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TLT celebrates 20 years with stories of the land

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From the middle of a field, the land looks different than the view from the road. Seen from the land owner’s perspective, the way the growers see it, one can just begin to understand what the birds and foxes see — open space without borders. That is also perhaps the way that painters and poets see the land when they articulate why it is so loved and valued.

The leaders of Tecumseh Land Trust know why they have spent the past 20 years uniting hundreds of people to preserve the rural nature that defines both Clark and Greene Counties. The goal of that group, which holds preservation easements on 17,000 acres in mostly those two counties, continues to be the preservation of 50,000 acres in each, or one-fifth of the land under protection from development. If landowners can keep another fifth of the land in productive agriculture, TLT executive director Krista Magaw said last week, the balance will provide the critical mass needed to keep farming and farm support businesses healthy and provide the counterpoint to the commercial and residential development that communities all need to thrive.

In honor of its 20 years, Tecumseh Land Trust has scheduled a series of events with new and continuing partners to celebrate by “Telling the stories of people and the land.”

“Everybody has a story about the land and their connection to it,” Magaw said. Her love of the land came from spending childhood summers on her family farm in Pike County, where she helped her grandmother harvest and can and drove around in her grandfather’s pickup truck scoping out the farmland. Through her work at the land trust, Magaw feels she can “honor my grandma’s love of the land and help other people to hang onto that part of their and our collective heritage,” she said.

The first story in the year’s series of events will be told by Nancy Stranahan, who founded the Highlands Nature Sanctuary to protect and rebuild 3,200 acres of contiguous Appalachian forestland in Highland, Ross and Pike counties. The sanctuary has been operating for 15 years to support the people who have lived on those lands for centuries.

“They’re heroes of mine,” Magaw said of Stranahan and co-director Dale Henry.

TLT is partnering with African American Cross Cultural Works and Faith Patterson and helping to tell the story of the evolution of the blues with the first Roots Fest, scheduled for March 27. The event will include storytelling, poetry and music performance focused on the African Americans who came to this area and what they did here.

“The blues came out of a very intense experience with culture and the land, and the freed slaves that came to Ohio and started farming here,” Magaw said.

On April 12 TLT and Glen Helen will bring Kansas agricultural researcher Wes Jackson to the Glen for a lecture on holistic approaches to farming in the spirit of leaving the land better than it is found. Also at the Glen on May 1, TLT will sponsor an all-day workshop with local authors Bill Felker, Ed Davis and Bill Vernon, who will explore how writing and poetry relates to nature and the history of the land and its people.

Also connecting to the written word, TLT has invited Ohio artist and NPR commentator Julie Zickefoose, who wrote Letters from Eden, a memoir about her family’s stake in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, to give a teachers’ workshop in July on merging writing with nature.

In partnership with the Springfield Museum of Art, TLT has organized with a group of local and regional artists to create a landscape art exhibit of areas in Indiana, Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. The exhibit is scheduled to be shown at the museum in September.

TLT is involved with another art project in August to organize all 51 4-H groups in Greene County to create a quilt barn tour throughout the county. Working with the Ohio State University extension office and Greene County Commissioner Marilyn Reid, the project will involve youth creating art for barn sides and inviting the public on a driving tour throughout the county.

Some of the year’s events co-sponsored by TLT will take place outside Yellow Springs, such as presentations at Xavier University by MacArthur Foundation lecturer David Montgomery, who will speak about his book on soil fertility in ancient and contemporary societies, on March 14. Also at Xavier on April 11, Kentucky author Wendell Berry will join Wes Jackson and Ohio organic grower Gene Logsdon in a discussion about small farms and rural culture.

Other events will be announced throughout the year, including TLT’s annual fall maple sugar house tour at Flying Mouse Farms, owned by Michelle Burns, associate director of TLT.

The theme of the stories of the land and the people has long been a part of the land trust movement’s effort to get people back in touch with the land and the stories that come from it, Magaw said. The work of writers such as nature poet Mary Oliver and Peter Forbes, whose support of urban gardening speaks to the fact that “everybody can,” help people to care, she said. And caring about the land, might move people to do something to protect it.

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