|Local conservancy leaders Glen Chown (l) and Brian Price.
Last night in Salt Lake City, northern Michigan took center stage.
It was there that Glen Chown and Brian Price, executive directors of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) and The Leelanau Conservancy, respectively, accepted the top award from the Land Trust Alliance – the umbrella service organization of more than 1,700 land trusts across the nation.
Why the win? Land preservation successes totaling tens of thousands of acres that have made the two local conservancies leaders in the state, and in the nation, in best practices. Why should northern Michigan care? Two words: The economy.
“Five to ten years ago when we were talking about farmland preservation, it was mainly about being the ‘right thing to do,’ “ says Chown. “It was touchy-feely.”
Now, Chown says, it’s about the connection to the region’s future economic prosperity. “I’m really proud of how our region has led that change and it’s one of the reasons we won,” he says.
Adds Price, “Michigan has become a real center for excellence in commercial and private land preservation.”
Marking the first time the National Land Trust Excellence Award has ever been given to a pair of organizations seems only natural for the two groups – a mere 30 miles apart – that combined have protected more than 40,000 acres of land, both forest and farm, across the six-county region.
“We’re innovators in the way we work with land preservation … and both organizations recognize that the economy is tied to the natural assets of the region,” Price says.
And ultimately, their collaboration – particularly with farmland – comes down to one simple truth: “If you protect farmland, you continue opportunities to invest in long-term agriculture,” says Chown.
He explains it this way: Say you’re the owner of a dried cherry plant. Won’t you feel a lot better about a $10 million investment that will require 10,000 acres of cherry trees if you know that fruit acreage is protected?
Also, consider this: Across the GTRLC and Leelanau Conservancy’s coverage area, agriculture contributes as much as $97.7 million annually to the local economy in the form of agricultural products sold. It employs more than 2,000 farm proprietors with net farm earnings of $6.6 million and more than 3,000 workers with a total payroll of $12.8 million.