Conservation easement helps to keep Mayer farm in family

Gloria Hafemeister
Ike and Shelly Mayer, Slinger and their sons Devin and Dylon and daughter Cassandra are proud of their family farm heritage and have preserved their farm for future generations with a conservation easement. (contributed)

SLINGER – Eight generations have lived on the Mayer family farm at Slinger so when the Mayers were searching for ways to keep the farm in the family despite the pressures of urban development all around them, they decided to partner with Tall Pines Conservancy, the Oconomowoc River Watershed and the NRCS and place a conservation easement on their farm.

“Doing so made it possible for our son and daughter to eventually take over ownership of our farm,” says Dwight “Ike” Mayer whose great grandparents actually settled in the area years ago.

“It didn’t make sense to get bigger in our area in order to bring in more family members,” he adds.  “We decided to diversify by continuing to work on the genetics of our dairy herd, develop or beef enterprise and place the easement on our farm.”

The Mayer farm is located just south of Slinger in the town of Polk along a hilly stretch of farmland north of the historic and popular Holy Hill area in the Kettle Moraine. It is where Ike Mayer has farmed all his life beginning with his dad and mom Richard and Marilyn who followed in the footsteps of Christ Mayer who followed his ancestors’ path. The Mayer family was not the first to farm the land they bought in the 1850’s but they have enjoyed farming there since and have added to the land.

Also included in the farm today is a farm that had been Ike’s grandma’s farm. Known for years as Folk Song Farm, the family contracted with Amish craftsmen to restore the old 1850’s barn and turn it into a popular wedding and event venue.

Even with the current COVID 19 concerns, the barn has still been busy. A couple of dates were cancelled but others have found ways to still hold their events in the spacious barn.

Dwight, “Ike” Mayer is the sixth generation to operate his family’s farm at Slinger.

Dairy farming has been the family’s life-long passion and they take pride in raising quality dairy cattle and growing them naturally for dairy and beef. The Mayer family currently milks 55 cows along with beef that they raise and market directly to area customers, selling it at farmers markets and at their on-farm store.

Mayer’s natural, finished beef is from cattle that are raised with access to luscious, green pastures.Their cattle are fed diets rich in grass and hay year round. And they are raised without added growth hormones.

Ike says local customers have known that for a long time but the recent interest in buying locally produced meat because of shortages in stores and consumer realization that local meat tastes better has led to more demand. He says they could have actually sold more meat this year but getting on a waiting list at local processors is a challenge now.

The farm includes a total of 198 acres of which 150 have been enrolled in the program.

According to Ike’s wife Shelly, who is also the head of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin organization, “Our grandchildren mark the eighth generation at the Mayer farm. It was the love of working with fine dairy cattle and farming that brought us together. While high development pressure has surrounded our community, it’s reassuring to know that due to the work of Tall Pines, the Oconomowoc Watershed Protection Program and NRCS, we will be able to transition our land, passion and way of life to our children. Farming is more than a career. It’s our love,” she concluded.

When the family first started considering ways to protect their farm from future development and insure that their grown children and families would have the opportunity to take over, they spoke with other area dairy farmers who are involved with the Tall Pines Conservancy. Tall Pines was interested in getting involved because of their concern for the water quality of the Coney River which runs through the property. A second, and equally compelling reason, for completing the project was to preserve the productive multi-generational working farm in an area of high development pressure.

Ike points out, “With the plans to make busy Highway 164 a 4-lane highway we expect even more development in this area.”

Founded in 1999, Tall Pines Conservancy is a 501-c3 Land Trust working to preserve the rural heritage of the state by protecting remaining farmland, water resources, natural areas and open spaces adjacent to and impacting northwestern Waukesha County. Tall Pines has preserved approximately 1500 acres of land through conservation easements and fee acquisition.

Land that has been preserved as been in Dodge, Washington and Waukesha Counties.

Nationwide, more than 4 million acres have been protected by some 1,300 land trusts. Wetlands, farms, wildlife habitat, forests, urban gardens and parks, watersheds, trails and river corridors are among the areas safeguarded by land trust organizations.