Prior to Ann Arbor Township Ownership
The property currently known as the Ann Arbor Township Farm was owned by the Kluck family for many years. The last member of the family to own it was Max Kluck. (It is unknown if the Klucks raised chickens.)
Ownership of the property transferred to a company called Multifastener, which purchased it as far back as the 1970s as an investment to be developed with houses someday. In the early 2000s the Silverman Companies—a real estate developer from Bingham Farms, Michigan—began working with the owner on a proposal for a residential development. Silverman also acquired land adjacent to the Multifastener property north of Pontiac Trail for total holdings of nearly 250 acres.
Silverman proposed two clustered developments on the property: 38 units on 64 acres at the northwest corner of Nixon Rd. and Warren Rd., and 12 units on 31 acres north of Pontiac Trail. The 153 acres in between were to remain undeveloped. As those proposals worked their way through the township review process, Silverman purchased the property from Multifastener through subsidiaries called Lake Village Residential Properties, LLC (for the 64 acres) and Brandon Forest Lake Company, LLC (for the 31 acres).
The question then became what to do with the 153 acres of open space. Several proposals were floated including a riding stable for disabled children; a group advocated for private ownership but then dissolved. Silverman did not want to own the property as the common area of its developments and proposed that the title be donated to the township. In December, 2006, Lake Village and Ann Arbor Township agreed to the transfer of title, subject to a set of use restrictions.
Transfer of Ownership To Ann Arbor Township
The use restrictions addressed a number of topics including commercial activities, structures and land surface alteration while permitting continued agricultural use and maintenance of structures including the barn along Pontiac Trail. In addition, two zones were identified: a livestock and building envelope area along Pontiac Trail extending south, and a manure prohibition area on the west side of the proposed Lake Village development. The township board of trustees assigned consideration of the property’s use to the Farmland and Open Space Preservation Board (FPB), which was already implementing the farmland purchase of development rights (PDR) program funded by a 20-year township millage.
Initially the FPB recommended continued lease of the tillable portion of the township farm (about 110 acres) to Dale Kapp, who had been leasing the property from Silverman to grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. (Kapp’s 148 acre farm—located east of the property on Nixon Rd.—was the first portion protected through the township’s PDR program.) Soon, however, interest in local foods and small-scale farming developed and the FPB began re-thinking use of the property.
Moving Toward Small-Scale Farm Development
The FPB visited the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) in 2008 to meet with Jeremy Moghtader, Director of the MSU Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP), and his students to discuss land needs for new farmers. The possibility of facilitating the transition of SOF graduates to Ann Arbor Township to start new farms as part of the Township’s Small Farms Initiative began to generate interest. Moghtader drafted a concept proposal to the FPB in early 2010 which outlined the creation of a Residency Farm and Incubator Farm co-located at the site and run by the nonprofit Food Systems Economic Partnership (FSEP) in cooperation with the OFTP and Ann Arbor Township.
The township worked with FSEP–which serves five southeast Michigan counties with farm-to-school, farmer training, farm business assistance and food policy programs–and Moghtader to develop and submit a grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program in December 2010. In that proposal the Township agreed to provide 10 acres of land for the Farmer Residency Program (at its current location) and access to the barn and up to an additional 40 acres of land for a future Farm Incubator Program. The USDA did not fund FSEP’s proposal from 2010, so a new proposal was drafted in November, 2011.
The Township maintained its commitment to the project. In anticipation of supporting that movement, the Township Board of Trustees invested $40,000 from its general fund to stabilize the barn with interior supports, foundation work, wood siding and a new metal roof.
Tilian Farm Development Center
In late 2010, City of Ann Arbor resident Jeff McCabe appeared before the FPB having just received notice that his proposal to USDA to establish a four season farm incubator project had been funded through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). McCabe, whose project was originally sited for a small plot of land at Tessmer Farm, was seeking a stable location for the project, one that could grow with the project, and an agreement was reached to site it at the Township Farm. McCabe signed a direct lease with the Township for the Four Season Farmer Incubator Project (now called the Farm Incubator Program) for the 16 acre plot that currently contains the incubator farms, and installed the first hoophouse in April, 2011.
Three farms were selected as the first group of new businesses to be developed: Seeley Farm, Bending Sickle Community Farm and Green Things Farm, who broke ground in April, 2011. Late in 2010, a Steering Committee was formalized and the project was named Tilian Farm Development Center. In 2012, two new farms joined Tilian’s Farm Incubator Program: Meristem Farm and Honest Eats Farm. Additionally, Tilian launched its own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that is operated by two-year residents as a part of its new Farmer Residency Program.
After lengthy discussions with the Township, FSEP and Jeff McCabe, Tilian’s Steering Committee agreed that the Four Season Farmer Development Program and previous efforts to create a similar program with the Township at the 4400 Pontiac Trail property should be merged into one effort. The Steering Committee–including area farmers Shannon Brines and Dan Bair, landscape architect Jessica Neafsey, FSEP’s Director Jen Fike, the Four Season Farmer Incubator Project Manager Andrea Ridgard, McCabe and Moghtader–undertook a collaborative process to come up with a name and mission for the project.
As part of its commitment to Tilian, the Township Board made additional investments to the property including the installation of electricity to the barn and a high-volume well for irrigation. The two-year CIG provided funding for construction of a wash/pack station, a root cellar and a number of hoophouses. In 2011 Tilian became a fiscal partner of FSEP, who soon obtained its own USDA Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant for equipment purchases made in 2012 to support Tilian’s Farmer Residency and Farm Incubator Programs.
Members of the Township Board and FPB, along with representatives of Tilian, FSEP and others, will be engaging in a planning process for the entire Township Farm property in the Summer of 2012, with an eye toward continuing to develop and foster successful small scale farm businesses. Current Tilian farmer Alex Cacciari of Seeley Farm, as well as a Tilian Steering Committee member Tomm Becker, now serve on the FPB.
In the 2012 season, Tilian Farm Development Center is open to the public on the second Monday of every month from April-October from 1:00-5:00 PM for volunteer opportunities
with the incubator farms and the Tilian CSA. A schedule of Summer events and fundraisers can be found at tiliancenter.org. Please contact Tilianfdc@gmail.com for more information.