Conserving Local Farms, Food, and Our Heritage

Jim Welsh and Caleb Pourchot of Natural Heritage Land Trust with Dorothy and John Priske.

“We wanted to be proactive and take responsibility for this land.”

That was the sentiment expressed by John and Dorothy Priske, farmers who have lived on, and farmed, their land1 in Columbia County for nearly 30 years. To accomplish their goals of conservation, the Priskes worked with their local land trust, the Natural Heritage Land Trust, which provides conservation assistance in Dane County and the surrounding region.

But even just a few years ago, the Priskes, as well as 15 other farmers in Wisconsin would not have been able to conserve their farm like this because there wasn’t a state farmland protection program.

Working lands working for their communities

Farms like the Priske’s have been protected across Wisconsin with support from their local land trust and Wisconsin’s farmland protection program – a program
fought for by Gathering Waters Conservancy and our partners.

As with other farmland protection programs across the country, Wisconsin’s Purchase of Conservation Easements (PACE) program allows farmers to receive funding for conserving their land while still retaining ownership and management decisions. The land continues to stay on the tax rolls as well, and farmers are free to sell, bequeath, lease, and transfer the land, subject to the conservation agreement.

In addition to the PACE program, funding for this project was also provided by the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, The Conservation Fund, and the members of Natural Heritage Land Trust. PACE-funded land protection projects are intended to be anchors in areas that have been designated locally for farmland protection.

The Priskes are one such anchor, known throughout the community for their commitment to farming and sustainability.

Community anchors preserving local foods

According to Caleb Pourchot, Natural Heritage Land Trust’s conservation specialist, “Continuous improvement in the health of their land is a passion for the Priskes. Each new conservation practice they incorporate on the farm led them to another.

“After restoring wetlands, controlling runoff from the farm, leaving some pastures ungrazed to benefit nesting grassland birds, and installing a 50-kilowatt wind turbine that powers the entire farm, deciding to work with the local land trust to place a conservation easement on the farm to protect it in perpetuity was a logical next step.”

Farmland and our farming economy are central to many Wisconsin communities. Gathering Waters Conservancy, working with land trusts, the business community, agricultural organizations and farmers, and countless individuals, continues to work to enhance and grow the state’s farmland protection program.

During a challenging State budget cycle, your financial support of and participation in trainings, advocacy work, and educational programs will be very important in the coming year as we work to breathe new life into this farm-friendly program that serves Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage and economy. Together, one farm at a time, we’re bringing local food and our farm economy closer to long-term sustainability.

1John and Dorothy Priske own and operate Fountain Prairie Farms, a 277-acre grass-based farm in Columbia County where they raise Scottish Highland cattle. Known throughout the region for their quality meat, the Priskes are fixtures at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and also sell their meats to local restaurants. For a complete listing of restaurants where their beef is served, please visit