May 30, 2013
Vineyards verified as responsible stewards

Voluntary efforts by a group of Michigan wineries and vineyards to minimize agricultural pollution were recognized recently by Gov. Rick Snyder and agencies involved in administering the program.

Representatives from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the Grand Traverse Conservation District joined Snyder at a media event April 26 to recognize the participating wineries and vineyards, on Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City, Mich., for becoming verified in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

Through the verification process, the vineyards implemented voluntary and proactive pollution prevention practices.

“I’m proud of the proactive environmental steps these award-winning wineries and vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula have taken to become MAEAP verified,” said Snyder during the gathering held at Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery. “The actions of these growers speak to their voluntary commitment to responsible on-farm practices, and its importance regardless of the location, size or what commodity your farm produces.”

MAEAP is a collaborative effort of farmers, MDARD, Michigan Farm Bureau, commodity organizations, universities, conservation districts, conservation and environmental groups and state and federal agencies.

More than 100 local coordinators and technical service providers are available to assist farmers as they move toward verification. To date, more than 1,500 MAEAP verifications have been issued.

“Having all these wineries and vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula verified is a great achievement,” said Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD’s director. “MAEAP’s ability to implement safe farming practices on a variety of farming operations, such as vineyards, shows how strong of a program it is, and will be, for years to come.”

MAEAP is a multi-year program allowing producers to meet farm-specific goals. The program encompasses three systems designed to help producers evaluate the environmental risks of their operation. Each system – Livestock, Farmstead and Cropping – examines a different aspect of a farm, as each has a different environmental impact. The program assists farmers to comply with state and federal environmental regulations and with Right to Farm practices.

The Grand Traverse Conservation District provided technical assistance to the vineyards.

“Grand Traverse is a region rich in agricultural and natural beauty,” said Tree Sturman, executive director of the district. “Through the MAEAP program, we have empowered our local vineyards to wed their business goals with their affection for the natural world. The Wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula and their supplier vineyards exemplify this conservation ethic. These businesses are among the more than 100 MAEAP verifications completed in our area, demonstrating that they are doing the right thing for the land they love by preserving its integrity for future generations.”

MAEP technician Garrett Coggon stressed that adopting sound practices to preserve and enhance working lands is crucial not only for wineries and vineyards but also for surrounding orchards and other cropland.

“Many of our wineries source grapes from farmland that is permanently protected from non-agricultural development through Peninsula Township’s pioneering Purchase of Development Rights program,” Goggon said. “When we recognize our agricultural lands as the foundation of the agritourism industry, it makes perfect sense to protect them from development and ensure that they are managed in a manner that only enhances the region’s natural beauty and integrity.”

Goggon noted that while MAEAP assists growers in reducing their risks and meeting regulatory requirements for agriculture, it also fosters a “deepened stewardship of the land.”

“Instead of pulling our harvests from the land in a linear fashion, our growers see themselves as part of a system where the land grows the crops and attracts visitors, and we are lucky enough to nurture the product from bud to barrel,” Goggon said. “We then return the byproducts to the land and gently nourish it; providing for the cycle to begin again, and renewing the views that bring our customers here.”

MAEAP-verified farms also have plans in place to deal with unexpected occurrences such as a fuel spill or fertilizer leak, Goggon indicated. They have taken steps to reduce the risk of accidents and streamlined their farming operations at the same time.

Wine-making operations in the Old Mission area include the newly opened Hawthorne Vineyards, 2 Lads Winery, Black Star Farms, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, Peninsula Cellars, Lardie Orchards, Manigold Farms, Montanã Rusa Farms and Ochs Orchard.

The Old Mission Peninsula has been recognized for its award winning wines: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, sparkling varieties and ice wines.

Brys Estate owner Walter Brys said the MAEAP verification “validates to our neighbors, community and customers that were are maintaining the highest production standards and practices in growing grapes produced from our farm.”

He said the verification process becomes a regular part of business operations.

“The practices are monitored and audited every two years to reconfirm verification status,” Brys said. “Loss of verification status would be negatively perceived.”

He said the ongoing efforts are not too daunting for operators.

“For the most part, many of the growers were already using many of the recommended practices. A change in record-keeping formats and maintenance of certain records could create a minimal burden.”

For more information about MAEAP, click here.

Gary Pullano

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