A tale of two farms: The power of conservation easements

Dean Fedde and his brother Wayne are third-generation Nebraskan farmers who placed an easement on their property in 2010. This article was adapted from a letter Dean wrote in response to published attacks on private land conservation and the 30x30 goal.

By Dean Fedde March 28

I am a lifelong Nebraskan with deeply planted roots in southwest Sarpy County. For nearly a century, my family has farmed in the Lower Platte Valley, an area rich with some of our state’s most fertile soils. In Nebraska’s fastest growing county, there is now an urgency to protect the historic farmsteads, rolling fields of grain and the diverse habitat needed to sustain the abundant wildlife of the region. In these rapidly changing times, agriculture is being squeezed out and farms are vanishing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, my family has suffered that reality.

My brother Wayne and I grew up on the farms of our grandparents, John and Stella Deloske, and our uncle and aunt, Joe and Stella Buras. The two farms were located approximately 7 miles south of Gretna, separated by Nebraska Highway 31.

My grandparents were Lithuanian immigrants who moved to their 40-acre farm in 1932. Along with his six children, Grandpa Deloske farmed with horses, growing corn, oats and alfalfa to feed their cattle, hogs, goats, chickens and geese. It was presumed that this farm would always stay in the family. However, shortly after my grandfather passed away in 1966, an investor contacted a part of the family with an offer to buy the farm. Unknown to the rest of the family, the farm was sold. The house, barn and outbuildings were bulldozed and burned. The land was broken into five parcels as rooftops replaced the fields of corn, oats and alfalfa. This family farm was forever gone.

Meanwhile, on the adjacent 158-acre farm, our Uncle Joe and Aunt Stella were dedicated not only to protecting the environment but also to improving it. After the passing of Uncle Joe, Wayne and I vowed to not let this farm disappear. In 1993, we purchased the farm from our Aunt Stel, committed to following in their footsteps with a deep respect for the environment.

Today, we are a certified organic farm growing corn, soybeans, oats, winter wheat and alfalfa. To my brother and me, these two farms are not just parcels of real estate to be bought and sold; they are a treasured part of us. We could not save our grandparents’ farm, but in 2010 we were offered the opportunity to forever protect the farm and legacy of our uncle and aunt with a permanent conservation easement with the Nebraska Land Trust.

Conservation easements are a powerful asset for the farmers and ranchers of our state. In Sarpy County, the pressures are growing stronger as every agricultural acre holds the potential for development. Lack of support for conservation easements can subject a family farm or ranch to permanent change. Once an unprotected farm has been broken by development, that land is forever altered and will never again return to agriculture. The opportunity of a permanent conservation easement can protect a family farm or ranch, allowing for future generations to continue in agriculture. For my family and the future farmers who will tend our land, we are eternally grateful for that opportunity.

This article was published on the Land Trust Alliance website in August 2021.