- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2020

CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - A parcel of land in western Michigan is among the latest to be preserved as farmland while Ottawa County’s population continues to grow.

Jim Klein’s farm in Chester Township has been in his family since the 1860s. And it will stay in the family, thanks to a state grant that Ottawa County officials helped obtain, The Holland Sentinel reported.

“Protecting our property was a no-brainer,” Klein said in a statement. “I was worried my farm may not be here forever.”

The Ottawa County Farmland Preservation Program in February scored a grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It was used to secure the development rights to farms to ensure they remain designated as farmland as the county’s population rises. Klein’s nearly 168-acre (68-hectare) farm is the county’s first to be preserved using the state grant.

The program has preserved 406 acres (164 hectares) of farmland, including Klein’s.

Meanwhile, Ottawa County lost 17% of its farms from 2012 to 2017, according to the 2017 Agriculture Census. County officials have said population growth and housing needs caused the declined.

Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County’s economic development coordinator, said farmland loss can also be measured financially, not just in acres. More than 9,000 people work in the agriculture industry and over $500 million in agricultural products are sold annually, she said.

“Agriculture is an essential player in the regional economy, and a source of local food security,” Huttenga said.

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