Ann Arbor Charter Township

Small Farm Initiative (SFI)

Ann Arbor Township seeks to become the state's premier location for the establishment of small farm operations to supply excellent local and regional demands for fresh produce.

The Township's Small Farm Initiative (SFI) endeavors to link landowners, producers and markets, and can utilize its Purchase of Development Rights program to assist in reducing the cost of land acquisition.

The primary outcome of the SFI is to establish small farms producing for regional markets using purchase of development rights (PDR) to reduce land costs, improve farm profitability and preserve farmland in a near-urban setting. Ann Arbor Township, with its proximity to the City of Ann Arbor and its ample open space and farmland, is an ideal location for this initiative.

In the short term, the SFI has identified interested landowners and can introduce them to prospective farmers so that both can learn about opportunities to work together and establish small farming operations. In the intermediate term, those relationships will be established and farmers will be encouraged to seek guidance in formulating sound business plans to meet market demands. The long-term outcomes will be to have established several operations and to share the results and lessons of our work with others in the immediate region, before reaching out to southeast Michigan, the entire state and beyond.

This project is being viewed as a demonstration for other communities interested in agricultural profitability, land use at the urban/rural interface and local food production. It is expected that new relationships will be created, small farm operations will be established, more local food and other produce will enter the marketplace and lessons will be learned to provide insight and establish the area as a center for innovative approaches to preserving farmland.

Support the Small Farm Initiative


Linking Producers and Landowners and Markets



Information for Landowners
Many small farm properties or plots within them are idle, often for lack of knowing where or how to find people to work them. The Small Farm Initiative can help landowners find prospective farmers, provide sample leases and assist in establishing and maintaining a lesser-lessee relationship. In addition, Ann Arbor Township has a dedicated fund to purchase development rights (PDR) on qualified properties. If development rights are to be purchased, management plans to sustain and improve environmental quality and natural resources will be developed to coincide with agricultural pursuits.

If you have land in Ann Arbor Township that you are interested in selling or renting for the Small Farm Initiative, please fill out the landowner survey (click here for MS Word version of landowner survey) and return to SFI project coordinator Barry Lonik or call (734) 223-2321.

Click here for the Application for the Township's PDR program.


Information for Producers

One of the biggest impediments to establishing a new farm operation is the cost of land. This is especially true in the Ann Arbor area, where development pressure has traditionally made land prices so high as to preclude purchase for farming.

The Small Farm Initiative is endeavoring to assist beginning farmers in two primary ways:

  • Finding smaller plots of land (one to 20 acres) on which a farming enterprise could operate, more likely on a lease arrangement.
  • Purchasing development rights on larger parcels (20 acres and greater) so that land can be purchased at its agricultural value instead of its development value.

Assistance is also available through partner organizations to:

  • Develop business plans
  • Identify markets for crops
  • Find housing if not available on site

If you are interested in farming in Ann Arbor Township please complete a short survey PDF for mailing or MS Word version for emailing and return to SFI project coordinator Barry Lonik or (734) 223-2321.


The demand for local produce in the Ann Arbor area exceeds the supply, and demand continues to grow. Potential outlets for fresh produce include:
  • Farmer's markets
  • CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, where consumers purchase an annual share of food produced on a farm)
  • Natural foods grocery stores
  • Restaurants
  • Institutions such as hospitals, public schools and university dormitories.

The Small Farms project has developed contacts that can get produce to these and other markets. The Ann Arbor area is ripe with opportunity as there is strong support for local food. For more information contact the SFI project coordinator Barry Lonik or (734) 223-2321.


Available Properties

The Small Farm Initiative has identified a host of available properties and plots for small and medium-sized operations, most for rent and some for sale.

A. Properties for Sale


Visel Location: west side of Pontiac Trail, north of M-14 Size: 42 acres Arable acres: 35 (large fields under lease in 2011; 10 acres unused) Soil types: Miami loam, Fox sandy loam Features: old orchard, well (needs electricity), buildings (but full) Contact: Jerry Visel, (734) 662-3117

McGrew Location: west side of Pontiac Trail, north of Warren Rd. Size: 15 acres Arable acres: 12 Soil types: Miami loam Features: pond (irrigation?), electricity, tractor, land fallow (may be organic certifiable), adjacent to township property/Tilian project Contact: Jeff McGrew, (734) 761-8030

Doroudian Location: west side of Gleaner Hall Rd. between Warren Rd. and Joy Rd. Size: 11.5 acres Arable acres: unknown (needs clearing) Soil types: Miami loam Features: none Contact: Mark Doroudian, (248) 347-6384/(248) 444-5225c

Other sites may become available; contact Barry Lonik,, (734) 223-2321

B. Plots for Rent

None at this time

C. Lease to Own/Land Contract

None at this time

D. Other



Purchase of Development Rights (PDR)


Purchase of Development Rights (PDR): PDR is a means to compensate landowners for the development potential of their property while retaining private ownership. An independent real estate appraiser studies the property for development and for agriculture by comparing it to other nearby properties that have sold recently. The difference between the values in those studies establishes the value of the "development rights" which is paid in a lump sum or installments. A deed restriction called a "conservation easement" is drafted, signed and recorded ensuring the land's availability for farming and open space is maintained forever.

Voters in Ann Arbor Township passed a 20-year millage in 2003 to fund a PDR program. The Township Farmland and Open Space Preservation Board matches those funds with other sources to secure the funds to purchase development rights. The Township has completed eight PDR projects:

  • 148 acres of the Kapp farm on Nixon Rd. and Joy Rd.
  • 84 acres of the Zeeb property on Nixon Rd. and Pontiac Trail
  • 286 acres of the Charles and Catherine Braun farm on Whitmore Lake Rd.
  • 187 acres of the Tom and Theodore Braun property on Whitmore Lake Rd., Joy Rd. and US-23
  • 51 acres of the Bill Gould property off Joy Rd.
  • 74 acres of the Pardon property on Stein Rd.
  • 64 acres of the Green Things farm on Nixon Rd
  • 22 acres of the Arbor Woods County Preserve on Joy Rd.

Several other projects are in process.

The Township also owns 153 acres preserved for farmland that is the site of a new farmer development project called the Tilian Farm Development Center.

Click here for the Application for the Township's PDR program.


Links to Partner Organizations and Other Good Info


Food System Economic Partnership

Michigan State University Student Organic Farm - Organic Farmer Training Program

Michigan State University Extension

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

Preserve Washtenaw


Support the Small Farm Initiative

Private contributions help make land affordable for beginning farmers. Please consider supporting the Small Farm Initiative by making an earmarked donation to Ann Arbor Charter Township and mail to 3792 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor MI, 48105.