THREE OAKS — Chikaming Open Lands’ Eighth Annual Barn Benefit was filled with bright red Farmall tractors, cowboy hats, and good spirits.

Held in balmy conditions among rows of organic vegetables, herbs and flowers at Granor Farm on Saturday, Sept. 16, the well-attended fund-raiser benefits the Sawyer-based Land Conservancy.

“Most of you know that our core mission at Chikaming Open Lands is land conservation, but it’s a lot more than that too. Land conservation starts and stops with you, the people of this community, the people that support us,” Chikaming Open Lands Executive (COL) Director Ryan Postema told the hundreds who attended.

He said COL protects land in a variety of ways including acquiring properties as nature preserves that are open to the public and establishing conservation easements on private land.

“A couple of recent acquisitions are the Turtle Creek Preserve in New Buffalo next to New Buffalo Elementary School … And we just acquired, about a month ago, the Merritt Family Preserve which is in Chikaming Township right next to the Chikaming Park and Preserve.”

Postema said the organization has a goal to protect another 1,000 acres by next year, adding that “we’re well on our way.”

He also said COL plans to dedicate a future preserve in honor of former Executive Director Chris Thompson, who passed away on June 3, 2016.

“We’re currently working on identifying where that property will be, and you’ll see a lot more about that coming up in the next year or so,” he added.

Other goals mentioned by Postema included protecting wetlands to improve water quality, holding events such as hikes in COL preserves, and continuing its educational outreach efforts through the Mighty Acorns program involving students in the River Valley and New Buffalo districts.

The initial offering in COL’s new Take-A-Hike! family program, “Fall Colors,” will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, at Robinson Woods Preserve, led by Education and Outreach Coordinator Casey Struecker.

The hike will focus on why leaves change colors, and what plants and animals can be found in Robinson Woods during the fall season. Upcoming hikes include “Nocturnal Animals” on Oct. 15, and “Getting Ready for Winter” Nov. 5

The program is free and registration is not required. For more information, go to chikamingopenlands.org or contact Struecker at cstruecker@chikamingopenlands.org or at (265) 405-1006.

Postema said COL also seeks to help preserve prime farmland and preserve the rural character of the area.

When thanking this year’s Barn Benefit host,  Postema said Chikaming Open Lands and Granor Farm both want to “preserve the land, care for the land, and serve our local communities.”

He also thanked members of the committee that organized the Barn Benefit including Lolly Roberts, Brenda Carlson, Karen Gear, Rob Gow, Jean Smith and Mary Strahota as well as Granor Farm , the COL Board of Directors (Linda Puvogel, David Eblen, Steve Smith, Bill Rcine, Alan Berkshire, Ron Farina, Victoria J. Herget, Clay Robinson, Jean Smith, Bob Tatina and Peter Ban Nice) and staff (Jen Thompson, Stacey LaRocco and Casey Struecker).  Members of the Barn Benefit Host Committee were Emily Coolidge, Peg and Andy Cooper, Maureen Culp, Tom Flint, Deborah Hall-Kaylor, Frank and David Kirby, George Lucas, Julie and Adam Marton, Caro Parsons, Cathi Rogers, Marge and Ron Spears, and John Wagner.

The preliminary estimate is that the 2017 Barn Benefit raised a record $106,000 for Chikaming Open Lands.

Live auction offerings included (the auction was conducted by Scheerer-McCulloch Auctioneers):

• A behind-the-scenes tour for six of the Newberry Library in Chicago to view an extensive collection of rare books, maps, manuscripts and other printed material spanning six centuries. There is an aria handwritten by Mozart when he was 9, an Oscar won by Ben Hecht in 1928, Clarence Darrow’s papers from the famous 1925 Monkey Trial, Chicago’s only copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and much more.

• A private seven-course, family-style meal for up to 16 at Granor Farm  showcasing the best of the farm’s organic crops and ingredients from the surrounding agricultural community. A tour of the farm followed by appetizers and conversation in the renovated farm house. The dinner will be prepared by Chef Abra Berens.

• A week at Camp Beargrass — a cozy, secluded log cabin situated in a pine forest with quintessential stunning Montana mountain views. Located near Whitefish and just an hour drive to Glacier National Park,  Camp Beargrass is a dream for anyone craving peace, solitude, and the best nature has to offer (courtesy of Janet and Bob Schuttler).

• A chance to be a Brewer for a Day at Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, creating a recipe, brewing a unique beer and enjoying it from the comfort of a bar seat.

• A private, in-home gourmet seafood dinner for eight prepared by Rachel Collins, owner of Flagship Specialty Foods and Fish Market in Lakeside. The experience includes appetizers, dinner and dessert, and will feature both local and exotic seafoods “that will make your palate sing!”

• Guided walks through four of Chikaming Open Lands’ Conservation Easement-protected properties that are not open to the public led by COL Executive Director Ryan Postema. “From a soaring beech-maple forest, to a restored prairie bursting with wildflowers, to a sprawling 300-plus acres of wetlands, woods, lakes and prime farmland, you’ll take in some truly special places while learning about the ecology of the area.”

Silent auction packages included a dinner for 8 at mesa luna and a private lakefront yoga class.

Also, random bidders were chosen to take home the 10 die-cast Farmall tractor models that adorned many Barn Benefit tables.

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