DEARBORN - Ford Motor Company has always taken pride in its approach to sustainability. In fact, it was Henry Ford himself who emphasized the overall importance of agriculture.
To this day, Ford is applauded for his ceaseless efforts in cultivation that took place more than a century ago.
Cherry Hill Farm, Ford’s last free-standing working farm, was honored this week by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) for effective land stewardship. MAEAP verification is a voluntary program that shows farmers how to reduce agricultural pollution.
“Today's recognition is another example of Ford's commitment to sustainability,” said Donna Inch, chairman and CEO, Ford Land. “It truly represents what Henry Ford was all about, and the fact that we have a working farm still around is a tremendous tribute to him.”
Workers, state officials, media, family and friends gathered Tuesday as Gordon Wenk, chief deputy director, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), spoke of Ford and its significant 12-year partnership with the VanWashenova family who farms the property.
"With this farm’s historical tie to both the automotive and agriculture industries, we congratulate Ford Cherry Hill Farm and the VanWashenova family on this verification," said Wenk. "This verification shows the strong commitment both Ford and Cherry Hill have to sustainable agricultural practices as well as safeguarding the environment."
After his brief introduction, Wenk presented the VanWashenova family with a plaque of accomplishment for meeting the state’s criteria for minimizing pollution. He then unveiled a sizeable commemorative sign, declaring Cherry Hill Farm "environmentally friendly."
This is exactly what Henry Ford would’ve wanted.
In the early 1900s, Ford bought the 882-acre working farm, along with roughly 26,000 other acres in southeast Michigan. It was during this time that Ford began using many of these farms as laboratories, experimenting with farming techniques, crops and tractors.
The Cherry Hill Farm was used to test Ford’s reputable Fordson tractor – among others – before marketing them to the public while also raising crops for experimentation, including early biomaterials and food production.
Today, Cherry Hill Farm is the only remaining active farm owned by Ford, producing corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.
"Before brands like John Deere, Fordson put the agricultural world on wheels," said Robert Kreipke, corporate historian.
The farm is managed by Ford Land, and is actively farmed by Al VanWashenova and three of his four sons.
"I am honored to farm land that has such strong ties to Ford," said Al VanWashenova. "Getting the Ford Cherry Hill Farm verified was the right thing to do, and I am very proud of this accomplishment."
In addition to his interest in building farms, Ford also thought it was important to engage the community surrounding the land he purchased. In doing so, Ford made sure all of his properties were properly fenced, the roads were in good repair and the schools for the farm children were the best around.
Many of the farms were used as meeting places for the community, and Cherry Hill Farm was no stranger to holding dances in the historic barn and community meetings in the old farmhouse.
"It's kind of what differs Henry Ford from other industrialists," said Kreipke. "He was a middle-class farmer who always ventured back to the land."
The land was meaningful to Henry Ford and keeping his dreams alive is important to both Ford and the VanWashenova family.
“My father worked for Ford, and we always said if we had the chance to farm a place like this, it would be awesome," said VanWashenova. "If somebody asked me what I'd do now, I would say I could die and go to heaven because this has been one of my dreams."
For more information, visit the MAEAP website at www.maeap.org.