By Carson Gerber
---- — PERU — A 92-year-old Miami County woman last month donated her 226-acre farm to an alternative agriculture group that plans to turn the farm into a certified organic operation.
Betty Phelps Refior, who lived in the county for 31 years before moving to Wisconsin, gave the 126-year-old farm located about 10 miles southwest of Peru to the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, located in East Troy, Wis.
According to a news release, the nonprofit institute researches organic and biodynamic agriculture and educates farmers about sustainable farming techniques.
Refior said she donated her farm to the group in part because she worried chemicals used on her fields were killing the bee population.
“Organic farming doesn’t kill honeybees,” she said. “What are we going to do if we don’t have bees to pollinate our crops?”
David Andrews, executive director of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said the donation nearly doubles the amount of the land the nonprofit uses to test non-genetically modified seeds and farming techniques like no-tilling.
“It’s a very substantial donation,” he said. “We’ve never had anyone give us land.”
Andrews said the institute will take the next three years to transition the farm into an organic operation and he hopes to have it federally certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after that.
He said the farm will become a showcase for organic management to convince conventional farmers less chemical use can be just as economically viable as using an intensive amount of inputs.
Refior said she has attended seminars at the institute for years and said she believes they will take good care of her farm.
“Betty is a unique individual,” Andrews said, noting she’s participated in peace walks across the U.S. and Russia. “This is a big part of her belief system — that the land needs to be cared for.”
Refior said she hopes area farmers will take note of the project and consider how they might reduce chemical use on their fields.
“I want people to watch what goes on there at the farm,” she said.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.