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On November 7, 2012, Groundswell completed an agricultural conservation easement on 178 acres of George Lucey’s farm in the Town of Black Earth (click here for map). The agricultural conservation easement ensures that the land will be available for agricultural use in perpetuity and prevents the building of non-agricultural buildings. The farm is adjacent to Black Earth Creek, a world-class trout stream, and the Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie, a State Natural Area owned by The Prairie Enthusiasts.

“I wanted to make sure this land stayed a farm forever,” said George Lucey. George approached Groundswell about permanently protecting his farm in 2009. It took over three years to bring the project to completion, but George says he doesn’t regret any of it. “Back in the early 1960’s, my father said this was the best farm in the Town of Black Earth. He didn’t live to see me own and farm it, but he would be happy to know it will remain a farm forever.”

The farmland in the valley of Black Earth Creek, in western Dane County, is rich and fertile. Thousands of years of alluvial processes have formed the thick, dark soil that leaves no uncertainty about the aptness of the creek’s name. The productivity of the soil is only one part of the farming equation, however. The viability of any given farm relies as much on the likelihood that a neighbor’s land is going to remain a farm as the number of bushels of corn the land produces. An area’s farming economy relies on having a critical mass of productive farms. Without that, the farming infrastructure can deteriorate and the idea of converting the farmland to other uses begins to look more appealing.

Preserving farmland in the Black Earth Creek valley is a key strategy of Groundswell to protect the quality and quantity of water in Black Earth Creek and is consistent with the local land use planning. The upland areas adjacent to the creek serve to collect the rain and infiltrate it to the groundwater, which in turn feeds the creek. Every addition of impervious surface in the valley contributes to stormwater runoff, rather than infiltration. Rainwater that runs off the surface of the land tends to do more harm than good to the water quality of the creek. The surface water is warmer, which makes it less desirable to trout and other cold-water species, and it often carries pollutants with it. Permanent easements ensure that the farmland itself remains available for water infiltration, but they also send a signal to neighbors that agriculture can remain a viable land use.

Groundswell won’t likely be able to protect all the land in the valley, but if we can help ensure that farming remains a viable economic use of the land, we can make the market work for us to keep the Black Earth Creek valley a stunning agricultural, scenic, and recreational resource.

Funding for this project came from the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Wisconsin’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program, The Conservation Fund, and members of Groundswell.