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The Linden Cohousing Farmers Market is back and better than ever! The market opens today, May 26, and will run through September 22, 2022. It will be open every Thursday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Linden Cohousing parking lot (located at 2082 Winnebago Street).

This year the market is expanding to include more producers of color and a food cart!

The farmers market was created to be inclusive and accessible to small farm businesses that were facing barriers. As we coordinate with new small producers operating out of the FEED Kitchen, customers will see different vendors throughout the season selling items like fresh egg rolls and homemade salsa.

Thank you to our sponsor TASC for supporting the market again this year!

This spring, enjoy better access to Westport Prairie! This year, Groundswell put in a new parking area, created better signage, added two new mowed trails, and will remove the locked gate at the driveway entrance. We also hired Operation Fresh Start to renovate the inside of the tobacco barn. Now one section of the barn will host events and the other side will store crucial land restoration equipment. You’ll also find a new sign at the entrance which identifies Westport Prairie.

This work was made possible thanks to Karl Gutknecht and Susan Hunt, James E. Dutton Foundation, and Oberweiler Foundation.

Join us to celebrate better access on Friday, May 20, 2022. Click here for more details and to sign up.

To read more stories from our Spring 2022 Newsletter, click here.

We’re excited to share the news that Groundswell Conservancy secured funding from Madison Community Foundation to help diversify the conservation field. The Conservation Academy (originally called the Conservation Graduate Crew) helps outdoors-minded young adults learn crucial job skills to help them pursue careers in the conservation field. This program was jointly developed by Groundswell Conservancy and Operation Fresh Start (OFS). It’s modeled after the successful OFS program that prepares young adults for careers in construction.

The $45,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation will cover the cost of professional certifications for crew members over the next three years. This includes training in chainsaw safety, pesticide application, prescribed fire, and emergency response protocols.

Tom Linfield, Vice President of Community Impact at Madison Community Foundation (MCF), says the effort will broaden the field of conservation to include traditionally underrepresented groups. “MCF is proud to support this important work to reduce barriers that young people and people of color face in getting jobs as land managers and ecological technicians,” he says. MCF recently featured this new program in their spring newsletter.

Kaden Fischer of Madison is a Conservation Academy participant who is eyeing a career as a park ranger. “It’s a chance to work hard outside and make money at the same time,” says Fischer, 19. “Just getting this much exercise is awesome.”

Cory Rich, Operation Fresh Start Conservation and Construction Manager, says partners like Groundswell are excited to work with OFS since 80 percent of program participants are people of color and 73 percent are from low-income backgrounds.

“These crews are bringing some badly needed diversity to the conservation field,” he says. But it’s no picnic. Shifts are long, with crew members putting in 10-hour days, four days a week and then getting 3-day weekends. Timeliness and enthusiasm for the job are demanded.

“We make sure they know if you want to make this a career, it’s going to involve a lot of hard work,” says Caroline Zimmerman, conservation crew supervisor for OFS.

The first Conservation Academy Crew began work this past fall in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, City of Madison Engineering, Dane County Parks, UW Arboretum, the Nature Conservancy, and Groundswell Conservancy to complete important conservation projects at local parks, trails and natural areas.

Groundswell is thrilled to be part of the Writing the Land project in 2022. Writing the Land is a collaborative project between local land trusts and artists to help raise awareness for the preservation of land, ecosystems, and biodiversity. We’re excited to introduce you to the two talented poets we’re partnering with.

Meet Lisa Marie Brimmer. They are a poet, essayist, theatre artist, and our new partner at Westport Prairie. Having grown up in southern Wisconsin, Lisa Marie feels a special connection to the land here. They will write poems inspired by the rich natural history and diverse wildlife of Westport Prairie.

Angie Trudell Vasquez is a poet, writer, performer, and activist. She is also the current City of Madison Poet Laureate. In this role, she writes poems, teaches workshops, gives talks, and helps cultivate young poets. As Groundswell’s Writing the Land partner, Angie will write poems inspired by Patrick Marsh and its native prairie, oak savanna, and wetland habitats.

We are honored to work with both of these talented writers and can’t wait to share their poems with you, our Groundswell supporters, later this year!

 

This past Thursday we teamed up with over 300 Patrick Marsh Middle School students, teachers, and volunteers to plant 25 acres of prairie at Patrick Marsh. This prairie overlooks Patrick Marsh and will offer new and beautiful views. So many hands were involved with the planting. It truly could not have been done without all of the generous support from our partners.

The prairie seed used in the planting was collected locally within Dane County and donated to us by Ron Endres. From collecting the seed and processing it, to weighing, bagging, labeling, and distributing the seed, this alone was an incredible task. We cannot thank Ron enough for the seed donation used in this planting and we know we’re not the only ones.

The prairie seed getting ready to be mixed for the planting.

Once we had the seed, we needed to figure out how to plant it! With the help of around 300 Patrick Marsh Middle School students and their teachers, along with dozens of our trusty volunteers, we were able to get the job done. Thanks to all of the students who lent hundreds of helping hands and smiling faces!

A special thanks goes out to Vincent Brandl, teacher extraordinaire at Patrick Marsh Middle School, who was instrumental in this planting. This project would have been impossible without his expertise and student wrangling skills.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this prairie planting happen! Photo credit: Roberta Herschleb

We’re happy to share the good news that on Saturday, Oct. 16 a new boardwalk was constructed at Patrick Marsh!  A local Girl Scout named Lauretta Loesch was the driving force behind this idea and it took a community to see it through.

In 2019 Lauretta came up with the idea to solve a community need.  That need was increased access to the outdoors. Patrick Marsh is a wonderful green space that is enjoyed by many, however there was a section of trail that was frequently flooded making it impassable.  Lauretta teamed up with Groundswell and local volunteers to fix the trail by constructing a boardwalk across the low spot.

Volunteers hard at work. Photo credit: Roberta Herschleb

This boardwalk was designed to have minimal disturbance to the vegetation and wildlife in the area.  The technical term for the structure is a “puncheon” and instead of installing concrete pilings like a typical boardwalk, it simply rests on top of the soil.  This allows the structure to adjust to different freeze/thaw conditions as well as rain and snow events.

The boardwalk can be accessed from both the north and south ends of Patrick Marsh.  It’s located east of the kettle pond which is the small body of water that is surrounded by the oak savanna.  Because of the dry year we’ve had, the kettle pond is mostly dried up (which made construction easy), but next spring we should expect it to be considerably wetter out there.  HERE are GPS coordinates to the boardwalk.

Many thanks go out to our trusty volunteers, the Rotary Club of Sun Prairie, all of the donors who contributed to this project, and of course Lauretta who we could not be more proud of!  Not only did she raise over $1,000 for the project, she also earned her Gold Award which is a prestigious award that fewer than 6% of Girl Scouts achieve annually.

To see photos from the day of the build, click HERE.

The read the article written by the Sun Prairie Star, click HERE.

The closure of farmers markets around Madison last spring left some Hmong growers at a disadvantage. As farmers markets moved to on-line ordering, growers not proficient in technology or whose primary language isn’t English, were left behind. Groundswell helped by sponsoring an east-side market where Hmong growers sold produce directly to residents of Linden Cohousing and the local neighborhood.

Good news – the market will continue in 2021!

Located in the parking lot of Linden Cohousing on the 2000 block of Winnebago Street, the market is open on Thursdays, from 3:00 – 6:00 pm, May 27, 2021 – September 30, 2021. There is plenty of parking in the back parking lot.

This project came about thanks to a partnership that formed after Groundswell purchased a small farm in Waunakee adjacent to our Westport Prairie preserve. A retiring farmer challenged me to provide long-term security for some of the Hmong market and subsistence growers that had been farming her land for 20 years. Many of you were generous with your support for the farm. In our second year of operation, we are now installing a well that will provide a reliable water source for the growers.

If you have questions about this market or our work to provide equitable access to land, please don’t hesitate to contact Jim Welsh.

Thank you to our 2021 market sponsor TASC!

CONTACT: Jim Welsh, (608) 258-9797, jim@groundswellwisconsin.org

Project will improve land security, upgrade infrastructure at Waunakee-area site

Thanks to the efforts of a local conservation group coupled with a generous grant from the Madison Community Foundation (MCF), a group of immigrant farmers are feeling a lot better about the upcoming growing season.

Groundswell Conservancy, which works to protect and enhance open spaces in the Dane County area, is using MCF monies to improve land security for a group of Hmong subsistence and market growers.

Set on 10-acres of productive land in the village of Waunakee, the new “Westport Farm” also brings in the expertise of Community GroundWorks which specializes in urban agriculture and is best known for overseeing Troy Gardens on Madison’s north side.

“We’ve participated in a lot of exciting projects through the years, but I honestly can’t think of any that serve so many purposes and help so many hard-working people as the Westport Farm,” said Jim Welsh, executive director of Groundswell Conservancy. “Many thanks to MCF and Community Groundworks for helping to bring it all together so perfectly.”

The total project costs are budgeted at $38,000, with the Madison Community Foundation providing $19,000. Groundswell and other private donors are covering the rest.

But while the project is immediately providing some badly-needed upgrades to the farm infrastructure — including new storage sheds and a permanent water supply which didn’t exist previously — it goes far beyond that.

Community GroundWorks is working with the growers themselves to assist in developing a leasing and governance system that will allow farmers to make long-term investments in their land. The project also aims to provide technical assistance in areas like soil and plant health, cover cropping, crop rotation, organic certification, composting, season extension, pollinator support and animal husbandry.

Participants have cheered the project, calling it a long overdue effort to assist a displaced population. Most of the Hmong families in Dane County emigrated as refugees starting in the 1970s and came primarily from rural backgrounds with less access to education than other Asian immigrant populations.

“To know that the Hmong growers at Westport Farm will have access to the land for the rest of their lives and are provided culturally appropriate services is unbelievable,” said grower Presley Chang. “It’s about time something like this happens for under-resourced minority communities to connect with nature and soil in Dane County. This is only the beginning; let’s keep it going so we reach everyone.”

Grower Mai Chang echoed those comments, saying the project will only enhance her connections to the fertile fields north of Madison which date back 14 years.

“Every time I’m out at the land tending to the vegetables I’ve grown out of love, I’m so happy,” she said. “I feel this enormous weight lifted from my shoulders. I’m no longer stressed out and I don’t have to worry about anything else.”

Groundswell purchased the property along Bong Road last year from Peg Whiteside, who was retiring after 40 years in the farming business. Whiteside had been renting plots to Hmong gardeners and wanted to make sure they could continue following the conservation sale. She offered the land at a discount to Groundswell with the express purpose of keeping the arrangement intact.

“In the nearly 30 years since I started renting plots to Hmong gardeners, I’ve been impressed with their skill and passion for raising food,” said Whiteside. “Thanks to Groundswell and the remarkable grant donors, I can rest easy knowing these hardworking folks can continue growing healthy food for their families and others long after I’m gone.”

Madison Community Foundation has a track record of funding projects with both Groundswell Conservancy and Community GroundWorks but this one is unique, says Tom Linfield, MCF’s Vice President of Community Impact.

“We are excited to be part of this project, which develops infrastructure, governance, self-determination and long-term land stewardship for a group of local farmers,” he said. “The effort combines environmental stewardship and education with a culturally-inclusive approach to the Hmong community, who may not often be included in local planning efforts yet have a powerful agricultural background and knowledge. This grant enriches not only the county’s environmental sustainability but also recognizes the riches of our increasingly diverse community.”

By all accounts some help is needed. Hmong populations in Wisconsin experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of the state as a whole, with a 3 percent higher unemployment rate among males, 100 percent higher teen birthrate and 68 percent lower family incomes.

In the census tract on the north side of Madison where many of the Hmong growers live, ongoing challenges include language or cultural differences, disconnection, lack of resources and assistance, isolation and other socio-economic obstacles.

Yimmuaj Yang, Gardens Network Manager for Community GroundWorks, has worked with minority farmers, provided direct and technical assistance, created access to resources, and consulted in farm business management. She is excited about ramping things up this spring at Westport Farm.

“In my 10 plus years working with vegetable growers, this is the first project that is addressing the demand for land access and land tenure through culturally appropriate engagement by the user group,” she said. “And it’s happening because the right organizations and people are collaborating together.”

Maeraj Sheikh, Director of Equity and Community Engagement at Community GroundWorks, added that what makes the project so impactful is that it’s led by the Hmong community itself versus a top down approach.

“Restoring connection to the land is a crucial part of healing wounds for refugee populations,” she said. “Community GroundWorks is serving as a trusted advocate to advance the mission of equitable land and food access in order to heal the social fabric of which we are all a part.”

Westport Farm is located between Cherokee Marsh and Westport Prairie, where good land use practices are very important to the health of the surrounding protected areas. A planned hiking trail connecting the two protected areas will pass through the community farm.

Welsh of Groundswell says the project will help show that market and subsistence farming can be a compatible land use within a protected area. He noted that Dane County Parks, the city of Fitchburg and other municipalities have land potentially available for local food production. The only thing missing is the farm management expertise to bring it all together.

“We think the experience of this project can be applied to other properties and with other local food growers,” he said. “Based on inquiries to Groundswell, there is demand for similar community farms but obstacles to creating them. Hopefully this project can act as a template that others can follow.”

About Groundswell Conservancy — Groundswell Conservancy is a nonprofit, community-based organization that protects special places forever through the purchase or acceptance of donations of land or conservation easements. Their vision is a world filled with green spaces where communities thrive. Founded in 1983 as the Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation and later as Natural Heritage Land Trust, Groundswell has protected hundreds of special places forever.

About Madison Community Foundation — The mission of Madison Community Foundation is to enhance the common good through philanthropy. Created in 1942 as Madison Community Trust, MCF helps people do their charitable giving their way, to causes they care about most.

About Community GroundWorks — Community GroundWorks is a nonprofit organization that connects people to nature and local food. Through hands-on education, children and adults learn gardening, urban farming, healthful eating and to care for natural areas. Organized in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001 as The Friends of Troy Gardens, Community GroundWorks serves diverse communities and schools across the region.

 

Help us imagine a gateway to Westport Prairie!

What: Community Visioning Session
Where: Westport Prairie, 5208 Bong Road, Waunakee, WI
When: Thursday, April 27, from 6 – 7 pm

Last July, Groundswell held its first Community Visioning Session at the Koltes farmstead, the future gateway to Westport Prairie. Your ideas and support guided the first phase of gateway improvements, including a green deconstruction and demolition of several farmstead buildings.

With the old buildings removed, we now have a clean canvas to paint our future.

Join us on Thursday, April 27, from 6 – 7 pm at Westport Prairie for our second community visioning session. Share your vision as we plan the next phase of improvements and discuss needs and opportunities for infrastructure, such as gates, parking lots, and access to amenities. If the weather is poor, we will meet inside the buildings.

We will have snacks, refreshments, and plenty of great conversation. Help us create a great space in your community that will bring people together.

On Monday, November 7, over 250 seventh-graders from Patrick Marsh Middle School helped plant 18 acres of prairie at Groundswell’s Patrick Marsh Wildlife Area. Students helped scatter seeds from more than 40 species of prairie wildflowers and grasses, a mix designed to attract and host native pollinators like the monarch butterfly. This educational event gave the students a hands-on experience in the restoration of the kind of native prairie landscape that once stretched across Dane County. As the prairie planting matures in the next few years, it will provide vital habitat and food for many of the insects that pollinate agricultural crops around Sun Prairie. Jason Sromovsky captured this video of the planting:

The planting replaced a soybean field east of Sun Prairie along Town Hall Road, just south of Patrick Marsh. On the eastern doorstep of Sun Prairie, this land is part of a 320-acre wildlife area which is open to the public for a variety of outdoor recreation activities and is owned by the DNR, Dane County, and Groundswell. The event was coordinated by Groundswell, Madison Audubon Society, Patrick Marsh Conservancy, and the Discovery Club at Patrick Marsh Middle School.

“This community has been very supportive of our plans to make Patrick Marsh a better community place. After the success of our first planting with Patrick Marsh Middle School in 2013, we wanted to be sure to include our next generation of land stewards once again.” – Tony Abate, Groundswell Conservation Specialist

THANK YOU to Patrick Marsh Middle School Discovery Club and Groundswell supporters for funding the purchase of the prairie seed and Madison Audubon Society and their volunteers for collecting much of the seed. And thank you to Jason Sromovsky for capturing and creating this video.