Michigan is first in the United States in petunias and pickling cucumbers and a world leader in the production of tart cherries. Famous for its grapes, peaches and apples, the state also has a thriving agritourism industry. More than a third of its 10 million acres of farmland is under some kind of preservation agreement. Now it can add hosting the culmination of the long-delayed 2014 Farm Bill to its list of agricultural accomplishments. President Obama signed the bill into law on February 7, 2013 at Michigan State University. And Glen Chown was there.
“The Farm Bill has a profound impact on conservation acreage in America,” says Glen, executive director of the accredited Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in northwest Michigan. Glen is also a Land Trust Alliance Advocacy Ambassador. For three years he worked closely with the bill’s sponsor, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), to protect land trust priorities in the bill. It would ultimately designate more than $1 billion in conservation funding for working farms and ranches through the Agricultural Land Easements program.
“Senator Stabenow is passionate about conservation and natural resources and the work we do,” Glen says, “but passage of the Farm Bill took great perseverance and vision on her part. Now it’s up to us to get to work. Building a relationship with congressional leaders is essential. If we’re going to increase the pace of land conservation, this is the way to do it."
In fact, the Conservancy places as much importance on providing information to elected leaders as it does to donors and the media. “It’s the little things — a note, a photo, an invitation to a celebration,” says Glen. “The best way is to invite legislators out to see your project and meet with landowners to see firsthand what you’re doing. It’s lots more fun for them than meeting with K Street lobbyists.”
The Conservancy has outlined its future priorities: thousands of acres straddling the east shore of Lake Michigan of fruitbelt farmland ideally suited for specialty crops; blue ribbon trout streams that
crisscross this land; and unique dunes on the coast. Farm Bill funding could help secure these lands for all time. Meanwhile, the organization is planning a big barn party to commemorate the bill’s passage. “As a land trust movement, we should all be celebrating this accomplishment,” says Glen. “It will have an extraordinary effect on our mission.” With a cherry on top.