHSB plan includes mentoring and business aspects of farming. It also intends to work with organizations such as the Michigan State University Extension Office.
The plan also includes using the various farm sites for educational purposes, Pocklington said.
“That would really open up the park for people to enjoy the farm locations and the educational program offered there,” she said.