Ozaukee Washington Land Trust

Gathering Waters- Press Release


July 20, 2020


Mike Carlson, Executive Director

Gathering Waters: Wisconsin's Alliance for Land Trusts

608-251-9131 X13  

Making Allies for Healthier Communities Earns
Wisconsin's 2020 Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation

(MADISON, July 20, 2020) – The recipient of Wisconsin’s 2020 Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation is not a person, but a partnership: Making Allies for Healthier Communities.

The partnership, based in southeast Wisconsin, was created to protect farmland and provide a livelihood and the opportunity for land ownership for immigrant or beginning farmers. By protecting farmland near the urban center of Milwaukee, farmers will be able to continue to grow fruits and vegetables and sell them at farmers’ markets in Milwaukee’s underserved communities. Using sustainable farming practices, the farmers build healthy soils and help improve the water quality in the Milwaukee River watershed and Lake Michigan.

This effort closely aligns with the criteria for the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation, which acknowledges an individual or an organization that shows a commitment to the preservation of Wisconsin’s working lands. Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts is pleased to bestow this award on the Making Allies for Healthier Communities partnership.

With so many family farms struggling and having to sell their operations, Wisconsin is losing productive farmland. Farms lost near urban centers often mean there’s less fresh food available at local markets. This trend was the catalyst behind the formation of a new partnership.

Three years ago, the Land Trust Alliance, a national association for land trust organizations, challenged its members to address the most pressing needs in their communities. That call-to-action combined with the loss of Wisconsin farmland led to Making Allies for Healthier Communities. The partnership had three primary goals: protect farmland, protect water quality, and help low-income farmers gain access to farmland near Milwaukee. Each partner brought their areas of expertise to the partnership to get the job done.

Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT), a Wisconsin-based land trust and a champion of land and water protection in southeast Wisconsin, assumed the responsibility of purchasing 60 acres of farmland with prime soils. The organization is currently working to recondition the farm for resale to farmers. OWLT will continue to be involved with the property via a conservation easement that will permanently protect the farmland in its working state.

The Fondy Food Center, a nonprofit organization with deep relationships with immigrant farmers in Milwaukee’s diverse but underserved northwest side, was invited into the partnership. Fondy Food Center saw the need to give urban farmers affordable access to farmland. The organization had watched farmers leave their stands in the market because they couldn’t afford to rent or own land. The food center’s ability to act as a distribution center also ensured success.

Two other partners, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and The Conservation Fund, were key to facilitating land acquisition, water-quality management, and the development of healthy soils through the Greenseams® and Working Soils® Programs. Together, MMSD and The Conservation Fund established the best sustainable farming practices to improve soil health, improve water quality, and reduce flooding and runoff in the Milwaukee River watershed.

With grant funding secured from MMSD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Making Allies went to work.

The partnership purchased a conservation easement on a 60-acre parcel of prime farmland outside Milwaukee’s city limits to use as part of a pilot program.

The funding covered part of the land’s purchase price, allowing Making Allies for Healthier Communities to offer socially disadvantaged farmers the opportunity to own prime farmland acreage at less than half the cost. Since many of these farmers were from immigrant families, land ownership was not an opportunity they had had in the past.

By permanently protecting farmland near urban centers, Making Allies helps families make long-term investments that build intergenerational wealth and secure brighter futures for their children.

“Making Allies for Healthier Communities’ pilot program was a great success,” said Mike Carlson, Executive Director of Gathering Waters. “The partnership permanently protected farmland and made ownership available to immigrant and beginning farmers. They helped these farmers grow their produce using environmentally friendly farming practices that build healthy soils and improve water quality in the surrounding area. The partnership supplied a crucial channel to distribute farm-fresh foods to people living in underserved areas. The pilot program was a win for the farmers, the community, and Wisconsin’s land and water, which is important to everyone.”

About Gathering Waters:
Gathering Waters helps Wisconsin’s land trusts, landowners, and communities protect the state’s land, water, wildlife, and way of life by strengthening nearly 50 member land trusts. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations that permanently protect land. To make sure Wisconsin’s land trusts are strong, sustainable organizations, Gathering Waters advocates for favorable public policies and funding, provides technical and educational resources, and increases awareness of the benefits land trusts bring to their communities.