Michael Fields Farm Acquisition Protects Waterways, Catalyzes Farm Research
April 19, 2016
Walk onto the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute’s recent land purchase, you will see 200-plus acres of farmland that is vital to the surrounding ecosystem. Land, and how it is cared for, is integral to overall environmental health.
The Institute and its partners will be contributing to the protection of Wisconsin’s natural resources by tending the land holistically, with conservation practices in place. The research planned for the farm includes cultivating agriculture methods that improve soil health and water quality and mitigate climate change while maintaining farming as an economically viable part of our community.
“This land purchase fulfills a dream and a long-time need for the Institute’s research program,” said David Andrews, the Institute’s executive director. “We are very grateful to all the organizations involved in helping to make this dream a reality.”
The Institute’s new farmland was first acquired from its original owners in late 2015 by The Nature Conservancy. Soon after, the property was purchased from the Conservancy using a gift from RSF Social Finance at the recommendation of Christopher Mann. Mann is the last surviving member of the original three founders of the Institute.
Protecting Wisconsin’s Cleanest Stream
The Institute’s new research farm, located about 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, was deemed a priority by the Conservancy because of its location within the Mukwonago River Watershed. Land management practices play a critical role in protecting the Mukwonago River, one of the cleanest streams in Wisconsin and an important habitat for rare fish and mussels.
“We are very happy that this land—adjacent to our Pickerel Lake Fen Preserve—will be permanently protected from development,” said Sarah Gatzke, who directs Conservancy’s work in the watershed. “And we are confident that the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute will be good stewards of the land, and manage it in a way that will protect clean water in the region.”
The surrounding landscape is also home to a wide array of native plants and wildlife, including sandhill cranes, tree frogs, mink, red foxes, butterflies and dragonflies.
The Conservancy is not the only group that acknowledges the ecological importance of the land. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a U.S. government agency missioned with conserving natural resources on private lands, has also designated the area as vital. In support of land and water protection, NRCS has designed a grassed waterway and buffer zone to improve the quality and reduce the amount of runoff leaving the property.
“MFAI is concerned about environmental issues like soil health and soil erosion,” said Andrews. “We always have and always will be.”
Advancing Farm Research
Now that the Institute owns land, it will be able to conduct research trials and in-field demonstrations, which will compare organic and biodynamic farming systems. In the short term, studies will focus on investigating the benefits of using cover crops under various farming methods.
But before any research can begin, the farm will need to become organic-certified, a process expected to be completed by 2019. Other improvements will include the installation of a well, fencing, and permeable, environmentally friendly roads.
Incorporating conservation goals into farming practices requires upfront cost expenditures and will require support from partner organizations and individual donors. To gather necessary funds, the Institute is beginning its Feed the Soil, Feed the Future Campaign. Donations will enable the Institute to support environmentally sound, socially just, and economically profitable agriculture. The Institute asks for interested parties to contact David Andrews (www.michaelfields.org.)
“By creating this research and demonstration farm, we aim to provide our community with solid regional knowledge about soil health and clean water that will be useful for the environmentalist and farmers alike, ” said Andrews. “And while soil may be where it all begins, our hearts are focused on making the Badger State families healthier and happier.”