Land gift preserves local Richfield farm history as well as Lofy family history

Gloria Hafemeister
Herb and Sharon Lofy combined their interest in farming and local history by first establishing a life estate, giving 38 acres of their farmland to the Richfield Historical Society, and now going a step further by permanently protecting 27 acres of it through a conservation easement with Tall Pines Conservancy.   The conservation easement was suitably finalized on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

RICHFIELD – When families have been farming on land that has been in the family for generations there is always a concern over keeping the farm going into the future.

When that farm is located in a rapidly developing area, there is always pressure to turn productive cropland into housing lots. Even when farm families aren’t interested in developing their land, the economics of farming make it difficult for the next generation to continue on the farm, especially dairy farming, when land surrounding the farm is developed and unavailable for raising crops or for nutrient management.

Herb and Sharon Lofy successfully operated a 154-acre dairy farm in the Town of Richfield, at one time running as many as 400 acres. At one time they even considered selling their farm and relocating to nearby Dodge County where they could continue farming without development pressure.

They changed their minds on that plan, however, for several reasons.

First, Sharon was not keen on the idea of moving. Also, Herb’s interest in local farming history was beginning to increase.

“My great-grandfather had 14 children. He saw this area as the land of opportunity," Herb said. "He actually homesteaded on a neighboring farm in 1855. This farm has been in the family since 1873.”

During the years Herb and Sharon farmed they had developed an impressive herd of cows that eventually included a Red and White All-American Aged Cow. During their farming years they farmed with modern equipment but after they sold their cows in 2000 and cut back on their acreage his interest in restoring older equipment grew.

Around the same time, Herb was starting to pay more attention to an old abandoned gristmill located on land across the street from his farm along the Coney River. After talking with older farmers in the area Herb learned the old mill was at its peak of operation during the World War I era.

Lofy barely remembers when the mill was in use but knows it was eventually converted for processing livestock feed and served local farmers like his family until the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Herb admits that he never thought he’d become so involved in preserving history. However, as he worked the fields around the mill he began to think of ways he could help save it.

He spoke with a neighbor with a keen interest in history and together they talked with others in the area who eventually joined in the effort to form a local historical society with the idea of preserving the historical farm on which the mill sat. The town agreed with their idea and in 1997 and purchased the farm. Once the farm was in the town’s possession Lofy and others set out to learn more about the mill and figure out how to slowly restore it.

The town helped to finance development of the farm into a living history farm but much of the funding comes through donations and funds raised at events like their annual Thresheree. The first thresheree was held on the Lofy farm but as the Richfield Historical Park was developed it was eventually held there.

Later the town, together with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources purchased a 92-acre farm adjoining the 33-acre park to expand it to include numerous other historical buildings that have been relocated to the site.

The all-volunteer historical organization is responsible for restoring and maintaining numerous historic buildings within the Historical Park as well as hosting several popular events throughout the year.

In 2012, as the Lofys began to contemplate their own estate plan, they decided to create a life estate that designated the gift of 39 ½ acres of their farm as a gift to the Richfield Historical Society.

Herb says they saw it as a way to not only preserve the local farming history but also their own family’s history.

“We didn’t take this lightly and we didn’t make a decision on impulse," Sharon said. "We talked with our grown children about it and they agreed.”

Herb points out that under the life estate agreement they can live on the farm as long as they want and continue to pay the taxes, which he points out would not be possible without the state’s Use Value farm tax plan.

They also point out that a farmer doesn’t have to be rich to do this sort of thing. Part of it involves tax incentives when considering the tax consequences of selling property.

To establish a life estate such as this, the donation of the land must be to a non-profit organization. When they recently decided to put a conservation easement on a portion of the land, they needed the approval of the Richfield Historical Society as well.

“Sharon and I are equally pleased that a portion of our farm is now covered with a conservation easement through Tall Pines,” said Lofy. “This part of the farm is a life estate with Richfield Historical Society as the beneficiary; we felt a conservancy would provide a “win-win” situation for everyone.

Herb Lofy has been busy restoring the old turbine from the historic mill located at Richfield Historical Park.

“Development has certainly taken many farms in Richfield out of production. One hundred years from now this may be one of only a few open spaces left in Richfield,” Herb says.

The beautiful Coney Creek meanders among various wooded areas through both the Richfield Historical Park and the Lofy Farm.

In fact, one of the reasons the Lofy Farm is such a solid candidate for conservation is that the best management practices applied to the agricultural operation present a significant opportunity to benefit both the water quality of the creek and the Oconomowoc River, which it feeds.

Both RHS and TPC look forward to its new, unique partnership and thank the Lofy family for their foresight in preserving their land.

Founded in 1999, Tall Pines Conservancy is a 501c3 nationally accredited Land Trust working to preserve rural heritage by protecting remaining farmland, water resources, natural areas and open spaces adjacent to and impacting Northwestern Waukesha County.

Tall Pines has preserved approximately 1,500 acres of land by conservation easements and fee acquisition.

Lofy says the reason the entire life-estate parcel was not a part of the conservation easement is that the conservancy does not want buildings. 

While some people might not see the benefit of the long-range plan for his farm, he says he considers himself more of a visionary, looking to the future when even more development occurs in the area.

The inclusion of his farm as a part of the Historical Society’s park provides opportunities for an additional ten-acres of parking during large events like the thresheree. It also provides buildings for storing the larger equipment that is donated to the society.  In addition, Lofy believes eventually his farm can be used to show how dairy farming was done in the 1900’s. Farming in that era may not seem like history now but looking forward it will be interesting to see things like Harvestore silos and stanchion barns and tractors and equipment from the years when he was farming.

Herb says having storage space is beneficial because it allows the Society to accept gifts that they might otherwise need to turn down.

“The Historical Society received a large endowment of equipment from Gehl Company when they sold out," he said. "The company had its own museum in West Bend but they donated special pieces to the Historical Society to display at the thresheree. Initially they needed to be stored at area farms."

"It's wonderful that this organization should have those historic pieces because the Gehl company was such a big employer for so many people in the Washington County area," he pointed out.

Sharon’s dad worked for the Gehl Company for 40 years. She also worked for the machinery giant.

As Herb looks at his life, he says he always thought he’d remain in farming all his life but now he says, “God had a better plan that I should help to preserve farming history.  We’re fortunate we had the opportunity to do this.”

These days he stays busy in his shop repairing and restoring things for the historical society. His current project is sandblasting, painting and restoring the turbine from the original mill with the goal of getting it working again.