Northwest Lower Michigan’s extensive croplands, orchards, vineyards, and forests are valuable resources, and the range of agricultural operations (e.g., small fruit farms, family-owned dairies, large-scale agri-businesses) contribute greatly to the regional character and economy.  Protection of agricultural and forest lands is essential to the continued environmental and economic vitality of the region and state.  Since orchards, vineyards, field crops, and forests require specific conditions and microclimates (e.g., soil quality, sun exposure, air drainage), local jurisdictions have a key role in evaluating and protecting irreplaceable sites suitable for these uses within their communities and the region.  A balance of short- and long-term economic interests, as well as a balance of public and private interests, will ensure prime agriculture lands and forests remain productive for generations to come. 






Role of Local Jurisdictions
Northwest Lower Michigan's topography, geology, and diversity of microclimates accounts for the variety of agricultural operations found within the ten counties: cherry and apple orchards, vineyards, dairies, corn and soybean fields, Christmas tree farms, and stands of pines and hardwoods.  Although most of the region’s agriculturally zoned land could be developed into residential, commercial, or mixed-use buildings, not all of that land can support prime agriculture or forests.  Local jurisdictions thus have an important role in protecting our irreplaceable agricultural resources.

Protection of the region’s agriculture and forest lands typically starts with an up-to-date inventory to determine an area’s most valuable resources and the identification of irreplaceable natural resources in local master plans and zoning ordinances.  By promoting infill and redevelopment projects, as well as establishing overlay zones, conservation subdivision (i.e., cluster development) ordinances, and Purchase of Development Rights and Transfer of Development Rights programs, local jurisdictions can help alleviate development pressure on owners of agriculture and forest lands and promote a more sustainable development pattern.

The revision of zoning ordinances to allow mixed-use agriculture further supports active agriculture. Wine tasting and production, Bed & Breakfasts, value-added processes (e.g., producing jams or pies for sale), farm tours, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and roadside markets are just a few possible ways agricultural operations can generate additional income.  Local jurisdictions are also encouraged to allow seemingly unconventional uses (e.g., barns for boat storage) in adapted or new structures within agricultural areas if the structures do not detract from the form or function of the region’s rural areas.  When establishing new agricultural operations, incorporation of Critical Design Practices guidelines will help protect the Northwest Lower Michigan’s rural character and resources.


Wine tasting room in former schoolhouse, Peninsula Township, Grand Traverse County


Barn converted for antique sales, Garfield Township, Grand Traverse County