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Group strives to preserve area farmland

Agriculture is responsible for $524 million of economic activity and employs 4,700 people in St. Croix County.

These are significant numbers, but according to Pete Kling and Gerald Croes, not enough people know about them.

"Maybe we underestimate the power that agriculture has," Kling said.

Croes, a local farmer, and Kling, a community resource educator with the St. Croix County University of Wisconsin-Extension office in Baldwin, hope to change all that. They were part of a group that went on the Ultimate Land Use Study Tour on the East Coast in 2008.

That trip inspired the creation of the Western Wisconsin Land Resource Alliance, whose goal is "to conserve western Wisconsin resources for future generations using appropriate land use tools and by facilitating the implementation of locally developed programs through public education."

The group is pushing to educate people about the importance of agriculture and about the upcoming update of St. Croix County's farmland preservation plan, which is scheduled to be finished in 2011. The plan will likely fuel efforts to preserve the county's farmland.

"There has to be this understanding that farmland is worth saving," said Kling.

Kling and Croes saw good results from updated farmland preservation plans on the East Coast when they went on the land use study tour.

Lancaster County in Pennsylvania has preserved 80,000 acres of farmland so far, and they wouldn't have been able to do that without educating urban citizens and having a plan, Kling said.

To help inform all county residents, the Western Wisconsin Land Resource Alliance has been holding workshops that aim to identify and prioritize agricultural issues to better revise the farmland preservation plan. The workshops give people a chance to voice their opinions and learn from each other about agriculture.

Croes agrees that education is vital. He mentioned that bee populations are down, and since they are pollinators, it will affect crops. He emphasized that when it comes to agriculture, all things are connected.

"So many people don't know that," he said.

The connection applies to the urban and rural populations alike.

"We got to learn to work with each other, that's the thing," Croes said.

Both Kling and Croes agree that agriculture needs the support of the urban population or the land will be lost.

"I've said for years, it's a fact: You can replace a car, you can replace a boat, but you can't replace land. Once it's gone, it's gone," Croes said.