Kicking Off Legislative Farm Tour Season at Wilcox Family Farm

Representative Mike Murphy, Jen Wilcox, and Lee Curby sporting their new Alliance T’s!

This week Jen Wilcox hosted our first Legislative farm tour of the 2021 season! The last time the Alliance team stepped foot on a farm was back in March of 2020, to celebrate the kick-off of the Soil Health Caucus at the picturesque Rolling Meadows farm in Cantrall. We tried the virtual farm tour route, though successful, we missed the sites, smells, and human connection of an in-person farm tour. 

Jen welcomed her Representative Mike Murphy of the 99th District, Lee Curby (current tenant farmer at Wilcox Family Farm), Family friend and fellow farmer Wes Carney, Dick Lyons, Regenerative Farmer in Montgomery County, staff from the Illinois Environmental Council and the Alliance, out to the family farm to learn more about the family’s 121 year old farm why she and her mother, Sara, landowners to the farm, decided to change its course. In the nearly one year since Jen and Sara took back decision making over the land the family farm has made huge strides and building back the soil that was lost to erosion. 

You see, Jen’s father, John D. Wilcox, was a pioneer of conservation-minded farming and a proud board member of a Soil Water Conservation District.

Sadly, after his passing six years ago, the regenerative path he had set for the farm changed to a more conventional style of farming with lots of tilling when their previous tenant farmer took over production for the Wilcox’s.

Last year, Jen and her mother made the decision to improve the gully filled farm. Jen walks her dog around their pond and through the fields almost daily, she was tired of almost breaking her ankle in gullies and tired of seeing their soil wash away due to intense tilling. 

Last year, Jen and her mother made the decision to improve the gully filled farm. Jen walks her dog around their pond and through the fields almost daily, she was tired of almost breaking her ankle in gullies and tired of seeing their soil wash away due to intense tilling. 

This is not the Wilcox Farm, but is an example of a gully erosion. Gully erosion occurs when water is channeled across unprotected land and washes away the soil 
Wilcox field for comparison, Jen Wilcox, Lee Curby, and Rep. Murphy chatting.

Jen realized the power she has as a landowner to make decisions for the betterment of the farm. Once she learned their current tenant was not up for the challenge, she knew it was time for a change. She and Sara began looking for a farmer that shares the same goals and regenerative mindset. 

That’s where Lee Curby comes in. He is the current tenant farmer for the Wilcox family and is one of the best folks to carry on their dream of regenerating the soil. Lee grew up farming but took a break after school. In reality, his goal was not to come back to farming. Like many young farmers, Lee didn’t stay away too long. He came back and began renting 500 acres from David Moose, a soil health champion from Auburn, Illinois. Lee sees the value in soil health because it’s truly important to keep his soil on his land and ensure it is healthy. 

We were grateful to have Lee Curby there to give the group the breakdown of practices on the farm which feature newly implemented cover cropping and no-till practices. Which means that he is shielding the soil all year round with cover crops and not disturbing the soil with tillage equipment that digs into the soil and turns it over, causing soil compaction, lower quality of the soil, and leads to erosion. 

Rep. Murphy supported many of our priorities this year, like the Partners for Nutrient Loss Act. Having him out for a tour was a great way to not only bring the bill text to life but share why the support from the General Assembly on soil health and water quality issues matters. Though the Act did not pass, a significant budget appropriation for conservation exceeded our expectations! The Partners for Conservation Fund was extended and received an extra $6 million. This includes $4 million for Soil Water Conservation Districts to continue programing and grant work. And for the first time ever the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was awarded $2 million for implementation. Those funds will help carry out the strategy to keep farm nutrients in place and protect our drinking water. 

The budget win is huge for conservation and it would not have been possible without the support of Jen and other members of the Soil Health Caucus. 

We are looking forward to the current farm tour lineup! Next up is @Zumwalt Acres in Watseka with Representative Bennett and members from the NRCS office to see agroforestry and carbon sequestration in action then over to Broad Branch in Chillicothe with Representative Spain to learn more about local food and livestock production!

Stay tuned for more!

Slake Test Fun at Wilcox Farm 

To really demonstrate the power of healthy soil, Alliance Soil Health Caucus Member and fellow farmer, Dick Lyons performed a Slake Test using soil from his farm and his neighbors farm.
 A slake test is one of the best ways to measure the stability — or strength — of soil. Dick placed conventionally tilled soil (soil that has been turned with heavy machinery) and no till soil in the cylinders filled with water. 
The conventionally tilled soil sample will break down in the water, much like soil does during heavy rainfall events, because tillage has destroyed its biotic glue (all those great things that bind soil together!). The No-till/regenerative sample will stay together because it has the strength and glues in place to stay together in the water. Just like healthy soil is able to absorb heavy rainfall.