Zone with the farmer not against

A strategic planner says local commissions need to involve farmers in the zoning process to preserve farmland across rural landscapes.

Paul Sachs, director of strategic impact with Ottawa County, tells Brownfield community planning should consider future development and farmland preservation simultaneously.

“The need to balance that growth and support the ag industry is critically important, and local zoning is an instrumental piece of that equation for effective land use planning,”

He says regulations and permanent conservation easements can be used to preserve farmland, but economic viability also needs to be supported.

“You have to build and ensure there’s strong competitive markets for the commodities to be viable and that requires other experts around the table,” he shares.

Sachs says public officials can drive where growth happens for the betterment of an entire community.

“Use effective planning techniques to drive that growth to areas that make sense where existing infrastructure may be and do infill development opportunities,” he encourages. “You can still grow as a community while balancing and retaining that robust agricultural and rural character.”

Located between Lake Michigan and Grand Rapids, Sauk says Ottawa County has one of the fastest-growing populations in the state. It’s also one of Michigan’s top-producing counties in terms of agricultural sales, first in the state for crop, nursery, and greenhouse sales as well as third for fruit, berries, and poultry and eggs.

Officials are working to increase the county’s farmland preservation program to protect as much productive ag land as possible.

AUDIO: Paul Sachs, Ottawa County

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