A desire to honor the family tradition of farming and their ancestor's wishes to keep their land in agriculture was the motivation for the Koepke family at Oconomowoc to take part in a purchase of development rights program that will preserve the land for farming.
The Koepke family at Oconomowoc has talked the talk regarding the importance of farmland preservation for many years.
Now they have walked the walk by placing a conservation easement on land just outside the city of Oconomowoc to insure that it will remain in farming.
The family officially entered into an agreement earlier this year to preserve 112 acres of prime farmland formerly owned by Harry, Hilbert and Mabel Koepke, aunt and uncles of Alan, James and David Koepke who currently farm the land together with Jim's son John. The current owners represent the fourth and fifth generation on the farm.
Jim Koepke recalls that his great grandfather, Wilhelme Koepke, originally bought 40 acres when he came to the United States from his homeland of Prussia back in 1875.
His son Albert took over the farm that grew to 155 acres. Some of the land was later lost when the Highway 16 by-pass was built.
Jim's two uncles and aunt who never married continued to operate the farm the rest of their lives and it eventually ended up in the hands of the three brothers and Jim's son because of their interest in continuing the family's farming tradition.
The Koepkes operate a 330-acre dairy farm just a few miles away that was begun by Jim, Alan and David's parents.
LONG FAMILY HISTORY
Jim says it was his Aunt Mabel who was the "go getter" on the farm she operated with her brothers.
He says when they added land to the farm they had a land contract that spelled out the dollars to be paid to each month together with a supply of wood for the stove and hay for the horse of the previous owner.
Jim recalls going to the farm as a child to see his aunt tossing grain shocks around during threshing and doing all the other physical labor required in running a farm.
He says, "Agriculture was her life. She was in her 70s when she had an accident with a power take off on the manure spreader that injured her leg and resulted with eventual amputation of the leg. It slowed her down but she eventually learned to walk again."
While her brothers helped her on the farm, they also got interested in the stock market. They did extremely well in this venture and ended up donating millions of dollars of their earnings to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee, specifying that the funds be used to pay hospital bills for children whose families cannot afford the cost of their special care.
He says, "They were good managers throughout their years of farming and did what they had to do to get by during the depression. They also helped others who were struggling in the depression."
Jim says, "Aunt Mabel, Uncle Hilbert and Uncle Harry were also very frugal. They did so much for others but not for themselves. While my grandfather Albert had a telephone as early as 1915, my uncles and aunt who ran the farm never had a telephone until 1995. When they died, 90 percent of their estate went to Children's Hospital."
When the three quit farming the land was placed in the Conservation Reserve Program for 10 years.
The family remained intent on keeping their land in agriculture and to accomplish this, willed it to the four Koepkes who were farming nearby. The Koepkes inherited half of the land in 2008 when their uncles died and then inherited the second half in 2009 when Mabel died.
The Koepkes knew, however, that without placing an easement on the land there is no way to insure that it will remain in agriculture into the future.
The easement purchase of development rights was made possible through a combination of funds from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, Koepke family donation and fundraising by Tall Pines Conservancy.
The farm is located on Highway K at the Highway 16-67 bypass and has a scenic view of Holy Hill and Lac LaBelle.
The southern parcel has a small area of woodland that is part of an environmental corridor. It is adjacent to a tributary of Rosenow Creek, a navigable stream.
The woods located in the southeastern portion of the property is adjacent to the Nature hill School forest.
John points out that the land on which this school was built was donated to the school district in the 1960s by the Catherine Clark estate (from Brownberry Ovens) and the wooded area is used for outdoor educational activities in the district.
John remembers learning about trees and nature in that woods when he was in school.
"The farm, with its location adjacent to Nature hill School and park, affords a grand educational opportunity for Tall Pines to teach children about the importance of agriculture and conservation of land that we are really excited about," says Susan Buchanan, Tall Pines Conservancy Executive Secretary.
PLAN TO CONTINUE FARMING LAND
The Koepke family will keep farming the land utilizing high level best management practices.
According to John Koepke, "The land there is special to us because it has been a part of our family for such a long time. Working with Tall Pines has allowed us a way to guarantee that the legacy of previous generations is there in current form for the future."
John and his wife, Kim, have begun their own venture of using a small portion of the milk from the family's 330-cow herd to make LaBelle cheese that they market throughout southeast Wisconsin.
John says, "The label on that cheese has a photo of a small granary that is located on this parcel of land."
Tall Pines Conservancy also assisted with a similar purchase of developments rights programs.
Tall Pines co-holds a conservation easement together with the State of Wisconsin on the 250-acre Zwieg Maple Acre Farm in Ashippun and they are assisting with another purchase of development rights agreement for another 280-acre farm in the Town of Ashippun.