Putnam Farm in Omena: Forever Preserved
An iconic farm in Omena has been preserved forever, thanks to the heirs of Rennie and Esther Putnam. Working with the Leelanau Conservancy, the family has protected 190 acres with a legal agreement called a conservation easement. The Leelanau Conservancy purchased the conservation easement which restricts development and lowers the land’s value so that it remains affordable for other farmers.
The land is now part of a larger block of protected lands adjacent or nearby, including Frazier Freeland Preserve, Saving Birds Thru Habitat’s Charter Sanctuary and private protected lands along Belanger Creek.
Rennie Putnam was born on the farm in 1916, and was the youngest of five. His father died five years later. Rennie’s mother, Anna, his siblings and nearby relatives kept the farm going. They plowed with horses and planted some of the first fruit in the area.
“Rennie loved the farm, but wanted to leave the decision for what happened to it to his kids,” says Tom Nelson, Executive Director, who first met with Rennie’s son, Fred Putnam, a decade ago. “Fred clearly revered his parents and the farm,” adds Tom.
The Conservancy applied for federal funds to move the project forward, but the first attempt failed. “It’s a very competitive process and only so much funding is available,” says Tom. “We just missed the cut.”
“Tom really took the bad news to heart,” recalls Fred. “He wanted to make it work. The family talked about bailing and just selling, but I said let’s give it one more go-round.”
This time the funding came through, which covers half the cost of the purchased easement. The land scored well with the grant program in part because 93% of the project contains “prime and unique soils.”
Private donations from Conservancy supporters were used to claim the grant, and the family also matched 25% of the cost of the project through a bargain sale. “These projects can’t happen without the support of our generous donors, as well as the caring families who are willing to pitch in too,” adds Nelson.
Fred and his sisters are happy that the land will continue to produce food—and remain undeveloped. “A lot of the very best farmland downstate is gone,” said Fred. His sister, Mildred Connell added, “I would hate to see the land turned into a bunch of two-acre home sites.”
How would Rennie feel if he were alive today? “Dad really loved this land,” said Fred. “My sense is that he would be really pleased.”
“There’s a unique feel to the Omena farming district and its history that is really special,” adds Nelson. “And there is a really deep sense of satisfaction in helping it to stay that way.”
A more in-depth story will appear in the Spring 2018 Newsletter/2017 Annual Report