I'm a 5th generation landholder who has never farmed. My great-grandfather homesteaded land that he inherited from his father-in-law in 1883. My grandfather continued farming the land, and believed that chemicals and agri-business were damaging to soil and all living beings. He tasted the dirt to know what he needed as cover or the next rotation. He paid crop-dusters to fly over and NOT spray to appease the neighbors who complained about his weeds. He felt humans were greedy – used too much land for crops, didn’t account for the wildlife that depended on it. One of his wishes was to return the land to its native habitat.
My mother ran with that wish, and my folks spent the next 27 years in CRP, actively transforming the farm to native grassland with a small wetland located at the bottom. The land was also used by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) as a prime spot to observe ground-nesting birds, for banding bluebirds and bald eagles (mom was part of the 10-year restoration program), identifying frogs and butterflies, and a living example of how grassland restoration works. With near-daily diligence, the loosestrife, teasel and other thistles were under control; the land lush native grasses, forbs, sedges – and along the creek, the old red oaks still drop copious amounts of acorns that grow like weeds.
Mom died on July 29th. Because the CRP contract was in her name only, we had the ability to opt-out 8 years early without penalty – and we did. I’d read Dirt to Soil in 2019, which inspired me to discover whether and how we could introduce cash crops into the grassland. I hired a farm planner to find the best next step for the evolution of the land. While he originally saw grazing and grains, the best first step to transition is sustainable hay production with a conservation area near the pond.
My bigger vision includes a conservation-agriculture partnership with the land. I see multiple crops – perhaps strips of prairie plants, heritage grains, food and fiber hemp; animals grazing; growing trees (because the land already does that!); conservation programs; possibly a model farm for regenerative practices, on-site research, watershed protection. There are other possibilities, and having a producer that can share in it would be wonderful.
I live out of state; my dad still lives on residential property adjacent to the land, and could be a resource.