How a landowner saved the family farm in McHenry County
As a teenager, Elena looked forward to the drive from Cicero to the family farm in Richmond where she felt completely at peace. Sixty-eight years later, through her vision and patience, she can rest assured that her wonderful memories will stay with the land forever.
On May 1, Elena Spiegelhoff placed a conservation easement on her 153-acre farm and natural land so that it will be preserved. The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, a local nonprofit conservation land trust, worked with Openlands, a Chicago-based conservation organization, to secure funding. The Grand Victoria Foundation also supported the project. Red Buffalo Nursery moved their native plant business from Hebron to the Richmond farm. They are leasing the farm to expand their business.
The Land Conservancy worked with Spiegelhoff to apply for federal dollars through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. ACEP provides a portion of funds needed to purchase a conservation easement on farmland. The Land Conservancy of McHenry County is the first conservation land trust in Illinois to apply for and receive federal funds to preserve a farm.
With the easement in place, the owner may continue to farm or lease the land, sell it or pass it on to their heirs, but it can never be developed. Now that TLC is able to receive funds through this program, it can work with other families who wish to preserve their farms.
Nippersink Creek winds its way through the farm, which is located along Route 12. As a girl, Spiegelhoff rode her horse, Beauty, and ice skated across the creek in the winter when dairy cows kept brush clear from the banks. The farm includes two remnant oak groves, wetlands and a half-mile of Nippersink Creek. The farm supports the goals of the nearby Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge by providing open land and wildlife habitat.
"Once you have your land you have your sustenance," Spiegelhoff recalls her father saying. In 1950, he purchased the dairy farm in Richmond and began tending the land, growing melons and corn and raising dairy cows.
Spiegelhoff said her father's stewardship values stem back to difficult days in wartime Europe. Immigrating to the U.S. as a young man, Spiegelhoff's father, Eugene Hoffmann Sr., wished for a place where his family could plant roots, and feel a sense of place.
"I think (my father) would be so proud that this is what has happened to the beautiful land, rather than see a strip mall or something else go in," Spiegelhoff said of her decision to preserve the farm.
After her parents passed away, her brother, Eugene Jr., inherited the land and set up a chiropractic practice on a corner of the farm. When her brother passed away in 2014, the farm passed to Elena, and with no heirs to inherit the land after her, she began thinking about its future. She thought about selling it, but was concerned that a new owner would develop the land. Ultimately, Elena reached out to The Land Conservancy to find a way to preserve it.
"She knew she couldn't continue to own it for much longer. It was very important to Elena to create a legacy for her family. It was also important to protect part of the land for farming and part for nature," said Linda Balek, Land Protection Specialist for TLC.
Spiegelhoff said her memories will always remain on the land. When asked about her memories of her first time coming to the farm, a warm smile spreads across Elena's face.
"When you come out to the open lands and to the country you can actually take a deep breath. It's total innocence."
For information about The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, call (815) 337-9502 or visit www.ConserveMC.org.