Face Of This Place

Ginny Trocchio, Ann Arbor

Ginny Trocchio worked in the Fund’s Ann Arbor office, where she heads the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Initiative, among other projects. Launched in 2003, the Initiative protects and links city parks, natural areas and working farms. An outdoor enthusiast since childhood, Ginny moved to Michigan to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and worked for the Fund from 2005-2015.

How did the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Initiative start?
The Ann Arbor Greenbelt Initiative began with a voter-approved tax. It replaced an existing tax program that was for land acquisition only within the city limits. The newer tax program allows the city to spend funds to preserve land outside city limits, as well. 

What is the Initiative’s goal?
Our initial focus was to protect open space while curbing unplanned sprawl. Farmland is a priority because it’s often such a good mix of stream corridors, woodlands, wetlands and wildlife habitat. When the program started, Ann Arbor was seeing rampant development around the city, and many of the farms were being sold to developers and turned into subdivisions. Over the last decade, the development pressure has eased, but the program continues to garner a lot of support from residents and from the city because now there is a new emphasis on local food production.

How has the Initiative changed over time?
The biggest change has been the increased focus and community support for local food production. Ten years ago, people believed agriculture was no longer viable in this area. Many farmers were aging out of farming and weren’t investing in infrastructure because they thought they were going to be the last generation to farm the land. Today, there is a renaissance in farming in many areas of Michigan.  More young people are interested in farming as a career, and they see the area as ideally located because it’s close to the markets where people want to buy local foods. Farmers are redoing their barns and building infrastructure to invest in their operations for the next generation of farmers. Watching this transition has been wonderful.

Why does local food production mean to the community?
We have a new food hub, the Washtenaw Food Hub, in an area surrounded by about 700 acres of farmland that the city and the township protected. The hub serves as a food distribution point, an aggregation center and an education center for local farmers. The farm that’s immediately adjacent to the food hub was once slated for several hundred manufactured homes. If it had been developed into a large subdivision, a food hub wouldn’t have made sense. But because the farmland was saved, the hub is a now a new resource for so many farmers. 

Do you remember the first farm you helped protect?
Definitely! It was the Bur Oaks Farm, a 152-acre property just northwest of Ann Arbor. It’s a fantastic farm owned by Tom and Rosanne Bloomer. They grow popcorn and soybeans. They actually roast the soybeans on the farm and sell them at local markets and online. Funding to protect the farm came from the city, the USDA Farm and Ranchland program and the Bloomers themselves.  In fact, the Bloomers continue to be engaged in the initiative. A few years after Tom Bloomer helped protect his own farm, he was appointed to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission and now works with us to help protect other farms. 

Are all the farms you protect so memorable?
Actually, yes, they are. One of the things I love most about this job is getting to know the farmers. These farms often have been in the same family for generations. Hearing the stories about what the farm was like when the current farmers were kids, and knowing that it’s going to stay the same for future generations, is really inspiring.

What do you wish more people knew about the benefits of a program like this?
Farmland protection can bring economic benefits to a community and improve the quality of life for everyone. Since we began, we’ve protected more than 4,000 acres on 37 farms and several natural wildlife areas within the county park system. These lands are great for residents, offering public access and recreation opportunities. You can be just outside the city and yet it feels very rural; you can easily escape the pressures of an urban lifestyle.

What started as an Ann Arbor city project has really grown throughout the local community. The Greenbelt now includes eight townships, and since the city passed the tax for the initiative, three townships have passed tax programs. Several other townships are using general funds so they are able to invest and leverage city funds for even more land protection. To have the mix of rural and urban is such a great benefit for everyone here.

"This initiative is unique in several ways, including the fact that Ann Arbor residents voted to tax themselves to protect lands outside city boundaries. They recognize that protecting land surrounding the city has real benefit at home. For instance, Ann Arbor gets 80% of its water from the local river here. Since many farms include stream corridors, protecting farmland helps protect the water supply." 
— Ginny Trocchio

Learn More

Face Of This Place
Places We Work: Michigan
Ann Arbor Greenbelt Initiative