WAUPACA – Standing amid the colorful black-eyed susans, coneflowers and butterfly milkweed in the restored prairie on her family’s Waupaca farm, Zoey Brooks shared how her family has worked to preserve the land for future generations.
“It was important to us that the farm remain in agriculture and that places like this prairie would still be here for the wildlife even after we’re gone,” Brooks said.
The land was homesteaded in 1855, and it is Zoey’s hope that her family’s descendants will still be farming the land in another 160 years. “We joke that the family is too stubborn to do anything else,” Zoey said with a grin.
The family’s farming philosophy is “Leave a Legacy, Not a Liability.” It’s a motto that about 30 women farmers, landowners and conservation professionals saw in action during a July 25 Women Caring for the Land workshop that highlighted soil, water and energy conservation practices, wildlife habitat enhancement, prairie restoration projects and land preservation on the fifth-generation farm.
Looking to the future
In 2010, the Brooks family preserved 1,200 acres of the farm through a sale of development rights through Wisconsin’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program. Under PACE, farmland is permanently protected from development. In 2013, the family was honored with the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association’s Conservation Farmer of the Year Award.
The award recognized the family’s partnerships with local, state and federal agencies to design and implement conservation practices, including no-till planting and conservation tillage, manure storage, clean water removal, buffer strips and oak savannah/tall grass prairie restoration.
The Brooks’ sustainability efforts don’t stop there. The farm has taken dozens of steps toward energy efficiency – including solar panels, milk cooling compressors that reduce energy use, and a new system that recycles and repurposes water used on the farm.
An important part of their legacy is the Brooks family’s Holstein herd. The family recently made a big investment in the future with a new barn and milking parlor. Decorative beams beckon visitors inside the two-story building that includes office space, a meeting room and viewing windows where they can see the cows being milked in the new parlor. Zoey noted that the new facility was designed as a tribute to the dairy industry and with the intent of creating a welcoming place where people could learn more about Wisconsin’s rich dairy farm heritage. The building’s décor is a tribute in itself – black and white photos on the wall depict life on the farm through the years and creative light fixtures bring new life to old milking machine parts.
“We wanted to bring some culture back to the dairy industry,” Zoey said, noting the barn is a nod to the incredible architecture that went into many of the older barns that once graced Wisconsin’s landscape. “We wanted to bring that heritage back and make it more inviting.”
A tour of the farm included a walk through the new free-stall barn where Zoey shared her thoughts on key ag issues like antibiotics, tail cropping and milk production. Visitors were also entertained by the music-playing Lely JUNO feed pusher, which, using a sophisticated GPS tracking system, pushes feed into the cows 19 times each day to the tune of songs like “Take this Job and Shove It.”
The barn is naturally ventilated, Zoey said, noting, “We wanted to use what nature gave us.” A weather station on top of the barn senses wind velocity and temperature and adjusts the barn’s side curtains and fans accordingly.
“Our chief goal going into this project was to increase cow comfort – they come first,” Zoey said. “Without taking care of the cows, we wouldn’t have a livelihood. Without caring for the land, we wouldn’t have the base we need to care for the cows – it comes full circle.”
The Women Caring for the Land at the Brooks Farm was the first of four such workshops being organized around the state this year by Wisconsin Farmers Union and Pheasants Forever. Other upcoming workshops include:
• August 2, Autumn Moon Farm, 854 Fritz Road, Belleville. Come see how Becky Olson and her husband applied her environmental non-profit experience to transform from dairy to direct grain sales to brewers and bakers. Learn how a trout fishing easement helped bridge their inter-generational farm transition while protecting the watershed.
• August 9, Glacial Lake Cranberries, 2480 Cty Road D, Wisconsin Rapids. Conservation is at the heart of this 6,000-acre family-run operation, which is headed up by Mary Brazeau Brown. Cranberries have been produced on the property since 1873.
• August 15, Blue Ox Organics, N11253 State Hwy 25, Wheeler. See how Lauren Langworthy's love of the land is at work on the small, diversified farm she runs with her husband. Learn how rotational grazing is helping to rebuild the soil at Blue Ox Organics, where the Driftless and the Northwoods meet.
Aside from showcasing conservation practices, these events provide an opportunity to connect women to other female farmers and landowners in their region. They also bring landowners and conservation professionals together to learn about the many conservation program offerings and tools available through the Farm Service Agency, National Resources Conservation Service, and other regional conservation efforts.
Each workshop runs from 8:30am to 3pm and includes a morning learning circle, potluck lunch and afternoon tour of the host farm. Lunch is a potluck (main dish provided) so bring a dish to pass. Dress for walking in pastures.
RSVP to Deb Jakubek at email@example.com or 715-590-2130.
The Women Caring for the Land series was developed by the Women, Food and Agriculture Network. For more information about this program, visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com or www.womencaringfortheland.org.