Across Wisconsin, farmers are teaming up to improve water quality and soil health . In the heart of the Central Sands Region, a producer-led watershed protection group known as the Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri received a $14,600 grant for 2023 to fund educational events and on-farm research projects.

This grant comes from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) through the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program. DATCP currently funds 43 producer-led watershed protection groups across the state.

“We’re proud of the diversity within the group,” says Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri lead farmer Heather Gayton of ZanBria Artisan Farms.

Since the group’s formation in fall 2020, producer members have represented a wide range of farming operations: large-scale vegetable producers, cranberry growers, cattle farmers, and smaller artisanal farmers. What do they all have in common? They share a commitment to stewarding their local land and water resources through on-farm research. Together, they are also creating educational opportunities for community members including producers, lakes groups, students and others.

“It’s refreshing to be at the table with people who share these same passions,” says Carrie Flyte of Flyte Family Farms.

The group hopes to welcome more new members in 2023.

The Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri focus their work within the Big Roche-A-Cri and Little Roche-A-Cri Creek watersheds. These relatively flat, sandy watersheds drain about 373 square miles across Waushara, Marquette, and Adams Counties until joining the Wisconsin River in Castle Rock Lake.

Agriculture and forests are the main land uses in the area, with abundant wetlands and complex networks of streams and ditches. Some of the main challenges in these watersheds include wind erosion of soils and high nitrate levels in surface and groundwater.

To officially begin tackling these challenges together in 2022, the Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri hosted five educational events and conducted two on-farm research/demonstration projects.

“The community response so far has been nothing short of overwhelming,” says Tom Schultz, farm manager of Heartland Farms, who hosted the kick-off event: Precision Agriculture & Its Effects on Soil Health, attended by over 60 people.

Attendees of the ZanBria Artisan Farms Grow & Tell event enjoy a farm tour and meal featuring locally grown vegetables in Friendship, WI, August 13th , 2022. Photo by Anna James.

The successful combination of food and learning continued at each event like the Coloma Farms Grow & Tell in July and the ZanBria Artisan Farms Grow & Tell in August. Jeff Boyd of Signature Farms created a cover crop demonstration plot and shared his farm’s findings at the Cover Crop & Grazing Field Day in September. Heather Gayton led a Field-to-Classroom cooking workshop in December 2022 using winter squash to get high school students hands-on with the connections between local vegetables and local watersheds.

Matt Oehmichen (right) of Short Lane Ag. Supply demonstrates soil health characteristics with Jeff Boyd (center) of Signature Farms during Cover Crop & Grazing Field Day at Signature Farms in Friendship, WI, September 1st , 2022. Photo by Anna James.

The producers are also working with their grant collaborators in Adams County and UW-Extension to collect monthly water quality samples, including phosphorus and nitrogen readings in streams throughout the watersheds.

“As a collaborator, I’m amazed by the teamwork and open conversation among these producers and the success the group has had so far,” says Anna James, Natural Resources Educator at UW-Extension and collaborator with Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri.

Tracking these nutrient levels in the streams will help producers and other stakeholders better understand local water quality patterns in the watershed and take actions to protect and enhance the land and water resources.

“For 2023 we’re really excited to connect more within the community, both with other producers and our non-farming neighbors,” says Andy Diercks of Coloma Farms.

So far, the Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri have six events planned for 2023 including: more Grow & Tell events, a Pontoons and Potatoes collaboration with a local lakes group, a community-wide Fall Fest, and an Agricultural Career Day for high schoolers.

Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri and other community members gather during Cover Crop & Grazing Field Day at Signature Farms in Friendship, WI, September 1st , 2022. Photo by Anna James.

The producers will continue with more on-farm research and demonstrations projects, plus ongoing stream monitoring. Coming up soon in mid-March, the Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri are hosting the Central Sands Watershed Protection Gathering to meet and share lessons and experiences among other producer-led groups in the region.

For more information about the Farmers of the Roche-A-Cri and their full calendar of events, please visit their website: . To ask questions about the group, become a member, or to sign up for their mailing list, email collaborators Anna James ( or Carolyn Pralle (, or call 608-339-4268. For details on DATCP’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program, visit .

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