By Barbara Fomina
Vance Vanderwerken inspects his estate with the careful attention of a designer. One hundred acres of crops, ditches and trees. The vision of his “ideal” farm includes turkeys living in century oaks, deers feeding on apple lures in fields, birds hiding in brushwoods — an almost unexpected fairy tale for wildlife in the middle of productive farmland. Vanderwerken even plans to set aside seven acres of wetlands especially for wild ducks.
“It’s a great farm to have”, said Vanderwerken. “It has been my goal: one day to be a landowner of a big piece of land. I had to look for years to find the right place”.
Once he found it, he chose to manage it in an unusual way. While most farmers use land for cash crops, Vanderwerken creates a perfect place for wildlife. Vanderwerken watches birds, films deer and even plans to reestablish hedge rows.
His dreams of recreational land use fortunately coincided with the interests of the Conservation Reserve Program, as one of the goals of the program is to increase wildlife habitat. CRP is not that desirable to some landowners because it minimizes or even prevents using land for agriculture.
The program instructs Vanderwerken how to care for the land, such as which crops to plant and how to conduct a burn. Weeds take over every three to four years and he has to replant the field. Having scared neighbors with smoke several times, he now prefers to tell the sheriff before he burns.
Experiment demands risk.