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| 5 min read| by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

Scio Township is taking the next step in its plans to conserve a large tract of farm land and open space that it bought last year.

With this next step, the township has entered into a purchase agreement to transfer the 150 or so acres at the northwest corner of Scio Church and Zeeb roads into private ownership.

At a special meeting on March 20, which was carried out over remote conferencing, the Scio Township Board approved a resolution by a 4 to 1 vote to enter into the purchase agreement process to sell the land the township purchased in July 2019.

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The property is the former Aprill family farm, which the township purchased for $2.3 million last July as a land preservation effort.

The township is now selling it for the same price to the Frederick G. Andres Trust, represented by his wife, Lois Andres, who said she was also there with her son Richard Andres. She was in attendance at the March 20 special meeting and said they were excited about the new opportunity.

In talking about their motivation, she said she and her son want the challenge of establishing an organic farm in Scio. She said she believes her husband would be proud of their decision and pleased to see this wonderful, beautiful land used for farming rather than for more development.

In follow up after the meeting, township supervisor Jack Knowles said one important thing about this proposal and decision is that this land will remain as agricultural/open space. During the meeting, Knowles called the purchase agreement an opportunity.

The township’s land preservation commission looked at the proposal in January and in its minutes said, “an exciting proposal was received from the owners of Tantré Farms, a local organic farm.”

The farm’s website said Tantré Farm is owned and operated by Richard Andres and Deb Lentz.

The minutes said the LPC directed township consultant Barry Lonik to pursue additional information on the proposal as well as to propose how to best approach a sale of the property that assured a permanent conservation easement and maximized partner participation in the purchase of the CE.

Knowles, Lonik and township board trustee/land preservation commission member Irwin Martin all described the agreement as unique and complex.

This photo was taken last year.
Scio Township Supervisor Jack Knowles (right), township trustee and land preservation commissioner Irwin Martin (middle) and land preservation consultant Barry Lonik stand in the Aprill family farm field at the northwest corner of Scio Church and Zeeb roads. This field and surrounding land are now part of the township land preservation program.

Martin said it’s probably the most complicated deal he’s been part of during his time with Scio. He said a lot of time and effort were put into making sure everybody was protected and represented in the agreement. Martin credited real estate attorney Joe Fazio and Lonik for their help.

In describing the agreement, Lonik and Martin said the purchaser is buying the property for $600,000 and agreeing to pay a mortgage for $1,700,000 held by Scio Township. 

“Scio is then applying for federal grants to assist in the purchase of conservation easements, due March 31,” Lonik explained through email. “The property must be in private ownership to be eligible for federal funds. Once those funds are committed (by September 30), Scio will match that with funds from the Ann Arbor Greenbelt program and the Washtenaw County Natural Area Preservation Program to purchase conservation easements. The proceeds from those sales (two, 80 acres each) will be used to pay off the mortgage.” 

“Innovative and complicated, but brilliant!” Lonik said.

In the end, he said Scio will contribute somewhere between $300-500K to conserve a highly visible, scenic, historic, productive farm so funds from the township’s dedicated millage will be used very efficiently. 

“In addition, the property will become a model for sustainable agriculture in our area,” Lonik said.

Knowles and Martin said the township never purchased the property with the idea that it would own it forever.  

“There had been some conversations about perhaps saving part of the west end for some township purpose (community gardens, etc), but nothing more than conversation,” Knowles said. “When this opportunity presented itself…we did not solicit it…they came to us, it accomplishes what the Land Preservation Committee promotes (conservation and conservation easements) and will most likely keep the land in agricultural production.”

Martin said the township’s goals for the property have always been about protecting and preservation. He said the township also doesn’t want to be a landlord or farmer, so selling it to someone committed to farming and preserving open space was important. He said the purchaser’s proposal was appealing and interesting to the township.

Flintoft said, “I voted against the sale of the Aprill Farm because we had not entertained any other offers, and so I was not assured that this was the very best deal that the township could get. Further, there were not compelling reasons to rush the sale of a township asset that has so much significant ecological and economic value.”

However, she also said, “Our process aside, I wish Lois Andres and her family all the best in this exciting new endeavor. As a Tantré Farm share box subscriber myself, I look forward to seeing what the family will create here in Scio.”

Flintoft said she expects the Tantré Farm to continue.

Lonik said the purchaser’s plan is to plant native grasses to restore soil health, increase biodiversity and store carbon, and orchards, berries and other crops for human consumption.

On its website, Tantré Farm described itself as being an organic farm since 1993, located about 20 miles west of Ann Arbor. It grows and harvests fruit crops including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, pears, melons, and more depending on the fruit weather as well as about 80 to 100 varieties of vegetables, mushrooms, and a small variety of herbs and flowers.

“We sell our produce through CSA shares, at various local stores, restaurants, and also at the Ann Arbor and Chelsea Farmers Markets,” the Tantré website says. “Our farmland has grown to about 115 acres of wetland, woods, and sandy-loam fields.”

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