Living Sustainably: Preserving farmland ensures future food

By Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County Economic Development
When you boil it right down, the term sustainability really just means ditching the mindset of “there will always be more.” More fossil fuels. More places to put our trash. More safe water. More clean air. More abundant food.
Let’s focus here on that last one: more food. Almost all of us have heard the United Nations prediction that the world population will hit close to 10 billion people by the year 2050, and not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges that will accompany that burgeoning population is feeding them all.
Even with all of the amazing innovation and technological advancements in agriculture, growing our food will always be reliant upon having adequate land available for farming. As you drive around Ottawa County, it might not seem like we need to worry about protecting our farmland, with all of the different
crops and barns you see, including blueberries, corn, soybeans, hay, celery, cattle, hogs, poultry.
But make no mistake, many factors threaten our farmland, including development pressure, lack of new farmers to take over operations, and financial instability of farming, just to name a few.
Ottawa County leaders are very aware of these threats and are actively working to protect county farmland.
One protection method the county uses is the creation of permanent agricultural easements through its Farmland Preservation Program. This program allows the county to procure the development rights to farmland from landowners, which means the land must remain agricultural and can never be developed.
The program uses a combination of grant funding, landowner contributions, and private donations to purchase the development rights. No county tax dollars are used to purchase the rights.
Using agricultural easements to protect farmland has a number of benefits.
For a young farmer trying to break into the industry, buying farmland is often the largest capital acquisition they will make. Buying farmland that has an agricultural easement on it can be more affordable for that young farmer.
For the farmer who protected his land with an agricultural easement, the money that he or she receives from the county in exchange for the development rights to the land can be used to invest in the farming operation, to save for retirement, or to balance out their estate among their successors.
For everyone else, the benefit is the land we depend upon for food production is permanently protected.
While creation of agricultural easements is the farmland protection tool that the county has been using the longest, it is not the only tool. County leaders are working on a comprehensive plan to help address the most critical threats to our farmland, and that plan will be released later this year.
Two upcoming events are related to the issue of farmland preservation.
If farmland protection is important to you, please consider attending the Farms are the Tapas fundraising event on Sept. 26, 2019. The evening feature farm-to-table foods, master chef cooking competitions, fresh local ingredients, a silent auction and live music. Find out more at
To learn more about farmland loss and what we can do about it, consider attending our Redefining Farmland Preservation event on Nov. 8, 2019. Learn more at
 Becky Huttenga is the economic development coordinator for Ottawa County. She works to redevelop underutilized and contaminated properties, protect prime farmland, and invigorate the farm economy in throughout the county.

Event Details:
Two events will address the issue of preserving farmland in Ottawa County

What: Farms are the Tapas
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 26
More info:

What: Redefining Farmland Preservation
When: 8:30 a.m., Nov. 8
More info: Search Redefining Farmland Preservation at Evitebrite

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community & Neighborhood: The places we live and the individuals we interact with support the development of our personalities and perspectives on life. Encouraging vital and effective communities is essential.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to institute for more information.