At our core, we are about farmland. Every day, we work to ensure the best farmland in our state is actively farmed, both so it produces good food for the community, and so its natural resources are protected into the future.
We know, however, that none of that would be possible without the right land stewards in place, caring for the farmland we protect. That is the ethos behind our stewardship program: to walk side by side with farmers, long after the land is protected, to support them as they nurture the soil, water, and habitat on their land.
Making farming viable
Our conservation of farmland is meant to ensure that it remains viable for farming into the future. For us, that means the property remains in a condition that is conducive to growing crops or developing infrastructure for commercial food production. It means that the natural resources on the farm aren’t put in harms way. In short: valuable farmland doesn’t become a forest or a condo or a toxic waste site—and it stays that way, forever.
Strong relationships are key
Proper stewardship and monitoring of our protected farms requires many important steps, but the whole process hinges on strong relationships with farmers. When our partnerships are grounded in trust and collaboration, everyone benefits.
To be sure, first and foremost, that our farms are in good working order, we make annual visits to each farm and conduct an assessment of the terms that were agreed to in our agricultural conservation easement. The easement is the tool that protects the farm’s agricultural value, in perpetuity. In our assessment, we document everything from maintenance of water rights to soil health and animal waste management to ensure that the natural resources we conserved are protected forever.
Promoting sustainable practices
While there are basic legal requirements for farmland stewardship, we take our program a step further by encouraging farming practices that benefit the environment, the surrounding community, and of course, the food itself.
Year round, we conduct research on sustainable agricultural practices and provide resources to farmers that allow them to expand upon them. We work together to assess the need for restoration projects that improve air, water, or soil quality on their farms. Based on those needs, we host a range of projects, such as removing invasive species or planting native shrubs to benefit pollinators. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, we have conducted tens of thousands of feet of wildlife and habitat restoration on 7 farm properties to date.
This year, we also launched our first ever farmer-focused grant program, Advancing Farm Sustainability. Each grant assists farmers in their implementation of projects that improve natural resources—from cover crop implementation to drainage ditch habitat restoration.
Farmed and thriving forever
Through our stewardship program, we support our farmers with the goal of ensuring that all of our protected lands remain viable for farming, forever. We look forward to developing new approaches to farmland stewardship with our farmer partners in the years ahead.
We would like to wish Eve Boyce, our former Farmland Stewardship Manager, well on her path to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Management. Thank you for your tireless work over these last three years to make our Stewardship Program what it is today!