Local Food Activist May Join Greenbelt Group

Also: Oct. 22 bus tour to highlight Ann Arbor greenbelt properties

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Oct. 12, 2011): Local farmer and food activist Shannon Brines could become the next member of the city’s greenbelt oversight group, if Ann Arbor city council acts on a recommendation made on Wednesday.

Catherine Riseng, Liz Rother

From left: Greenbelt advisory commissioners Catherine Riseng and Liz Rother. (Photo by the writer.)

The greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) voted unanimously to recommend Brines for the appointment, which would fill the one open position, an at-large seat. Brines owns Brines Farm in Dexter but lives in Ann Arbor’s Fifth Ward – which GAC member Carsten Hohnke represents on city council. Hohnke, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, will likely be the councilmember to put forward Brines’ nomination to council.

Brines also works for the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), as does GAC vice chair Catherine Riseng. At Wednesday’s meeting, Riseng told commissioners that she’s been appointed to an advisory committee for the county’s natural areas preservation program, and hopes to serve as a liaison between the two groups.

In other action, the commission voted to write a letter of support for continued funding of a federal program for farmland preservation. As Congress hammers out the 2012 farm bill, funds for the program could be at risk. The city received nearly $2.8 million in federal dollars for greenbelt properties during the last fiscal year.

At Wednesday’s meeting the commission also discussed forming a committee to develop a communications plan for the greenbelt program. The intent is to get the word out about the program’s achievements in a consistent, coordinated way.

One of the program’s ongoing efforts at communication is coming up later this month. On Saturday, Oct. 22, a two-hour bus tour will highlight some of the farmland and other properties that are being preserved by the greenbelt program. The tour runs from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and starts from the Ann Arbor farmers market. Boxed lunches are included in the $15 fee.

Recommendation to Appoint Brines

Two former commissioners – Jennifer Santi Hall and Gil Omenn – were term-limited earlier this year and left the advisory group at the end of June. Liz Rother was appointed by the city council in June to replace Hall, but Omenn’s at-large position remains unfilled.

Shannon Brines has previously expressed interest in the appointment, and had attended GAC’s August meeting. On Wednesday, the commission discussed recommending him formally for appointment by the city council. For most city commissions, members are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council. However, greenbelt commissioners are both nominated and confirmed by the city council.

Brines is an Ann Arbor resident and owner of Brines Farm in Dexter – located outside of the city’s greenbelt boundary. He is active in the local food movement, as a board member for Slow Food Huron Valley, and a steering committee member for the annual HomeGrown Festival and Local Food Summit. In a cover letter applying for the GAC appointment, Brines said he’s also assisting with a farming business incubator project in Ann Arbor Township called the Tilian Farm Development Center. Brines serves on its steering committee.

Brines is also a lecturer at the University of Michigan and manager of the environmental spatial analysis (ESA) lab at UM’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. Since 2007 he has served on the city’s public market advisory commission, which handles issues related to the farmers market. His current term on that commission ends in 2014.

During a brief discussion of Brines’ appointment, Peter Allen praised UM’s recent efforts to use more locally-produced food at its campus dining halls, and noted that Brines is part of the local food network. Dan Ezekiel added that there were several promising announcements recently about UM’s sustainability efforts. [UM president Mary Sue Coleman announced a range of new sustainability goals for the Ann Arbor campus last month.] It puts the university more in step with the city, he said, noting that’s not always the case.

Mike Garfield asked if the commission typically makes recommendations for appointments. No, Ezekiel said, but in this case, Carsten Hohnke specifically asked for it.

Hohnke – a city councilmember representing Ward 5, where Brines lives – also serves on GAC. It’s likely that Hohnke will put forward the nomination for Brines at an upcoming council meeting. Hohnke did not attend Wednesday’s GAC meeting.

Ginny Trocchio, support staff for the greenbelt program, noted that more seats will be opening next year on the commission, so it’s good to continue to look for possible candidates.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that city council appoint Shannon Brines to the greenbelt advisory commission.

Greenbelt Communications Committee

At the commission’s Sept. 14 meeting, Ginny Trocchio had presented an annual report on the greenbelt program for fiscal 2011, which ended June 30. In discussing the report, Carsten Hohnke had asked about the program’s communications strategy, and indicated that he’d like to identify goals for communicating to the public about the greenbelt program and its successes.

On Wednesday, Trocchio reported that she discussed with GAC’s executive committee – chair Dan Ezekiel and vice chair Catherine Rising – the idea of creating a communications committee to develop a plan for those goals. Committee members could work with the city’s communications staff to design branding for the greenbelt, and a logo. Another possibility is to create an impact report about the greenbelt, to distribute to residents. She passed out some examples of brochures and reports that other land preservation groups have developed.

Ezekiel said that this first effort would be important, because it could serve as a template that would just be tweaked in future years. The program is moving from an acquisition mode to a maintenance and publicity mode, he said, so communications will be increasingly important.

Liz Rother, GAC’s newest commissioner, volunteered to on the committee. Other commissioners indicated that they’d think about it.

Support for Federal Funding

The greenbelt program has been successful in tapping matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, or FRPP. In fiscal 2011, the greenbelt program, which is funded through a 30-year millage, also received nearly $2.8 million in FRPP funding. Those funds are used to offset costs of the purchase of development rights (PDR) – the primary mechanism that the greenbelt program uses to preserve farmland and open space. To date, the greenbelt has protected more than 3,200 acres.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ginny Trocchio reported that as part of negotiations in Congress over the 2012 federal farm bill, FRPP funding might be at risk. The Michigan Dept. of Agriculture is asking land preservation programs in the state to submit statements of support for the FRPP. Trocchio said she’s working with local landowners to get letters from individuals who are part of the greenbelt, but she hoped that GAC could also submit a letter.

FRPP funds have helped the greenbelt program achieve its goals, Trocchio said, by leveraging local dollars for federal funds. Without that federal support, Ann Arbor wouldn’t have been able to preserve as much land as it has, she said.

If commissioners agreed, Trocchio said she’d draft a letter for review by GAC’s chair or vice chair before submitting it.

Mike Garfield asked if there seemed to be an immediate threat to FRPP funding. Trocchio replied that everything is on the table. Dan Ezekiel felt the threat was imminent. The so-called “super committee” of Congress that’s working on a proposal to address the budget deficit hasn’t released much information about potential cuts, he noted. “I think when they strike, they’re going to strike fast,” he said.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to approve writing a letter of support for the FRPP program.

Misc. Communications

There were several updates from commissioners and staff during Wednesday’s meeting.

Misc. Communications: Greenbelt Boundary Changes

Dan Ezekiel reported that he and Ginny Trocchio had attended a recent Lodi Township board meeting, where township trustees approved a resolution encouraging Ann Arbor city council to expand the greenbelt boundaries. The city council is expected to vote on those changes at its second meeting in November.

GAC had voted to recommend the changes at its Sept. 14 meeting. If approved by the council, the greenbelt boundaries would expand in Lodi and Salem townships. The recommendation also calls for allowing the city to acquire development rights on property adjacent to (but outside of) the greenbelt boundary, if it’s under the same ownership as an inside-the-boundary property that’s being considered for the program.

Ezekiel indicated that Salem Township’s board will also be weighing in with a recommendation to approve the boundary changes.

Trocchio noted that the the changes would require votes by council at two consecutive meetings, but there would still be time to solicit applications from landowners in the newly added areas before February 2012. That’s the deadline to apply for matching funds from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, which helps offset the cost of the city’s greenbelt acquisitions.

Misc. Communications: Riseng on NATAC

Catherine Rising informed her colleagues that she’s been appointed to Washtenaw County’s natural areas technical advisory committee (NATAC). The county board of commissioners approved her appointment at their Oct. 5 meeting.

NATAC advises the county parks & recreation commission regarding its natural areas preservation program. Like the city’s greenbelt program, NAPP is funded by a millage and works to preserve natural areas and farmland throughout the county.

Riseng – an aquatic ecologist researcher at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment – said she hopes to serve as a liaison between the two advisory groups.

Misc. Communications: Meeting Times

As they had at last month’s meeting, commissioners again discussed possible new dates for their monthly meetings, which now fall on the second Wednesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. For Dan Ezekiel and Catherine Rising – the commission’s chair and vice chair – the current time requires them to leave faculty meetings related to their jobs.

After additional discussion of possible alternative dates, Ezekiel suggested deferring the decision. He noted that two current commissioners – Carsten Hohnke and Laura Rubin – weren’t there to weigh in. Nor was the potential new commissioner, Shannon Brines.

Closed Session

Commissioners spent the last 40 minutes of their meeting in closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. They did not take any additional action when they emerged from closed session.

Present: Peter Allen, Tom Bloomer, Dan Ezekiel, Mike Garfield, Catherine Riseng, Liz Rother. Also: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Carsten Hohnke, Laura Rubin.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. October 15, 2011 at 11:05 am | permalink

    Yay! That’s wonderful! Congratulations (in advance) Shannon :)