Ottawa County

Ottawa County program preserves farmland for future generations

The Kruithoff family has raised hogs, beef cattle, and crops in Kent and Ottawa counties for 50 years. Tim Kruithoff started farming with his father 29 years ago, joined by his wife, Christine. And now, two of their three children also farm full time with them. Recently, the Kruithoffs made certain their grandkids, great-grandkids, and beyond will have that same opportunity.

They opted to permanently protect 148 acres in Wright and Chester townships in Ottawa County.

“When we were approached in Ottawa County, it was kind of a no-brainer,” says Kruithoff. “Our intent is to do everything we can to protect the farm communities to keep them. It’s really sad when you see a beautiful farm get broken up and houses built right out in the middle of farm country. A developer comes in and buys it and, next thing we know, there are 10 houses. That land will never go back into farming.”

Third participating family

The Kruithoffs are the third multigenerational farming family to protect their land through Ottawa County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. This program uses a combination of state and/or federal grant funding, private donations, and landowner contributions to purchase the development rights to farmland, creating a permanent agricultural conservation easement. The Kruithoff easement brings the total number of acres protected by the PDR program to 238.
Three generations of the Kruithoff family relish the moment they officially protected 148 acres of their farmland. (Ottawa County photo]
“Preserving farmland with Ottawa County ensures land protection and local food security for generations,” says Economic Development Coordinator Becky Huttenga. “And, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of local food supply chains. In the face of crises, we need our farms.”

By August, with the help of a grant from the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund, the county will be adding another 168-acre parcel to its list of protected farms. To better visualize the program’s expanding collection of protected agricultural land, the county has created a virtual tour. 

Addressing farm needs

Ottawa County’s farmland protection program is about more than just permanently protecting acreage. The county’s farmland preservation specialists strengthen the program by addressing beginner farmer needs, increasing succession planning efforts, and employing numerous other programmatic efforts. 

These efforts have been noticed, landing Ottawa County on the National Agricultural Land Network’s Advisory Committee. The NALN is an initiative of American Farmland Trust, and strives to further strengthen the collective capacity of public agencies, planning entities, and land trusts working to protect agricultural land.

“Ottawa County’s continued success in farmland preservation is a testament to the strength of its PDR program and understanding the needs of farmers in the county,” says American Farmland Trust NALN Director and Senior Policy Adviser Cris Coffin. “We’re ecstatic to have this team aboard, helping to guide the network’s programming on a state and national level.”

Improve, influence

Being a part of the Advisory Committee will bring myriad professional development opportunities, including shared development and input for resource materials, and will help the county’s robust PDR program continue to improve and even influence initiatives statewide and nationally.

Kruithoff knows the program works because his parents went through it a few years ago with their 50-year-old Kent County farm, which he now owns. Kruithoff’’s dad grew up on a vegetable farm in Grant in Newaygo County but opted instead to raise livestock on his farm in Kent County. Kruithoff’s great-grandparents — who came from the Netherlands — were farmers, too. 

He and his family farm about 2,400 acres on land where Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Newaygo counties connect. They raise primarily pigs, along with some cattle, on their Newaygo farm. They also grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa to feed the livestock. The Ottawa County land being preserved includes a hog farm in Conklin and open fields in Wright Township. 

‘A good way of life’

Kruithoff’s oldest son, Justin, who earned his ag tech degree from Michigan State University, always knew he wanted to be a farmer. Youngest son Colin had no plans for farming. It was only after graduating from Ferris State University with an engineering degree and working for six months in his chosen field that he realized how much he missed the farm life.

Kruithoff was the same. He went to school to learn the tool-and-die trade, but he also came back to farming.

“I missed being out on the farm, working with animals, the crops, and the equipment. It’s just something that I've been around my whole life,” he says. “It's just a good way of life.”

A lot of risks

It’s also a tough life. There are a lot of risks with farming. 

“When things go right, you have a really good year and make good money. But then next year, things don't go right, and you give it all back. There's not a lot of other business models like farming, where you're at the mercy of the weather, the markets, and trade deals,” Kruithoff says. 

“I jokingly say the farmers’ mentality is, ‘Well, we always have next year,’ if we have a bad year. We're always looking forward to ‘Next year, it is going to be better.’ Farmers are never-ending optimists,” he says.

Something special

There’s something special about tending to the land, Kruithoff says. The smell of the soil after an early spring rain, or after the hay has been mowed. He describes that feeling as nourishing for him and his sons, the same way it was for their parents and grandparents. 

“The goal is to keep this operation continuing for generations and see it go to the grandkids and maybe their grandkids,” he says. 

The Ottawa County farmland preservation program is hosting the annual Farms are the Tapas fundraiser and silent auction from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 24, 2020. Learn more at Event.Gives/Farmland, where you can register, buy tickets, view event updates, peruse auction packages, and virtually bid on silent auction items. There are also sponsorship opportunities. Proceeds support farmland preservation in Ottawa County. 
 
For more information about the PDR program, visit miOttawa.org/farmland, or contact a farmland preservation specialist at [email protected] or 616-738-4852.

 
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