Would-be farmers to get basic training

MARQUETTE – The area’s aspiring farmers may soon have a place to experiment with running a miniature farm before diving in headfirst to a large-scale operation.

Chocolay Township officials are working to create a Chocolay Township Farm Incubator located along U.S. 41 next to the Beaver Grove Recreation Area.

According to Kelly Drake Woodward, Chocolay Township’s planning director, the incubator would act as a helper to aspiring farmers who aren’t sure how to begin their own farm, or who may not have enough capital to buy the land, tools and machinery needed to run a modern-day farming operation.

The 14-acre incubator site would be divvied up into smaller plots to be rented by the farmers. Tools, machinery and educational classes would be provided by the incubator.

Farms would be allowed to stay at the incubator for a few years, working out the kinks of their operations, learning how to farm responsibly and sustainably and building real business plans before setting out on their own.

Drake Woodward said food transported to the area travels an average of 1,500 miles. Providing better access to locally grown and raised food provides “greater food security and greater food independence for all of us,” she said at a Tuesday meeting for people interested in the incubator.

The meeting, held inside the Silver Creek Church in Harvey, was meant to gather information on what the incubator would need to be successful, including management styles, tools and buildings related to production and distribution.

“Our goal is to create a proposal to run past the planning commission and the township board sometime this year, hopefully by fall,” Drake Woodward said.

If the proposal was approved, the site would begin its use as a farm incubator in the spring of 2014 and would be open to anyone, including people living outside Chocolay Township.

A survey was handed out to participants asking what they felt about topics such as the incubator’s location, soil, pest control, organic agriculture, marketing, sales, costs to the farmers, how to educate the aspiring farmers and characteristics to look for in a new farmer.

The survey also asked participants to rate a number of items that could be roadblocks to aspiring farmers.

“We put a link to the survey on the website (www.chocolay.org),” Drake Woodward said. “So if people want to be involved or even if they just have some information that would be helpful to us (submit it) and we’ll take it from there.”

Woodward said the incubator would hopefully work to bring a better sense of community to the area while continuing the local agricultural tradition.

“The staff generated this idea as a possibility and it kind of came about because we do want to keep this property agricultural,” Drake Woodward said. “It’s grandfathered in as agricultural use and we’re looking for something that would be compatible with the recreation area and preserving the possibility of future expansion.”

Organizers are still gathering as much information as possible to ensure the incubator would be a success. Anyone interested in being a part of the farm incubator, or looking to help in its beginning stages can fill out the survey at www.chocolay.org, email Drake Woodward at planner@chocolay.org or call 249-1448.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.