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A land walk

By Staff | Jun 8, 2020

-Farm News photo by Kriss Nelson Selden Spencer, left speaks with Joe Klingelhutz, farm specialist for Sustainable Iowa Land Trust during a land walk of Spencer’s farm near Webster City recently. Spencer was looking for some advice and alternatives to farming and caring for his land.



WEBSTER CITY If you are a landowner that is wanting to possibly diversify and begin raising food or need help with protecting and improving your land, there is help available to you.

Joe Klingelhutz, farm specialist for Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) has been utilizing funding from a grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and USDA to visit with Iowa farmland owners and offer free consultation on how to incorporate sustainable food production and regenerative farming practices.

Recently, Klingelhutz visited with Selden and Jean Spencer who purchased a tract of land near Webster City in 2017.

The Spencer’s land consists of 110 acres of row crops and 50 acres that is in timber and also includes a large ravine.

Selden Spencer said the land purchase was something he had been wanting to do for a long time and was anxious to meet with Klingelhutz to get some advice.

“The beauty about this opportunity is getting some insight form another organization on how we might best use the property,” Spencer said.

Klingelhutz said after visiting with the Spencers and taking a tour of their land, he is working on their report. The report may include different ideas about how to protect and improve their land, protect and attract wildlife and how to grow more nature-friendly food.

“I will be talking about their soil slopes, their interests and kind of put the pieces of the puzzle together to offer some advice on what opportunities are possible on their land,” said Klingelhutz.

Klingelhutz said he has done land walks of all sizes from three acres up to one as large as 400 acres.

“We would love to see our landowners who do have an area of their land where they don’t use it for row crop production, and they don’t really know what to put there. They could have the opportunity to plant some orchard trees or if they are interested, even beekeeping,” he said. “We want the landowner to first realize this is possible, then we are the stepping stone to send them to the proper resources,” he said.


Klingelhutz said SILT is a non-profit organization that has been available as a service to landowners and beginning farmers – helping them to connect, for five years now.

“Our mission is to protect Iowa farmland for sustainable food production,” he said.

Although the grant that is funding his visits for land walks and consultations with landowners is a separate entity, he hopes it will help him to connect with landowners to also introduce them to the mission and services of SILT.

“What we are hoping to do, since this grant is allowing me to meet with landowners for free, it’s a way for not only me to explain the value of someone’s land and different ideas for sustainable food production, but also to meet with new landowners, do outreach and find landowners who may not have a succession plan in place,” Klingelhutz said. “There are a lot of landowners who don’t know what to do with their land when they’re done with it.”

SILT works with Iowa landowners to protect their land now and for generations to come.

According to SILT, landowners may choose to donate property – even while retaining full use of it during their lives. Or, they can place a permanent land protection agreement on it and retaining ownership. Both options come with significant tax incentives to eligible donors.

“How we do this is we talk with landowners who are looking for the opportunity to pass the legacy of their land on to the next generation for farmers who need access to affordable land to grow table foods,” Klingelhutz said.

When Klingelhutz says table foods, he said he is referring to crops you can eat directly- such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, pastured meats, honey and mushrooms, just for example.

“We talk about these foods because we know that Iowa has the capability to grow an abundance of different types of crops, but we kind of forgot as a culture to talk about the fruits, vegetables, nuts and pasture meats,” he said.

Klingelhutz said the program helps to ensure there is land protected for food use in Iowa.

“Statistically, we import 90% of the food we eat here in the state,” he said. So, we are basically a food desert and this number is comparable to Hawaii. We have the best soils in the world and climate to grow these foods, we are not really utilizing the land for that.”

SILT works with beginning farmers to explain how land protection limits the uses of the property to sustainable food production, reducing its value and therefore its cost to them.

Klingelhutz said if you are a beginning farmer, trying to get into vegetables or pastured meat, it can be very hard to do so with the high land prices.

“It’s just hard,” he said. “We talk with landowners who want that opportunity if they don’t have heirs to pass the land on to, or if they have lived on the farm all of their life and they have been practicing conservation and have planted a bunch of fruit and nut trees and would like to see the farm be passed on to another farmer who would value the land as much as they did and be able to take care of it and be able to grow food there, then we provide them that opportunity.”

Klingelhutz said the landowner donates the land to SILT.

“We then become the owners of the land and we will find a farmer who needs an affordable, long-term lease to be able to farm it or they can donate an agricultural conservation easement that we can write up as a land trust which necessitates the uses of the land as a sustainable farm,” said Klingelhutz.

SILT also works with city planners and private developers to build small farms into the planning process.

These independent, family farms will provide a diverse, healthy landscape, increasing nearby home values while attracting new businesses seeking a high quality of life for their employees. SILT believes agri-communities are the future.

SILT works with established farm groups and farm management companies to market SILT farms to aspiring and experienced farmers looking to grow healthy food in Iowa, making Iowa a great state to move to and grow young families and good food.

Klingelhutz said SILT currently has nine farms across the state.

“We are five years old, and we have a couple farms coming our way this year and next year, but it’s our mission to give you a different opportunity instead of just selling your farm at an auction or just selling it to the next person,” he said. “If you want someone to help you look for someone to pass the land onto, that is what we are here for.”

Klingelhutz said more information can be found by visiting www.silt.org; or by e-mailing him at joe@silt.org or giving him a call at 319-800-8108.

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