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VIDEO | Family tries to save 7th generation century farm from Washington County highway project

May 10, 2021 – Washington Co., WI – On Wednesday, May 12 the Washington County Board will meet to vote on a resolution to extend County Highway W between State Highway 175 and State Highway 83.

That proposed extension will cut through the David and Anne Wenninger property. It is a seventh generation century farm.

Officials in Washington County said the $2.5 million project is designed to improve safety.

The Wenningers fought to save their farm against a similar proposal in 2019. That extension of Highway W was voted down twice by the County Board.

Now, it is being brought back again.

Anne Wenninger said the latest proposal is tied in with another project to address safety improvements at Highway 175, Hwy S, and Hwy 83. “Since Hwy S will be included, improve it and improve the line of sight and then evaluate that over a year and then come back and look at the Hwy W extension,” she said.

If the the Highway W extension is approved, Wenninger said that will cut up their farmland on their century farm and they will not be able to farm that section anymore.

As far as the importance of agriculture in Washington County, county executive Josh Schoemann addressed the “rich agricultural history” of the county in his 2021 State of the County speech on April 22, 2021.  Portions of the speech are below where Schoemann defined local farmers as “an important industry” and “Community is not the most fiscally conservative budget, or a shiny new public works project…. or a fancy new development. Community is found in our people…”

Schoemann was asked after his speech, why the seventh generation farmers on a century farm are not part of the “important industry” in Washington County?

“These types of things are happening all over the place,” he said. “I’d certainly be interested in hearing what any new proposals that people bring up in terms of ways to have effective mobility that’s also safe and secure.”

The Wenningers said they’ve been trying to communicate but feel nobody is listening. A note the Wenningers are distributing is posted below.

“I find it so very appropriate that our county, with our rich agricultural history, would employ the action verb “cultivate” to convey our hopes and dreams for the future. Generations over generations of Washington County residents have planted the seeds of progress that we have thus far advanced. It is now left to us, the current generation, to renew and improve – to cultivate – these hopes and dreams.

At this difficult time in our nation, while so many look to revise our history and forget our past, in Washington County we seek to foster a renaissance of what has been, a passing of the torch to a new generation of leaders and welcoming all freedom loving Americans who share “the distinct values that define us.”

As part of my campaign for County Executive, one of my themes was “Thriving Rural
Communities.” During that time, I became keenly aware of the struggles of our farmers as they endured the economic shifts and transitions of a global society.

To me, achieving the dream of “Thriving Rural Communities” required gaining a thorough and more in-depth respect for the struggles of our people in agriculture, and attempting to identify ways to help them navigate this real time economic restructuring.

Thus, a key action item was holding listening sessions and re-establishing reliable communication channels with this important industry, and our neighbors living it each and every day.

For a county that in just over a decade went from a majority of the board having at least some agricultural background to just three supervisors with relevant experience in the industry today, this was the least we could do.

Prior to 2020, as farmers and their neighbors watched hundreds of their colleagues go through bankruptcies, divorces, mental health struggles and even suicides, those who remained were able to pull themselves through by determination and by relying on one another. Then, when the effects of COVID were compounded on top of those issues, and their churches, volunteer fire departments and town halls were shuttered, so was
their only access to their social network and safety net – their community. As one proud farmer told me, “Josh, I finally just lost it when I was forced to dump all that milk. The only thing that got me through was the phone calls with my fellow farmers.”

Another continued, “It’s a miracle there weren’t more suicides. Closing our churches at this time made it even worse.” Our agricultural economy is transforming right in front of us.

And while I pledge to do everything county government can to ease us through this time of economic transition, we must fully acknowledge that this time of change is larger than our county, or even our state or nation.

Yet we should all find comfort in the hope that these struggling farmers so naturally identified that our county is not built simply on the shaky foundation of one sector of the economy. We are rooted in community, being and living in communion with one another. We are anchored in our people and in the places where we gather to serve one another. And it is our great community that makes us strong, and it is what will help us through this difficult transition, just as it has so many times before.

You see, Washington County is not simply our economy or our local governments, it is so much more than that. It is our community. And community is not found in the newest piece of equipment or the highest yield. Community is not the most fiscally conservative budget, or a shiny new public works project. Community is not a new government building or a fancy new development, a shiny new fire truck or even a beautiful new neighborhood park. Community is found in our people, and in the unity of our families and our civic organizations. It’s at the church potluck with fellow believers. It is at the monthly fire drill with fellow volunteers. It is at the weekly Rotary meeting with fellow servants. It is at the monthly American Legion meeting with fellow veterans dedicated to earning the sacrifice of their fallen comrades through service to their neighbor. While some feel that “it takes a community” of government programs and projects to raise a child, as a life long public servant I can tell you first hand that government programs and employees are a sad and inadequate replacement for community, neighbors, family, and above all, faith.

Note below is from Anne and David Wenninger.

Wenninger

Washington County Board will take up the resolution below on Wednesday, May 12 at 6 p.m.  Click HERE to contact your Washington County Supervisor.

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