Rock County supervisor earns conservation honor
Alan Sweeney of Porter Township will be the first recipient of the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation for his effort on the Rock County Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program. The Gathering Waters Conservancy is giving the award.
Sweeney said he was honored to be receiving the award but could not take all the credit.
"I told the givers of the award I'm going to accept it in the name of the team that helped put together the PACE program in Rock County," Sweeney said.
The PACE program mirrors a state program that prevents development in certain areas by purchasing easements to protect farmland, Sweeney said.
"The thing that is unique about Rock County's plan is that we went through a process to select the best-of-the-best working land in Rock County," Sweeney said.
The selection process might not have been possible without Sweeney's leadership on the PACE committee.
Paul Benjamin, director of the Planning, Economic and Community Development Agency, said the committee was made up of rural and urban leaders who often had different visions for what land they wanted to preserve.
"Al almost always ran the meetings in an objective, friendly and open-minded way and managed to avoid some of the issues that could have sprung up," Benjamin said. "He has always shown a concern for agriculture and agricultural lands. It's just a pleasure to serve with Al."
The award is named for the late Rod Nilsestuen. Nilsestuen was the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection when he died unexpectedly last summer. Nilsestuen loved Wisconsin's unique landscape and worked to help protect its natural resources.
The award ceremony will be Sept. 29 at the Monona Terrace in Madison.
Sweeney said his family farms 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and tobacco.
His passion for land conservation took root as he saw how much his parents cared about agricultural conservation.
Sweeney said he sees this same passion in his neighbors and other Rock County farmers.
"I think farmland preservation runs deep out there in the agriculture community. Farmers realize that the assets they make their living on need to be preserved," Sweeney said. "They know we have to have food, fiber and fuel products available to citizens of the state, county and nation."