Farm Soil is a Limited Resource
Dane County and its surrounding area is home to some of the richest farm soil in the United States. Farmers here are able to grow a wider variety of crops than those in many other regions. Unfortunately, in a span of only 20 years, Dane County lost 95,500 acres of crop and pasture land.
Farm soil is a limited resource—once it’s converted to another use, it’s gone forever. So to help landowners reach their conservation goals, Groundswell assists with voluntary permanent easements. It’s a win-win agreement that keeps much-needed farmland in production forever. Farmland preservation creates farm-friendlier communities, and helps maintain the agricultural infrastructure necessary for our society’s food supply.
The Town of Dunn’s farmland preservation program has become Wisconsin’s model of success. Its thoughtful planning, and determination in the face of developer pressure, has protected 4,000 acres to date in this small town. Click the Story tab to learn more about Groundswell’s partnership with the Town of Dunn.
Making Conservation History
“I was able to keep the farm and know that its beauty and valuable soil will remain…farmland forever.” –Terry Parisi, certified organic farm owner producing grazed livestock, vegetables, fruit and nut trees, hay and honey in the Town of Dunn
On Earth Day 1997, the Town of Dunn made Wisconsin history. It entered into an agreement to permanently protect 147 acres of farmland from development. By granting a conservation easement to the Town, the owners of this farmland became the first participants in Dunn’s new Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.
Now, more than two decades later, the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy hold conservation easements that permanently protect more than 4,000 acres of working agricultural land across 33 farms. That’s roughly 20% of the Town’s land base—an impressive achievement with a long, passion-driven history.
Located in Dane County, an agriculturally rich yet rapidly developing area, the Town of Dunn experienced intense development pressure from surrounding communities throughout the 1980s. It was losing farmland rapidly, at a rate ranking fourth in the county. So, concerned Town leaders and residents took action.
Rather than imposing more land restrictions and regulations on landowners, the Town decided the best path to successful conservation was to purchase development rights from willing landowners. In a PDR program the landowner voluntarily agrees to restrict certain land uses, usually new development, by granting a conservation easement. They receive compensation for these rights, that can help support the farm, or gift the value. The agreement follows the land, binding current and future landowners.
Groundswell has partnered with the Town of Dunn since 1997. We act independently from government—and changes in leadership—to ensure the Town’s and farmers’ conservation goals will always be upheld. We annually visit the properties to ensure that the conservation goals are being upheld and the Town’s investment stays secured.
The Town of Dunn’s PDR program is so successful that it serves as a teaching tool in communities across the United States. Strong, persistent Town leadership spearheaded this initiative. But support from conservation-minded residents and landowners has been critical to the preservation of the Town’s farmland, and the local economy and beautiful rural landscape it sustains.