Anyone interested in designating an agricultural enterprise area, including landowners, local government leaders and business people, can learn about the process at a workshop 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, Dec. 12. Participants can attend in person or via webinar. Staff from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will provide guidance and answer questions, whether participants are already developing a petition or still considering what they might need to do before submitting a petition in the future.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls would raise the cap on agricultural enterprise areas from 1 million to 2 million acres. AEAs have proven to be a popular addition to the state’s farmland protection toolbox. They were supported by American Farmland Trust, Gathering Waters Conservancy and other partners that worked for passage of the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative in 2009. The initiative updated and enhanced the state’s farmland preservation tools.
Focusing on the belief that a strong community connection with agriculture is integral to our economic health, retaining our heritage and quality of life, and living sustainably, a land trust in Michigan called the Leelanau Conservancy designed and launched FarmAbility in 2009. This program connects the land trust with farmers, leading them down the path to permanent land protection.
Advice from Matt Zoshke, an organizer of Wisconsin’s largest agricultural enterprise area (AEA): Be willing to work with the farmers in your area and understand their concerns. That and a lot of cooperative, creativity and hard work went into establishment of the Heart of America’s Dairyland AEA in Clark and Marathon counties. It also didn’t hurt that Zoshke, the Clark County conservationist, has a farm background and is well-known in the agriculture community.