Helping to Keep Organic Farmland Intact
After over two years of persistent advocacy and legal action between 2018 and ’20, we are grateful to reflect back on our successful efforts to protect Grassway Organics Farm from being bisected and marred by the Lakeshore Lateral Pipeline. Living Lands places are not only held in trust for the broader good, but they also hold the lives and livelihoods of the farmers and others who live and work with these places. There are multiple interests and responsibilities woven together at Living Lands places–from our responsibility for keeping the land intact and healthy across generations, from Grassway Organics responsibility for the year-to-year health of the soil, plants, animals, and people who inhabit the land, to Geneva Lake Conservancy’s responsibility for ensuring sustainable agriculture conservation. In instances where large-scale, multi-jurisdictional development projects threaten the taking and conversion of farmland and natural areas, this collective approach to stewarding land provides added strength and resources to keep land intact.Read the Story of Protecting Grassway Farm from the Lakeshore Lateral Pipeline
Grassway Organics Farm is a 400-acre certified organic dairy and livestock farm in East Troy, Wisconsin. This farmland is held in trust by Living Lands Trust for the purpose of making it forever available to organic farmers, such as Chaz and Megan Self, who have been operating Grassway Organics on the land since 2017. Grassway Organics not only produces healthy nutritious meats and dairy but is a hub of community activity and is well known for its many outreach endeavors, most especially for their pizza nights.
In the summer of 2018, Living Lands Trust (at that time Yggdrasil Land Foundation) attended a meeting for landowners who could be impacted by a newly proposed natural gas pipeline that would traverse roughly 46 miles of Walworth and Kenosha Counties. As initially proposed, it appeared the pipeline would have little impact on the Trust’s land. But by December, plans had changed. One proposed route would pass through the middle of the Grassway Farm, clearing a 50-100’ swath of vegetation and topsoil, impacting above and below ground watering lines, removing windbreaks, and damaging unique woodland habitat. The construction and operation of the pipeline would threaten the organic integrity of the land and the associated livelihoods of its long-long term stewards, the Selfs. From equipment leaks and spills, to invasive weed seed introduction, to the use of other “prohibited substances” to be used during construction—maintaining organic certification would become significantly more difficult and costly.
Living Lands and the Selfs were not alone in facing this potential taking. Directly adjacent to Grassway are two properties, also farmed organically, owned by James and Justin Rohrer. With the prospect of losing their hard-earned organic certifications, the Trust teamed up the Rohrers to secure reputable legal representation to defend against the routing of the pipeline through what was identified in project reports as an “organic farming corridor.” For Living Lands, as a small nonprofit organization, such a legal expense would nearly double its annual operating budget. Despite this hardship, the Board of Trustees did not hesitate in its responsibility to legally defend this land and its stewards, Grassway Farm. This is a fundamental responsibility of holding land in trust for the benefit of organic farmers and the community.
After great expense and countless volunteer hours by Living Lands’ Board, the struggle to defend these organic farms culminated in a hearing before an administrative judge with multiple witness and expert testimonies. Finally, in June 2020, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission decided on a different route for the gas pipeline. Grassway Farm and the organic farming corridor that it is a part of would remain intact. We are relieved and delighted that Grassway Organics will be able to continue as the vibrant farm and community member, ensuring the integrity of the land and livelihoods of those who steward it.