LANSING — COVID-19 has put farmers across Michigan under stress, especially when it comes to serving their produce to restaurants.
The family who runs West Michigan’s Visser Farms LLC knows that pain firsthand. Last year they hoped to open an additional farm stand to sell some of their 300 different varieties of specialty crops directly to their community and help offset the hardship of the pandemic.
When the family asked for a zoning ordinance text amendment to allow for a special-use farm stand they never expected resistance from the Holland Charter Township Planning Commission, which may vote again tonight on whether to grand the stand a special-use permit.
“Here, the people have a demand: They want it, and you have a farm that needs the stand. A community wants to support you — but can’t,” said 33-year-old Zeeland farmer Case Visser. “It ruins me to see this vacant ground. A business was selling just a few years back before we came here, so how a business was able to operate here before and now you tell us we can’t operate because we’re a farm, I don’t understand that.”
Planning commission board member Randy Kortering commented in a March 16 meeting that they would like to allow farm stands in the township but said, “it would be difficult to write wording … (to) allow these types of sales but not fireworks, blankets, etc. out of the back of a truck.”
Michigan Farm News reported in September 2020 that township board members argued the farm stand couldn’t operate because it’s not an ag-zoned property. The Visser’s pushed for an answer from the township through Zoom meetings, but said the issue was pushed off.
Michigan Farm Bureau Government Relations Specialist Matt Kapp said the local township should approve a special-use permit and let the multi-generational farm continue.
“The community wants to keep farms around and wants local food,” Kapp said. “Unfortunately, local governments with their archaic zoning polices often get in the way of that.”
Case said the township should see the need to help a local farm.
“It’s very important to this community,” he said. “I’m one of four brothers who are involved in this. Agriculture is our life, and this is how we make our living. We’re not able to make a living by them not allowing us to sell here, and we really need this avenue for income.”
— Michigan Farm Bureau
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