How Macomb County is preserving farmland for future farmers

Starting in the 1700s, Macomb County's long history of agricultural heritage continues today.

Between 1820 and 1840, lumber, crop and livestock farms were the economic drivers that supported the county’s villages. Jumping to the mid and late 1900s, the suburban boom and industrialization decreased the number of farmland throughout the area. 

Currently, there are nearly 500 farms or 79,326 acres of farmed land, equalling 20% of the county’s land. Many of the farms are secluded to the northern portion of the county. 

Jeff Schroeder. Photo: Supplied.Jeff Schroeder, Macomb County’s deputy director for Planning and Economic Development says in 2008 the Macomb Agriculture Preservation of Development Rights Committee or MAPDRC was created to preserve the land for agriculture. This committee includes the 6 townships of Bruce, Armada, Richmond, Washington, Ray and Lenox. In those townships, seven properties are a part of the conservation easements to protect farmland. 

This led to the creation of the Strategic Agriculture Economic Development Plan, Schroeder says. This plan aims to strengthen, preserve and grow the county’s agriculture and food processing. This preservation of farmland is made possible with grants from organizations like the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD).  

“Already we're seeing that things are looking up,” Schroeder says. “We already have an increase of over 50 farms from 2017 to 2022 and we have an increase of over 5,600 acres of farmland.” 

From 2017 to 2022, there’s also been an increase in the market value of agricultural products sold in the county by 46% from $79 million to $116 million, Schroeder says. Macomb is also in the top five across the country for products sold for nurseries, greenhouses, floriculture and sod. 

“It’s an important part of our economy and there’s a lot of benefit to grow and eat locally,” Schroeder says. “Knowing that we have food products that are being produced locally that is then coming to our food processing industry which employs many people within the county and knowing there’s this close loop system, that’s something we want to preserve moving forward.” 

Food Production 

The food production sector is the fastest-growing industry in the county, Schroeder said. The agricultural and food processing sector also contributes $343 million annually to the county’s GDP.  

Vern Kulman, a member of the MAPDRC and farmer in Richmond Township says for most of his life, his property was a dairy farm until 2016 when he turned it into a soybean and cattle farm. On the farm, they raise calves to then send to a feeder which then fattens the cow for future food purposes. Kulman also takes some of the beef ends they have left over to a butcher to make burgers, which they are then able to sell. 

An aerial view of Vern Kulman's farm. Photo: Courtesy of Vern Kulman. 

Much of the food production in the county is primarily focused on crop farming like corn and soybeans and fruits and vegetables, Kulman said. A lot of the corn will go to the ethanol plant in Marysville or Armada Grain, a food manufacturer will buy the grain to use for livestock feed or dog food. For soybeans, they’re typically sent to the crushing plant in Ithaca for oil. 

Last year, Kulman put his 130-acre farm into a conservation easement with the MAPDRC to preserve his land for future generations. 

“This plan is not to stop new development but to organize it,” Kulman says. “For the quality of life do we want it all rooftops from one corner to the other or do we want some open space.” 

There are 816 farmers in the county and 56% of them are above the age of 50, Schroeder says. This program to preserve farmland is more for the younger group than the older group, Kulman says. 

“If we don’t preserve the land it won’t be there for the next generation,” Kulman says. 

It’s also important to get younger people involved in farming through programs like the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture-Agriculture in the Classroom Program and the MAPDRC program, Schroeder says.

“It’s an important thing to be able to relay to a younger generation that 'yes food is grown' and it’s an important part of the economy,” Schroeder says. “It can also set the base for a future workforce that may be interested in food production or the agriculture industry.” 


“When talking about agritourism, I’m talking about our orchards, dairy farms, wineries,” Schroeder says. “Places where people can go and interface with the farm and participate in the products.” 

This gives farmers a way to diversify, Schroder says. They’re not just depending on the crops, but also on the tourism that comes with the farm. He adds that some of these places like Blake's Cider Mill have over a million visits in the fall. Agritourism also allows for people to visit other local businesses in the area. 

Romeo Lavender Farm in Bruce Township is one of the newest farms in the county. The business opened in June 2021 after owner Nick Batsikouras inherited the 17-acre farmland a few years prior. 

A view of the Romeo Lavender Farm in Bruce Township. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Batsikouras. Batsikouras says farming was all new to him after being in the publishing business for over 30 years. When thinking of what to do with this new land, he decided to go with lavender. He also planted wildflowers and sunflowers. All of the plants on the farm are free of chemicals, making it all natural.  

“I just found this new love for farming and agritourism and it’s just been a lot of fun,” Batsikouras says.  

At the farm, people can come and pick their own bunches of lavender from the field. They also have a store with lavender products like syrup and honey. People can also book photo shoots and dinner dates. The dinner dates are farm-to-table where a chef comes out and cooks a private meal for people to eat in the middle of the field. 

The impact has been wonderful, Batsikouras says, and in the future, he hopes to be able to pass down the land to his children.

LAVENDER VISITOR: A customer with her dog visiting Romeo Lavender Farm in Bruce Township, Michigan. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Batsikouras."A lot of people like our farm because it’s not too commercialized."

He adds that people always compliment them on how old-fashioned and down-to-earth the farm feels. 

“People always walk away with a smile on their face,” Batsikouras says. 
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