Skip Navigation
Main Menu
Heifers on a farm protected with a conservation easement in the Village of Windsor. Photo credit: Julie Wegner

Keep Farmland, Farmland

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.

Our Farmland Preservation Projects

Open to the Public Hunting is Allowed
50 Projects (Alphabetized by Project Area)
Thanks to the generosity of the landowner, this 181-acre farm, which includes the springs at the headwaters of Anthony Branch, is permanently protected by a conservation easement. The farm is adjacent to the Anthony Branch Fishery and Wildlife Area. There is no public access.
This easement protects ~116 acres of prime farmland in the heart of the Black Earth Creek valley. Both Black Earth and Garfoot Creeks run through the property. This easement was transferred to Groundswell by American Farmland Trust which originally protected the property.
This 80 acre easement helps protect the scenic viewshed from Festge County Park across the Black Earth Creek valley. There is no public access.
Effort to continue existing bike and pedestrian trail from Wisconsin Heights School to the Village of Black Earth. There is no public access.
Two conservation easements protect a total of 215 acres of productive agricultural land in the Black Earth Creek Valley. There is no public access.
Two conservation easements protect a total of 215 acres of productive agricultural land in the Black Earth Creek Valley. There is no public access.
This bargain sale purchase of 10 acres of land provides a place for Hmong subsistence and market farmers to work and maintains open space between Westport Drumlin and Cherokee Marsh. There is no public access.
This donated 89.9 acre conservation easements protects high-quality farmland between Cherokee Marsh and Westport Drumlin. There is no public access.
105 acre conservation easement protecting high-quality agricultural lands and wildlife habitat at Evansville Wildlife Area. The property is open to the public for hunting, trapping, cross country skiing, and hiking per government regulations.
This 356-acre conservation easement permanently protects high-quality agricultural lands and wildlife habitat near Evansville at the DNR's Footville Leased Public Hunting Grounds area. We transferred the conservation easement to Rock County for long-term stewardship. This property is open to the public for hunting.
This ~277 acre farm in the Town of Fountain Prairie, Columbia County hosts a diversity of habitats for grassland birds and waterfowl. There is no public access.
221-acre farm with very high-quality soils protected by a permanent conservation easement held by Jefferson County. This easement is the county's first purchase under its farmland preservation program. There is no public access.
189 acre agricultural conservation easement in Jefferson County. There is no public access.
The 162-acre Wilke farm contains prime and statewide important soils. The farm was permanently protected with a conservation easement as part of Jefferson County's Farmland Preservation Program. There is no public access.
This agricultural conservation easement, a partnership with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, permanently protects land in the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area.
This agricultural conservation easement, a partnership with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, permanently protects land in the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area.
This 254-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
~80-acre conservation easement protects important farmland. The property was protected in partnership with Town of Dunn. There is no public access.
This 143-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 75-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and permanent open-space. There is no public access.
This 68-acre conservation easement protects farmland and open space in the Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area between Lake Kegonsa and Lower Mud Lake. The easement also reserves a corridor for the proposed Lower Yahara River bike and pedestrian trail that would one day link McFarland with points to the south. This property is open to the public.
This 46-acre conservation easement preserves wildlife habitat and hunting land. There is no public access.
This ~212-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and open-space. There is no public access.
This ~53-acre conservation easement protects high-quality farmland and open-space as part of the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. This property was protected in partnership with the Town of Dunn and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. There is no public access.
This 64-acre conservation easement preserves wildlife habitat and hunting land, including approximately 1,900 feet of frontage on the Yahara River. There is no public access.
This 34-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and permanent open-space protection adjacent to the Hook Lake State Wildlife Area. There is no public access.
This 233-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 150-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land as well as wetland and woodland. There is no public access.
This 80-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land and a 15-acre woodland. There is no public access.
This 162-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 198-acre conservation easement protects productive agricultural land, 30 acres of wetland, 20 acres of woodland, and several archeological sites. There is no public access.
This 324-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land and a wetland. There is no public access.
This 150- acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land as well as 20 acres of wetland and 26 acres of woodland. There is no public access.
This 38-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn provides additional protection for the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area and preserves the scenic views along the designated rustic Lalor Road. There is no public access.
This 66-acre conservation easement protects wildlife habitat. There is no public access.
This ~76-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and open-space. There is no public access.
This is a partner project with the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. The project protects 30 acres prime farmland and restored prairie in the Town of Dunn. There is no public access.
This 96-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
A ~91-acre farm in the Town of Dunn protected as part of the town's Rural Preservation Program. There is no public access.
This 60-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 106-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This easement protects an 80-acre working farm on the north shore of Hook Lake - one of the highest quality wetlands in Dane County and a State Natural and Wildlife Area. There is no public access.
This complex, 238-acre acquisition created the first protected farmland in the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program (the first in the state) and added to the Nine Springs E-Way along the Captial City Trail. The property was subdivided, and most of the parcels were sold to private owners under conservation easement. All parcels are permanently protected. Most of this property is not open to the public. However, three acres were transferred to the Town of Dunn for a park at the corner of Alma and Lake Farm Roads.
This 130-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
Thanks to the generosity of the landowner, this donated 226-acre conservation easement co-held with the American Farmland Trust protects productive farmland, woods, and wetlands. There is no public access.
This 51-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This ~100-acre conservation easement protects prime working farmland as part of the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. There is no public access.
This agricultural conservation easement protects 136 acres of very-high quality soil, and is the second farmland easement completed under the Town of Windsor's Purchase of Development Rights program. There is no public access.
This agricultural conservation easement protects 184 acres of very-high quality soil, and is the first easement under the Town of Windsor's Purchase of Development Rights program. There is no public access.
The Pasley's Swan Creek Farm Property is roughly 36 acres of wetland and agricultural fields along with a stretch of Swan Creek - a major tributary to Waubesa Wetlands and Lake Waubesa.