Conservation's changing faces: Agriculture
Travel west of Route 47 in McHenry County and you’re often met with two drastically different realities.
Parts of our county reveal vast urban sprawl. The other side of the coin is the richly historic agricultural areas, which are the fabric of many communities. We are lucky enough to still have locally-owned and operated family farms that call McHenry County home.
Agriculture may not come to mind when paired with conservation. However, when land is protected with a conservation easement, the land’s past and future story is also preserved. These three brief stories reveal the successes of conservation and agriculture in McHenry County.
A transition of land. Chuck and Roxann Dowell created a unique family partnership. They recently purchased 75 acres of nursery stock with conservation land in Harvard. Their son-in-law Cody Book will farm part of the land, and the Dowell family will be able to subsidize their retirement and receive tax benefits from the farm. The family worked to develop a rotation of high moisture corn and a cover crop of wheat and hay to ensure soil quality. Grass waterways and field buffers to control erosion and manage storm-water are also in the plan. Thanks to cooperation of the family and protection under a conservation easement, the land is safely transitioning into a new life.
A section of the Dowell property.An auger is seen in the foreground, a tool used to dig holes to plant trees for the field buffer area. The remnant oak grove is seen in the upper right.
Preserving the past. Josephine Elsen remembered her time spent among cornfields and oak woods as a child. Her grandparents John and Etta Finch purchased 160 acres of land west of McHenry in 1862, known as The Finch Farm. With the help of TLC, an easement was put on 20 acres of oak woods and the rest of the land to ensure that the family’s heritage is protected forever. A family is now looking to purchase the land. Consistent with Josephine’s wishes, the family agreed to preserve the land and give it a new life by starting a grass-fed dairy.
The Finch Farm house in the 1800’s. The house still exists on the property today.
A wish is granted. Elena Spiegelhoff’s family traveled from Cicero every summer to enjoy the peace and quiet on their 150 acre farm in Richmond. Her memories from this time in the 1950’s include playing near the Nippersink Creek, the beautiful grove of White Oak trees and caring for her family’s farm animals. Elena inherited the property after her brother passed away, and was concerned that the land might be sold for development. Elena reached out to TLC to put a conservation easement on the property so that it will always be protected as agricultural land. TLC applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture
to purchase development rights on the farm. Openlands, a Chicago-based organization is partnering in this project to help purchase the farm from Elena, and transition it to the next owner.
“We all had the same common goal to permanently protect farmland and conservation values,” said Spiegelhoff.
An tree and its reflection on the Nippersink Creek on the Hoffmann farm property.