Jerry Wicklund supports community through conservation

Environmental Initiative recently helped Dakota County gather input from farmers, community members, and other key stakeholders to shape a voluntary plan to protect groundwater from agricultural pollution as part of the County’s overall groundwater protection efforts. Excess nitrate, pesticides, and chlorides from agriculture can contaminate groundwater sources of drinking water. Dakota County’s Agricultural Chemical Reduction Effort is a voluntary plan to reduce these pollutants from drinking water.  

Jerry and Audrey Wicklund have implemented practices on their farm that create habitat and protect drinking water with assistance from Dakota County. Here is their conservation story.  

Conservation has been a core value on the Wicklund farm since the family moved onto the land in 1945. Jerry Wicklund and his wife, Audrey, work hard to carry on the legacy established by his parents.  

Jerry’s dad loved planting trees on the land — he bought them for a penny a piece and brought many trees back from hunting trips in northern Minnesota. Today, those trees stand over 100 feet tall, helping to reduce erosion, filter water, and provide protection from the wind. The Wicklunds continue planting trees and restoring much of the farmland to its natural prairie habitat. At their own expense, they have planted approximately 1,000 oak trees of five different varieties and 200 fruit trees in the last seven years. 

Creating a habitat for animals is an important motivator for Jerry and Audrey, who are working on ways to increase winter feed for the animals. They believe in sharing the land and resources with the community, often inviting local groups and community members out for walks or hunts. Many assist with the conservation efforts in return, volunteering to help the couple plant trees or install and maintain wood duck houses. Jerry and Audrey have hosted more than 100 youth and disabled and able-bodied veteran turkey hunters, with help from the local Dakota Strutters chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. They also have given the local snowmobile club a permanent land easement so the club can maintain a snowmobile trail through the farm. 

Jerry and Audrey enjoy educating others about the benefits of restoration and creating native prairie habitats. They believe sharing the land with the community is a good way to demonstrate the impact. Facebook is one of the main ways the couple shares information on the perks of conservation. They also offer free wildflower seeds and other resources to the community on the social media platform. Other people have started planting milkweed and other native species thanks to Jerry and Audrey.  

“I really enjoy sharing this with others and seeing how they enjoy doing it,” Jerry said.  

Creating this space has been a team effort; Dakota County staff have been instrumental in providing resources and support to protect the Wicklund’s land. More than 130 of the 165 acres have been restored to habitat land, with some of the land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to Jerry, CRP and other cost-share programs help fund about half of the restoration and upkeep costs.  

Jerry and Audrey enrolled 121 acres of that CRP land into a permanent natural conservation area in 2021, ensuring that land will remain natural forever. More trees and additional prairie grasses and wildflowers will be planted on the land through the Dakota County conservation program. 

Jerry and Audrey are excited to see more people interested in this work but know that the expense and expertise needed can be barriers. They recommend anyone looking to convert land into natural habitat start by talking to organizations like their local soil and water conservation districts about what resources are available to them.  

The Wicklund’s desire to protect the health of the environment and other beings pushes them to continue these practices and adopt new ones. They plant milkweed to support bee and butterfly populations, which are critical for pollinating plants people consume. The knowledge that everything in the ecosystem is connected is evident in their Facebook posts and in the way Jerry speaks about this work.  

“If the bees and butterflies go extinct, we are going to become endangered.”