Openlands looks to improve the health of land and water in Illinois, and improve habitat for wildlife across our region, but that requires comprehensive planning for our landscapes. With more than a third of the lands in the Chicago metropolitan region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties) and more than 80% of all land in Illinois under cultivation, we must engage farmers to meet these objectives.
Conservationists and small farmers are united in common priorities: clean water, healthy soils, and fresh food all share a dependence on land. However, modern industrial agriculture practices result in water pollution, poor soil quality, and increased threats to wildlife. Luckily, we are seeing a reduction in these harmful practices in Illinois, and Openlands is assisting small farmers to keep us trending in the right direction.
Partnering with farmers is a mutually beneficial relationship. Farmland conservation supports the long term viability of small farms and the surrounding communities as more consumer dollars are returned to Illinois communities. Agricultural conservation easements, for example, can ensure that farmland remains active, healthy, and affordable. These practices lead to healthier land, cleaner waters, and healthy wildlife. Openlands sees partnerships with small and new farmers as an essential aspect of conservation, so we work with willing partners in sustainable agriculture for the benefit of all communities.
Land Access Pilot Project
Openlands recognizes the need to assist small farmers through the difficult process of acquiring farmland, and we understand the need to retain institutional knowledge of best practices for healthy farmland.
The Land Access Pilot Project, an innovative partnership between Openlands and Liberty Prairie Foundation, is designed as a multi-year initiative to increase sustainable local food farming on public and privately owned lands in northeastern Illinois.
In August 2016, the Land Access Pilot Project released its initial framework for improving farmland access in Illinois, Breaking Ground: A Guide to Growing Land Access for Local Food Farming in Northeast Illinois. The guide offers a connection between small farmers and local landowners who wish in increase locally-grown foods together, and guides new farmers through the process of securing healthy and affordable working lands.
The project is generously funded through Food:Land:Opportunity–Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a multi-year funding initiative of The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.
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