Dane County officials are introducing organic farming into one of the county’s parks as part of a new initiative geared toward community land use.
Laura Duyer, director of real estate for CamRock County Park said the county will lease 24 acres of the park to a farmer for the purpose of growing organic crops on the property. The project is part of the “Organic Agriculture Lands” initiative, according to a statement from Dane County, and is the first of its kind.
The 2012-17 Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan recommended farming and community gardening as a good use of park land, the statement said.
The land would be leased for a five year term to a potential grower, the statement said. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said requests by growers to lease the land will be submitted by Dec. 2 and the county will determine a farmer for the land.
“We’ve looked around for suitable land for farmers who look for this as the first parcel that we’re piloting,” Parisi said.
The grower could be a current organic farmer or a grower who wishes to pursue that in the future, Parisi said, and the land would probably be used for grain production. The statement said the potential farmer would have time to complete their organic farming certification if necessary.
The idea for the project, which is organized with the Dane County Parks Department, came about as the growing trend of sustainable and organic agriculture prompted its creation, the statement said.
“[Agriculture] and local foods is a growing business in our region and everywhere, and one of the challenges our growers run into in Dane County is finding available land,” Parisi said.
The Dane County Parks Department has also put forth several other efforts to encourage sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the county, Duyer said. There is a community garden at Badger Prairie County Park and she believes the growers intend to follow organic practices.
Duyer said other parks in Dane County also lease land for agriculture practices, and once those leases expire the parks department might evaluate those portions and lease those to organic farmers. The lease for the parcel of land in CamRock park expired, which made it available for the county to use for this pilot project, she said.
Duyer said the Dane County Parks Division hopes to lease the land to conventional farmers as well as organic farmers, in order to reflect the variety of agriculture practices in the state.
“We think Wisconsin agriculture is diverse, and we want the projects to reflect that,” Duyer said.
The parks could also work with school groups or other organizations besides organic growers on future land leased for agriculture practices, Duyer said.
Parisi said the county has no specific plan for expansion of land leased for organic farming, but they will assess the demand for organic food and the need for more land for organic farmers before deciding.
“We don’t have a vision of a particular size of a project,” Parisi said. “We’re trying to assess what demand is out there.”