News release from Ottawa County Farmland Preservation

Farm Where You Belong


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COVID-19 underscores importance of farmland preservation

WEST OLIVE – Few would argue agriculture is an easy profession. When Mother Nature or the market throws a curveball, farming industry professionals stand ready. But when COVID-19 arrived in Michigan, it hit our agriculture sector hard by disrupting supply chains. Fresh milk was dumped; meat processing plants were closed; access to vital migrant work became uncertain.

Some Ottawa County farmers felt the crisis in their pocketbooks immediately and had to quickly adjust.

 “We were doing our normal restaurant deliveries at 10 o’clock when (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) came out, saying all the restaurants were shut down,” said Shelby Visser of Visser Farms. “It was kind of … all of a sudden, and our chefs were calling us, saying, ‘hey sorry, we have to cancel our order for today.’ Restaurants have kind of been a staple part of our income for years, and losing them was a huge loss.”

With eateries on lockdown, Visser Farms took action. “We got a hold of some people that had empty lots, and they let us sell our produce at different roadside stands,” Shelby Visser said.

These popup shops allowed for more direct sales to consumers, softening the blow of the shutdown. Visser Farms also opened up an online store, allowing customers to preorder produce and reduce in-person contact.

Besides online and at area farmers markets, Visser Farms is still operating their Waukazoo Woods pop-up shop at 152nd Avenue and Ottawa Beach Road three days a week. For hours and locations, visit

Visser farm

A Visser Farms employee cleans freshly harvested sweet onions at their Olive Township facility.

For local producer Maple Hill Beef Farms, the biggest concern at the beginning of the outbreak was processing. With agriculture being declared essential, Maple Hill’s Tracee Geurink felt reassured – at first. “(Being essential) is all well and good – until it’s not. We had concerns of not being able to move animals and product … that’s probably been the biggest challenge,” said Geurink. To adjust, they scheduled the rest of their processing dates far ahead, ensuring their supply chain. But it hasn’t been all bad for Maple Hill. Retail sales have spiked. “People have been coming directly to us,” said Geurink. “When (certain products) aren’t readily available in the stores, we have a lot of demand.”
They were able to provide beef when big box grocers couldn’t.

COVID-19 has proven how important a stable, local food supply is. Ottawa County protects this vital local industry with a powerful tool: the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

By utilizing a combination of state and/or federal grant funding, private donations, and landowner contributions, farmland development rights are purchased, creating a permanent agricultural conservation easement.

“Farmland preservation is vital. Even in the last 30 years that I’ve been alive, so much has changed developmentally around here,” said Geurink. “It’s really important to keep farmland farmland, because there is a greater food demand  –  there’s more people. The more you shrink back on farmland, the harder it is for farmers to supply.”

Farms are the Tapas set for September 24

The PDR program is gaining momentum. By September 2020, 406 acres will be protected. And well over a dozen property owners have shown interest in the program this year. However, current funding constraints restrict the pace in which these properties can be protected. That’s why continued fundraising is imperative.

The PDR program is hosting the annual Farms are the Tapas fundraiser and silent auction from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. September 24, 2020, albeit a bit differently amid the pandemic.

“Farms are the Tapas is our premier agriculture event,” said Farmland Preservation Specialist Julie Lamer. “We are taking the necessary steps to ensure this fundraiser is safe for all who support farmland preservation.”

To streamline the Tapas experience and offer a touch-free virtual option, we’ve partnered with Event.Gives. Through our new site, Event.Gives/Farmland, you can register, buy tickets, view event updates, peruse auction packages, and virtually bid on silent auction items. The auction will open September 17, a week before the event. Once the auction opens, registered participants can bid on items via their smartphone or other web-enabled device.

The day of the event, ticketholders will be invited to either pick up tapas dishes to go at Terra Square or enjoy tapas dishes safety while socially distancing outside the venue. Per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, masks will be required. Wherever ticketholders choose to enjoy their tapas, they will be able to vote via text message.

Sponsorship opportunities for Farms are the Tapas are still available. Proceeds support farmland preservation in Ottawa County. To register for the silent auction or buy tickets, visit, and click on the ‘Tickets’ tap, or go directly to Event.Gives/Farmland.

For more information on sponsoring Farms are the Tapas, to learn more about the PDR program, or how you can protect your farmland, visit, or contact a farmland preservation specialist at or 616-738-4852. 

Maple Hill Angus

Angus cows enjoy the morning air at Maple Hill Beef Farms in Olive Township. Their cattle are forage-fed, merging the leanness of grass-fed and the flavor of grain-fed.