On a cold March day in 2006, Sandra Steingraber called The Land Connection and mentioned that her grandmother Leah Maurer had passed away at age 100. At the time she contacted The Land Connection, Steingraber said, “I had already succumbed to the inevitability of losing this farm to urban sprawl development or to an out-of-area investor who would rent the fields out and seek to maximize short-term profits at the expense of good stewardship. In either case, the farm would not be growing healthy food for the people of central Illinois.”
Leah’s son, Roy Maurer, who was born on the Forrest farm and lived there and farmed it his whole life, echoed Sandra’s sentiment. “I hate to see good fertile land being covered up. It isn’t like a cake; you can always make another cake, but you can’t make any more of this.” Roy and his 5 sisters, including Sandra’s mother, were mostly in their 70s, ready to retire. And the next generation was not in a position to take up farming the family land. Echoing the demographic shift clear across this nation’s farm country, it was time for this particular family farm to change ownership. It would no longer be owned by the family that had stewarded it for over 100 years.
Who would steward it into the future?
That’s where The Land Connection stepped in to work with the Maurers and a group of urban investors who wanted to put their money where their mouth was. Before the year was out, the investors had formed an LLC to purchase the farmland, house, and outbuildings. But instead of investing for just the cash-rent return, they invested in future farmers and local organic food for Illinois.
“We are running an enterprise that will be environmentally and economically successful and sustainable,” says partner David Miller. “We want to show that urban lovers of healthy locally produced foods can partner with regional farmers to bring about change.” And this is indeed what has happened. The Maurer farm went through its 3-year transition to certified organic production, and is at this moment harvesting out its second year of certified organic crops. Scott Friedman sums up his experience growing farming without agricultural chemicals in 3 words: “It’s a no-brainer.”
Looking at the Maurer farm is like looking at my father’s family farm, and indeed like looking at the four generations of most Illinois farms. Three of those generations were diverse, organic, and sustainable – economically and environmentally. The 4th generation, because of university experts and government policies, adopted monocropping and chemical-dependent agriculture. Steingraber and The Land Connection are proud to report that the Maurer farm has come full circle, moving from life-sustaining to unsustainably dependent on inputs and back again to sustainability through diverse organic production.
If you or someone you know is looking to do something different with family farmland, give The Land Connection a call!