8. Ag Management
Emergency Ag Relief Act Re ag labor and workers
Vera Bitsch, Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation sponsored by
Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) that would
provide relief to the agricultural employers and farmworkers on May
15. The legislation was attached to the Iraq supplemental spending
bill. Different from the stalled AgJOBS legislation EARA, this is
emergency legislation with a five year sunset and does not provide a
path to citizenship or a green card. However, it would grant temporary
immigration status to farm wokers who continue to work in agriculture
at least 100 days per year. It would also modify the H-2A guest worker
The bill is supported by many agricultural employer organizations
(e.g., American Farm Bureau), agricultural labor advocates and farm
worker organizations (e.g., United Farm Workers).
More information is available at
9. 'Ridge' apple farms may become wind farms
by Ken Kolker, Chronicle News Service
Monday May 12, 2008, 9:29 PM
Chronicle News Service/Rex Larsen
Standing in alfalfa, Harland Reister takes in the view of some of his
140 acres of farmland in Chester Township and talks about the wind
testing tower planned for his property.
The rumors have blown in the wind for several years - that green power
companies were eyeing rich farmland known as the Ridge in Kent and
Ottawa counties for major wind farms.
A pair of companies quietly have competed against each other to buy up
leases for wind turbines that would tower above apple trees and
pastures in places like Sparta and Chester townships. They could be
high enough to be seen from downtown Grand Rapids.
Chronicle News Service/Ken KolkerWind turbines in Mendota, Ill., about
100 miles southwest of Chicago.
Some farmers in Kent and Ottawa counties hope to become part of a
national phenomenon. A U.S. Energy Department report released Monday
said that wind can produce a fifth of the nation's electricity needs
within about two decades -- about the same amount produced now by
The report talks of the possibility of 75,000 new wind turbines by
2030 and an expanded transmission system to move the power to other
parts of the country.
A Spanish company soon will install a nearly 200-foot-high tower on an
alfalfa farm in Chester Township to test whether the wind is strong
enough to produce a steady flow of electricity.
"It's as far out there as we can get it so it won't ruin our sunset,"
said Janice Reister, pointing to the rolling field behind her family's
home on 8th Avenue where the test tower will be built in what could
become the "Chester Heights Wind Project."
Iberdrola Renewables of Spain refuses to discuss details of its
pursuit on the Ridge, citing competitive pressure.
"We're looking in the area, trying to put up a couple of test towers
for wind data," said Dan Litchfield, who is working on the project for
Iberdrola, the world's leader in renewable energy development. "That's
all I can say about our project at this time."
However, company officials told Chester Township leaders they hope to
build 30 to 35 towers in the area, township Clerk Jan Redding said.
The township, which approved a wind farm ordinance several years ago,
gave the company permission in April to build its first test tower on
the Reister farm at 8th and Gooding Street.
A map displayed by Iberdrola showed it had leased "quite a few
parcels" in the southeast corner of the township and was trying to
obtain leases on more land, Redding said.
In Sparta Township, Iberdrola's Litchfield is expected to appear
Tuesday before the Planning Commission on a request to build a test
tower on a farm on Phelps Avenue NW between 14 and 15 Mile roads.
"He wants to get started right away," Township Clerk Bonnie Robinson
said. "He's been pressuring us to get this going and have a public
She expects the full township board to approve the test tower next
month. "I think it would be a great thing," she said.
At the same time, Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy says
it has signed leases with farmers covering 4,000 acres around the
Heritage officials said it could take two to four years to start
harvesting local wind. They envision 15 to 30 wind turbines on the
"It seems that the land owners are open to investigating the idea with
us," said Heritage project coordinator Rick Wilson.
Heritage, which is building its first wind farm in Missaukee County
near McBain, says the wind appears favorable on the highest points of
the ridge, though tests are needed to confirm that and to determine
the best sites for turbines.
The Ridge also would work because of existing high-voltage
transmission lines, which would carry the wind-produced electricity,
Wilson said it also helps that "the city of Grand Rapids is really
trying to orient themselves into being a green city."
The wind farm would "be a pretty prominent element on the landscape,"
he said. "You'd probably be able to see it from downtown Grand
Michigan is the 14th windiest state in the continental U.S. and is
second to Minnesota in wind potential among the Great Lakes states,
but it's near the bottom nationally in turning it into electricity.
The Ridge is one of several areas Heritage is considering for wind
farms. The company has signed leases for about 50,000 around the
state, including the Thumb, Wilson said.
The state's first commercial-scale wind farm opened this year in the
Thumb -- 32 turbines developed by John Deere Wind Energy on 3,200
acres of farmland between Elkton and Pigeon in Huron County. The
turbines produce enough energy to power 15,000 homes.
On the Ridge, Wilson would expect turbines anywhere from 400 feet to
475 feet tall to the tip of the blades -- more than 100 feet taller
than the biggest building in Grand Rapids.
He's not sure how much electricity each tower would produce. The
turbines in the Thumb each produce 1.65-megawatts, but wind farms are
moving toward bigger towers capable of producing 2.5 to 3 megawatts,
He expects to seek zoning approval in a year from local townships.
"Obviously, zoning is a big part of it," he said. "We're going to need
some permits. We probably have to have language in zoning ordinances
for wind-energy development."
So far, residents haven't objected, said Redding, the Chester Township
"I haven't had anybody say, 'Oh, are you kidding me?'" Redding said.
"There may be some who object to the towers; we may have to cross that
bridge when we come to it."
Wind farms would provide income to farmers through leases and could
help preserve agriculture, Redding said.
Harland Reister, 80, who leases out his 140 acres for farming, said
he's looking forward to the test tower, though Iberdrola officials
haven't told him when it's going up.
Wind power makes sense, he said. "Wind is pretty free, you know, at
least it doesn't take any oil or gasoline to make it."
10. Growing Pains
By: Amy Whitesall
May 15, 2008
Within months of moving from Santa Fe to Grand Rapids, Sally Triant
started a community garden at the Waters House Apartments.
"One of my requirements to survive is I've got to have the opportunity
to dig in the soil," says Triant, a master gardener who has
participated in several community gardens. "I love picking my own food
to put on my plate. You know where your food comes from, and obviously
there are no fossil fuels involved when it travels from your back door
to your kitchen."
Gardens meet a real need for beauty, hobby, and fresh food in cities.
But growing food in the city takes more than soil, water and sunlight.
Urban growers need the backing of their cities and communities to make
"The first and most important thing is really to have people realize
you can have food production take place at a reasonable scale in an
urban environment," says Tom Cary, formerly the sustainable
agriculture and local food systems coordinator for the West Michigan
Environmental Action Council.
"You're not going to be able to grow acres of wheat in Grand Rapids,
but you can produce high value, high quality crops in an urban
environment and be profitable. You can grow a reasonable quantity of
food in a 20' by 40' or 50' by 50' area that's more than enough to
feed yourself and perhaps sell to some local restaurants or to
Why Gardens Matter
Sometimes that means changing minds, sometimes it means changing
policy. The City of Grand Rapids' newest zoning ordinance recognizes
the potential for urban agriculture. It opens opportunities for
community gardens in parks, formalizes the $1 lease for gardens on
unused city property, establishes a parking minimum for those sites,
and identifies a go-to person at each community garden. It also allows
for greenhouses on residential property. Perhaps more importantly, it
puts community gardens more formally on the city's radar,
"The hurdle at this point is giving the city officials time to
understand this issue because I think right now some people are not
sure," says Andy Bowman, planning director for the Grand Valley
Metropolitan Council. "Some don't necessarily see why this is an
important issue that matters to residents."
The benefits of gardens of well documented. First and foremost,
vegetable gardens produce fresh and organic food. Gardens also provide
peple like Sally Triant with recreation and, when her neighbors are
digging too, social interaction. And gardens also can help turn
underused and unsightly urban properties into more attractive and
productive land, accelerating the city's revitalization.
Bowman and representatives from the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems
Council worked with the city's planning and parks and recreation
departments on the new zoning law. That process was, he says, a great
opportunity to make a place for urban agriculture.
The next step for the city is a community dialogue about green space
and sustainability, says planning director Suzanne Schulz. The Green
Grand Rapids process, in part, will take a look at the role gardens
and farmers markets play in providing fresh, locally grown fruits and
vegetables for urban residents.
One outcome also could more extensive composting and greenhouses at
Butterworth Landfill, an option several city leaders see as an
attractive alternative to paying approximately $12 a ton to haul away
biodegradable waste, as the city does now.
Getting Down to Business, and Pleasure
Tom Cary, meanwhile, envisions an agriculture renaissance zone - a
policy that promotes rooftop greenhouses, old warehouses converted to
indoor hydroponic farms, and other operations - all located near food
processing facilities and, eventually, the people who will eat it.
"We're not there yet," Cary says. "I think one of the things that the
state of Michigan and probably many others are looking at is what
kinds of businesses are consistent and ongoing in our state that
contribute to a modern and more sustainable economic development
strategy. If agriculture is critical to our state economy, then what
role do cities play in supporting, integrating and fostering those
kinds of activities?"
Within a 50-mile radius of Grand Rapids, Cary says, people spend $3-$4
billion a year on food.
"Why don't we keep that local?" he say. "Why don't we establish
systems that encourage those dollars to stay in our own regional
economy? The way we do that is to create more business opportunities
around food production and distribution."
Greenhouses and hoophouses can triple the growing season for some
crops and make it possible to grow cold-weather crops year- round.
Fresh spinach in January, anyone? And if you like those fresh
vegetables, how about fresh eggs? Detroit, Kalamazoo and Chicago all
allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens for egg
Grand Rapids does not, and even the city's most hopeful urban farming
pioneers aren't talking chickens right now. But it could happen.
"It's a perception thing," Cary says. "There are some real zoning and
planning things that need to happen, but people in general just need
to realize that it's a viable way of life."
Sally Triant kept chickens in New Mexico and says she'd love to have
fresh eggs again, though chickens might be a tougher sell for her
landlords, even if they are her in-laws.
Still, the garden at Waters House has turned out to be a worthwhile
investment for what used to be unused space. The 10 plots are
available only to people who live in the apartments, and when Triant's
mother-in-law shows an apartment, she regularly points out the garden
as an amenity.
"We have some first-time gardeners, which is fun," Triant says. "When
you rent you rarely have a chance to dig up the earth."
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