State fetes Darling farm, others for being green
■ The Darling farm is one of more than 2,500 state farms to have helped Michigan reach the half-way point in its goal of getting 5,000 farms verified as environmentally friendly to the land and water resources.
BY DEAN COUSINO
MAYBEE — The Darling Farms near here was the toast of Monroe County and Michigan agriculture Thursday.
The farm run by Elgin and Joanne Darling and their son, Doug, was feted during a celebration of the 2,500th farm verification in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program ( MAEAP), a significant milestone in the state’s goal of achieving 5,000 verifications.
“ Today is a great example of what agriculture does,” Wayne Wood, retiring president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, told about 65 persons gathered in a pole barn Thursday. “Agriculture performs. ( Those who take part in MAEAP) are good stewards of the land and take care of future generations. Everyone should be proud.”
Officials from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other partners marked the halfway point of the state’s environmental mitigation program by pointing out the accomplishments of the 1,400acre Darling Farm, which has operated for more than 180 years and has been verified in two of the three systems in MAEAP – cropping and farmstead. The family farm currently has fifth and sixth generations living on the land.
Jamie Clover Adams, director of the department, presented the Darlings with a large plaque recognizing them for their commitment to the environment. She congratulated all of the 15- 20 growers present who had their farms verified and compared the accomplishment to losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle.
“ This is about you and what you have done and the changes you made to make your farm better and the western end of Lake Erie better,” Ms. Adams said. “Remember this is a volunteer program to protect our land and water resources … It does work and doesn’t have to have mandatory control.”
She predicted that despite the lofty goal of getting 5,000 farms verified, “we’re going to get there. I’ve seen the productivity in the numbers.”
Doug Darling said participating growers recognize the many benefits of MAEAP, including profitability and protecting valuable resources.
“ We’re improving not just our environment, but the agricultural commu-nity,” he said.
Mr. Wood praised the local conservation districts and county Farm Bureaus for encouraging growers to get their farms verified.
Brenda Reau, associate director of the Product Center run by Michigan State University, praised the Darling family for being “real leaders” in agriculture and the community. A Petersburg resident, she has known the family for years and said MSU has partnered with MAEAP since its inception.
“ Their participation demonstrates that commitment and investment in protecting our environment,” Mrs. Reau told the audience.
Tim Kwiatkowski, local MAEAP technician for the Monroe Conservation District, said 2,505 farms had been verified as of Thursday, including 29 in Monroe County. Among the growers who attended the ceremony was Steve Chont of New Boston, who operates Waltz Green Acres Sod Farm along with his wife, Jeannine. The farm is already verified in cropping and is in the process of being verified for farmsteads. He said the process of safeguarding the farm’s fuel system, pesticide storage and closing a well will take about a year to complete, but is worth the effort.
“ We have more work to do, it does not happen overnight,” Mr. Chont said about his 260- acre farm. “ I’ve been approved for funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for upgrading the fuel system and the well closure, so that helps.”
Each system focuses on a different aspect of farming. Farmers can become verified in all systems applicable to their farm.
Jim Johnson, director of the environmental stewardship division within the Department, also praised the Darling family, saying “conservation has been a big part of this farm” since 1833.
The farm already was active in conservation efforts even before MAEAP came along, said Garry Lee, state conservationist for the federal government.
The farm earlier took part in conservation programs such as EQIP, CSP and CRP and have an onfarm fertilizer storage containment for their plant nutrients, he said.
Nearly 10,000 farms are at some stage within the verification process, Mr. Johnson said. In 2013, the state contributed $500,000 to the program to assist growers in the process, Mr. Lee said.
In 2014, a total of $2 million has been allocated for MAEAP, he said.
Anyone interested in getting a farm verified should contact Tim Kwiatkowski at the Monroe Conservation District at 241-7755, ext. 3.
— Monroe News photo by DEAN COUSINO
Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, holds a plaque she presented to Doug Darling (left) and his father, Elgin, honoring the Maybee farm for becoming verified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program Thursday.