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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

https://safs.msu.edu/blog/tillian-incubator-farm

Tilian Incubator Farm

Tilian Farm is located just outside of Ann Arbor and managed by the Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MFFS). Jared and Caroline oversee the daily operations of the eight tenant farmers who work on Tilian’s 44 acres. This incubator farm has been around for about eight years and has seen large growth since its original 14 acres. In addition to adding land, they have built four hoop houses and six caterpillar greenhouses. Tilian’s other facilities, combined with their greenhouses, amounts to about $20,000 in infrastructure. The farmers who rent land here are diverse in their production, growing everything from spring mix, gourds, root vegetables and other produce. In addition, some are involved in animal husbandry with chickens, as well as beekeeping. The tenants benefit from this models due to the low entry cost, as well as the insight from other farmers.

Tilian Farm is located just outside of Ann Arbor and managed by the Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). Jared and Caroline oversee the daily operations of the eight tenant farmers who work on Tilian’s 44 acres. This incubator farm has been around for about eight years and has seen large growth since its original 14 acres. In addition to adding land, they have built four hoop houses and six caterpillar greenhouses. Tilian’s other facilities combined with their greenhouses amount to about $20,000 in infrastructure. The farmers who rent land here are diverse in their production, growing everything from spring mix, gourds, root vegetables and other produce. In addition, some are involved in animal husbandry with chickens, as well as beekeeping.

When we pulled up to the farm, Caroline and Jared were waiting in the parking lot to greet us. Both of them are highly involved and informed in the local food system. We walked the trail back to where most of the production took place and came upon a plot of land with several greenhouses and rows of dark soil, punctuated by bright green streaks of growing veggies. Having learned so much about soil health in my other classes, I was curious as to what practices Tilian was involved with. I was surprised by Jared’s answer; Tilian doesn’t require its tenants to abide by any specific growing practices, although maintaining soil health and using non-harmful chemicals and fertilizers is highly encouraged.

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An incubator farm is a tremendous resource to beginning farmers, as it carries much less risk than buying land. That’s not to say the farmers at Tilian are risk free; they face many of the same struggles that plague small farms across the country. One risk that Jared talked about is the pollen drift from surrounding farms. Since many tenants are involved in organic agriculture, particles from other farms travelling in the wind can pose a major risk of contamination to their crops.

In the highly commoditized agricultural market, Tilian has found a niche in local, sustainable products. While there is demand for local food, there’s often a disconnect between producers and consumers. Farmers markets serve as a great outlet, however, many producers don’t have the time or the scale to bring their products to farmers markets. Community supported agriculture (CSA) is another great way for a farm to sell products, but even this takes time and organization to pull off. Fortunately for Tilian, they have Argus Farm Stop not too far away. Argus describes themselves as “a year-round everyday farmers market.” They essentially act as a bulk-breaker since they source products from over 200 producers (Tilian included) within a 20 mile radius.

The producers drop off their items at Argus and make sure they’re arranged to their preference, after that, it’s out of the farmer’s hands. Argus even allows farmers to set their own retail prices, which, combined with the ease of drop-off, makes this outlet much less work for the farmer than a CSA or farmers market. Being a reliable buyer, this retail outlet like this also provides a fairly consistent income for farmers of the surrounding area. I was intrigued by this business model, and was curious where it could be applied elsewhere. I thought it could be an awesome asset to the Greater Lansing Area (GLA) since we have so many people involved in urban agriculture. I feel that a steady buyer such as Argus would be a great asset to the GLA and the future of urban agriculture.

When it comes to Tilian Farm, its income isn’t directly from selling produce. They receive money from MFFS as well as the rent they receive from their tenants. In a blog published by Argus Farm Stop, they wrote about the future of Tilian. In an effort to diversify and become more financially independent, Tilian has set its mission to be not only a productive resource, but an educational resource for the community, where they could hold classes and workshops on farming. With the possibility of a new fruit/vegetable stand onsite, and possible expansion into livestock, Tilian is constantly growing and evolving. I was thankful to have the opportunity to speak the directors, Jared and Caroline, and hear their stories about the farm.

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