Hillside Homestead: Putting the Environment First

Susan Odom of Hillside Homestead has many concerns while managing her authentic farmstay in the rolling cherry hills of Leelanau county. First, that her guests receive the best experience of a century ago: antique furniture, a huge cast-iron stove fed firewood to push away the morning cold, and gourmet food served like the the home cooking you imagine your great-grandmother gave to the hungry mouths of your family a few generations ago.

maeap+logo-300x200The same attention to detail she gives to the authenticity of her farmstay extends to the land with which she makes this 1910s fantasy a reality, and she strives to practice responsible land stewardship. Now, with the help of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), her plans to reduce the environmental impact of her farm have also become a reality.

This innovative and voluntary program focuses on protecting a resource whose value helps define the identity of this great state: water. The system acts as a way to help farmers identify pollution risks to bodies of surface water and groundwater and plan their farming operations in a way that strategically mitigates these risks. It follows a three-step process of an education session online or with a local MAEAP technician, on-farm risk assessments, and, after all plans have been enacted, a third party verification in which the farm will officially be environmentally verified through the MAEAP program.  

When Susan heard of this program through a local farming workshop, she knew this would be the perfect opportunity to bring together plans she had only been brainstorming.  “MAEAP helped me coalesce management ideas and put these ideas into action,” she explains, “It helped me rethink some of my potential projects and reframe them in the context of how they could risk water pollutants on my farm.”

Some of these projects included where to house her pigs, which she decided would be best to do far away from her local, low-lying pond which connects to a pristine creek that feeds into Lake Michigan. Her local MAEAP technician also helped guide her to stagicially plant vegetation at the bottom of a slope to collect runoff nutrients. Then, utilizing her animals such as her sheep, she could flash graze any areas overly-vegetated to remove nutrient buildup.

“I love the idea of people getting together to protect water,” Susan explains, “I’m hoping that when people see my sign and realize that I got the verification, they will be motivated to do so as well!” People, like Susan, who lead by example are just one of the reasons that this program has gained such traction in recent years–and it doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Protecting our local water will be an ongoing process, so if you would like to become verified, please contact your local MAEAP technician to advance your land stewardship practices today.  

This was co-written by Connor Drexler (Americorps Vista for NWMI Food and Farming Network) & Lizzy Freed (MAEAP Technician of Grand Traverse Conservation District). Contact Connor at  [email protected].  Contact Lizzy at   [email protected]