I am part of a loose-knit group of Old Mission Peninsula farmers called Protect the Peninsula Farmers LLC. The recommendations developed by the Township-sponsored Citizens Agricultural Advisory Committee would actually negatively impact farmers, whether grape growers or otherwise.
While I recognize the efforts put in by the agricultural committee, when it comes to farmers, it grossly misses the mark and will negatively impact their livelihood, if adopted.
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But first, a few comments. There are no grape growers on the ag committee. The committee does not allow remote participation in meetings or even viewing by anyone unable to personally attend. Nor are minutes kept to allow anyone to know what is being discussed and ultimately recommended, until this past Monday night at the Planning Commission meeting.
It is stated that the committee’s purpose is to see if they can suggest compromises to the ongoing winery lawsuit. However, that stated objective has never been undertaken. Instead, the suggestions do just the opposite. (Read the ag committee’s recommendations in the packet for the Planning Commission meeting of May 16, beginning on page 34 here. -jb)
The first recommendation is to do away with the winery-chateau ordinance. This does not seem like seeking a compromise to me. The report reads like it was written by the Protect the Peninsula (PTP) folks. In fact, many of the recommendations are said to be by majority. Did all the farmers, the truly ag reps on the committee, vote no on those? We don’t know, because the Township decided this committee would operate mostly in the dark.
Indeed, when we asked to at least be allowed to view or hear the discussions in a technologically efficient way, we were flatly told no, even though we offered to defray any related expenses. Furthermore, it was the Township and not the members who said no. The members said they would not object. What was the Township trying to hide? Well, now we know.
So, here are a few things that will be negative to growers of grapes and other products…
No winery will be allowed to open unless the winery has 80 contiguous acres. This hurts farmers in two ways. First, the amount of sites that have 80 acres with the requisite amount of growable land for grapes is very limited. Therefore, if there are no new wineries, Peninsula grape growers will have a limit on the amount of product they can sell in the future.
The other negative impact for Peninsula farmers and residents is that any farm with less than 80 acres will not be available for sale to a winery. If it is non-PDR (Purchase of Development Rights) land, then the only option is to sell it for development or hope that the Township has enough money to buy the development rights.
Even if you have 80 acres, given the other requirements for percentages of land that must be devoted to fruit growing, it may be that you’re nevertheless closed out because a winery simply couldn’t buy it. It is obvious to the casual observer that this requirement alone is a blatant attempt to prohibit a farmer from selling his property for the best available use.
The next issue where farmers are impacted is on the draconian mandates that a winery or food processor must grow 85 percent of its needs to meet other mandates with regard to percentage of land devoted to growing on its own property. This is different from the current requirement, which is much more generous to the local farmer.
So, even if the farmer can absorb the fact that no new wineries will be coming here, having the market share reduced is a blow to his bottom line, already severely negatively impacted by rising costs and changes in the cherry market, for one.
Other recommended changes would hurt farmers, as well. There are many, but I will give just two examples. Warm food would no longer be allowed to be served at wineries. I know plenty of wineries that use local products in their warm food offerings paired with their wines. In addition, some of the wineries do wine education dinners and tout their local farm-to-table offerings. These would no longer be allowed.
So, I ask you, where is the so-called ag component of the ag committee’s recommendations? Certainly, no farmer on that committee would support restricting their ability to supply the wineries with the fruits of their labor.
You will hear the argument made that we are not touching the current wineries, that these recommendations are only for prospective wineries. But as is pointed out in Rudy Rudolph’s opinion piece, any time any winery would seek an amendment to its special use permit (SUP), or is found in violation of their current SUP, it would have to comply with the new ordinances. I wonder if they would have to shut down their existing winery because they are on 40 acres, for example!
So, you see, it’s not that simple, and no matter where you sit on the winery lawsuit, you should realize that Peninsula farmers could be severely and adversely impacted. And, you could see more developments, rather than less.