Since launching this website we have gotten a lot of questions from the community. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common ones:
Do you want a brief overview of the project?
View our slide presentation.
Where is the Voit Farm?
The Voit Farm is 65.7 acres located on Madison’s east side. Most of the street frontage of the property is along Milwaukee Street, across from Woodman’s East grocery store and west of Amazon distribution center. The west side of the property is bordered by Starkweather Creek.
Who is advocating to Save the Farm?
Save the Farm is a community-led project, incorporating diverse perspectives and responding to diverse needs. We made great strides with this in late 2020 when we fully populated our Board of Directors, which consists of half People of Color, more than half women, and LGBTQI individuals.
In 2021 the group reached out to gauge interest in a potential investment cooperative, so we can have an idea of how much financial support may be here from the community to purchase the property, which officially went up for sale in January 2021. In less than two months community supporters have pledged over half of the goal of $2 million from the neighborhood.
Community involvement has also fostered a growing list of community organizations that are vocally supporting Save The Farm.
We’ve had the support of and several meetings with City Alders and County Supervisors. Additionally, others in City and County government staffing are interested and supportive of this project.
What do the Voits want to see happen with the land?
This farm has been owned by the Voit family for 175 years. While we cannot speak for them, they have mentioned to us that they would like to see something special happen on the property, which honors their legacy and benefits the people of Madison’s east side. Also their realtors have stated that strong municipal support is necessary for any offer to be accepted. To that end, we have been working on gaining support from City of Madison alders, the Mayor, and staff, as well as Dane County supervisors and staff.
What plan is Save the Farm advocating for?
This project supports three land uses: 1) affordable housing, 2) urban agriculture, 3) wetlands/green space preservation.
- Affordable Housing: Affordable housing will include a wide range of housing options and living styles including small units, single room occupancies, and co-operatives to ensure entry level ownership opportunities. We will also facilitate opportunities for home ownership among minorities to support individuals in building generational wealth. Also, systems for cooperative sharing of resources, skills, and services among residents will be put in place to help reduce living costs.
- Urban Agriculture: The project creates economic opportunity and facilitates affordability. An urban agricultural area can support home-grown food and jobs/training opportunities, access to land for low-income or start-up farmers and for BIPoC, CSA for selling / donating produce, and possibly on-site production of specialty food products.
- Wetlands/Green Space Preservation: Preserve 33 acres along the Starkweather Creek watershed and Arthur J. Voit pond as an environmental asset for Madison’s rivers and lakes and flood control/stormwater management. Also, for Madisonians to enjoy and access green space, engage in environmental education, and health and wellness in nature. Energy-efficiency, sustainability, and net-zero carbon goals include generating the property’s energy demands right there on site with bio-gas, solar, car sharing, bike friendly infrastructure, public transport accessibility, and more.
How can community members support this initiative?
- Volunteer: Individuals can volunteer on one of the many action teams, at any commitment level they are able. Just take our community interest survey and indicate an interest in action groups. You’ll hear from us about opportunities, planning meetings and other updates. Email email@example.com with the name of the action team you want to join (see action team descriptions on our website under “get involved.”)
- Find out more: Attend our bi-weekly meetings every 2nd and 4th Tuesday evening from 6 – 8 p.m. on zoom (see website events),
- Donate: Our GoFundMe provides critical operating funds now to get the word out and hire help for finalizing our Concept Plan to show the project’s feasibility and value to the City and County and other big funders.
- Pledge: Express your interest in the investment cooperative that would support this initiative. Right now, this does not mean actually making a financial investment. But we ask that you pledge realistically, so we can gauge how much financial capital potential we have when making an offer to purchase.
- Contact your City Alder and County Supervisor: Read the example letter in our website’s blog or use these talking points and your own interest in the project to craft a letter to your elected officials asking for their support. It is vital that we pass a resolution through the City’s Common Council for funding help from the City, once our Concept Plan is ready. Look up your elected officials here: County, City.
- Encourage your organization to support Save the Farm: Ask local organizations you participate in to support the project by:
- Becoming a coalition partner with their logo on our website
- Sharing us in social media, newsletters and announcements
- Advocating with elected officials through phone and letter writing campaigns
- Investing financially or contact us about being a fiscal sponsor
- Partnering to develop ways your organization can fulfill part of its mission through this project!
What is the timeline, considering that the property is currently for sale?
The property has been on the market since January 12, 2021. We believe that to have the greatest chance of success, we will need to get our offer submitted as soon as we can do so effectively. After that, if our offer is accepted, there will be a 9-18 month contingency period. When all contingencies are satisfied we would expect to close on the property, and development would occur over the next 3-5 years.
What are donations used for? How can my small contribution make a difference?
Thank you to all who have donated! So far, donations have been used for seed funding including legal, marketing, and other startup expenses. With the Community’s generous support we have now gained more than $25,000 in our GoFundMe campaign (as of 3/15/21). This now enables us to engage professional architects and consultants to finalize our detailed concept plan and site plan, incorporating our vision and core values. Funding has also been used to print flyers for our Saturday lit drops, which have played a critical role in informing immediate neighborhoods about this project, and spreading the word in general. To be a community-led effort, it’s important that the community have as much information about the project as possible.
What will happen to the donation money if the project doesn’t work out?
As discussed in the answer above, all of our donation money is being spent on pre-development costs such as architectural renderings, feasibility analysis, marketing materials and so forth. Because this is “pre-development” it means the money is spent prior to acquiring the land. This means that the money is intended to give us the best possible chance of purchasing the land, by preparing a professional Concept Plan, marketing to thousands of community members, and convincing municipal stakeholders to support the project. Pre-development money is not intended to actually purchase the land or develop the land after purchase. Therefore, most likely all pre-development money will be spent prior to ourselves (or another buyer) putting the land under contract. However, should another buyer place the land under contract before we have had a chance to spend all pre-development money, the excess will be used to plan for another site, or if that is not practical, it will be donated to another 501c3 as is stated in Section 7.4 of our Bylaws.
What is an investment cooperative? How does it work to collaboratively purchase this property? Do we need to raise $11.5M?
More about the investment cooperative can be found on our Investment Cooperative FAQs. We are in the early stages of creating the investment cooperative and set an initial goal of $2 million because this would roughly be the amount needed to purchase the 12 acres of land devoted to built infrastructure. We are planning to partner with other stakeholders to purchase the remainder of the land, which is intended for agricultural (20 acres) and conservation (33 acres). We share more details on the investment cooperative itself below and will share even more prior to asking for official investments.
How will Save The Farm enact its plan?
- We have action teams and contractors on bid to help us plan out and implement our environmental goals. There is an Urban Agriculture action team, a Wetlands/Natural areas preservation action team, a Diversity and Inclusion team, Communications team, and housing/generational wealth team. We also have local contractors helping us build the logistics and planning into our Concept Plan for bio-gas, solar, microgrids, electric car sharing, and alternative housing development, using fewer resources to serve more people comfortably and affordably on a smaller footprint.
- With $1.2 million in cooperative investment by community supporters, a hopeful $8 million or more from City and County sources, and grants, we can purchase the land.
- After the property is acquired by the project, we would develop requests for proposals and send those out for bids to developers who can meet our core values and implement our concept plan. Those who win the bids will purchase “development rights” for a higher amount (in some cases) than the price/sq ft that we purchased the entire property for, thereby leading to return on investment. Ownership and decision-making details are all part of formalizing the investment cooperative and are part of the details we are working to clarify with help from experienced organizations and attorneys.
Is the Farm still in Blooming Grove? What is the zoning?
The Farm is currently in the Town of Blooming Grove, which has been zoned as ‘agriculture’ by Dane County. For many years, there was a Cooperative Plan between Blooming Grove and the City of Madison wherein the Town of Blooming Grove would be annexed into the City of Madison in 2027. Because 2027 is quite far off, and the property is likely to be sold this year, the City of Madison and Town of Blooming Grove recently signed an amendment to the Cooperative Plan that will attach the Voit Farm into the City of Madison upon sale of the property. Once attached to the City of Madison, the property would be rezoned.
Even 12 acres of development is still a massive amount, couldn’t we just keep the whole thing as a park or natural area?
In 2018, the Common Council voted to implement the Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan, which calls for roughly half of the farm (~32 acres) to be developed into fairly dense housing. For context, this is approximately 15 full city blocks. Reducing the developed land area by over half, to 12 acres is a significant compromise for many Alders who are concerned about adequate affordable housing. We share this concern and feel there is a way to create a win-win scenario that builds the same or more housing as the City originally intended without replacing so much virgin soil with impermeable surface area, which intensifies flooding due to climate change. The primary method of achieving this is to greatly reduce the number of roads originally planned for this development and implement a “car-lite” design. We are working with Madison-based Zerology to set-up an EV carsharing program that will dramatically reduce the need for private vehicle ownership. The goal is to provide options, not to require car sharing. We will also follow the framework of the Living Community Challenge to implement a 100% carbon-free development.
How realistic is it that we can actually influence what happens to this land?
Very realistic! There is power in numbers, and together we are capable of sending a very strong message to our elected officials that the community wants to see more than just a car-centric, multi-road grid, typical cookie-cutter development on this farm. Our vision for this parcel, to include unique housing, an urban farm, and wetland preservation, is likely unique in the nation. We’ve received some positive feedback from a variety of public officials, but no one has publicly championed it yet. The more they hear from you–their constituents, the more they will know that this project is something special that deserves their support.
What similar models exist and how do they inform this development?
We’re pretty unique! What we envision for Voit Farm has never been done before, but we have drawn inspiration from many similar projects. Here are a few:
- Madison, WI – Troy Gardens
- Oakland, CA – East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative
- Ann Arbor, MI – Veridian @ County Farm
- Appleton, WI – Riverview Gardens
- Tempe, AZ – Culdesac
- Arvada, CO – Geos Neighborhood
- Austin, TX – Village Farm
If another developer purchases the property, are there plans to continue our efforts to shape the outcomes and process of development?
Our game plan has always been: hard work + passion + persistence = success, to the largest degree possible. While our number one goal is to purchase and preserve 100% of this unique land as a community asset, we are mindful that there is steep competition for this parcel. It’s possible that the Voits will sub-divide the land and we will control some, but not all of it, and will partner with another Buyer. Alternatively we may never acquire any ownership in the land. Regardless of possible future outcomes, we will always push hard to ensure our core values are realized to the largest extent possible.
Do we know much about what the city would like to do with this land or what ideas they might be willing to approve?
In 2018 the City of Madison approved a Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan (SAP), which incorporated elements of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan and community feedback. The SAP lists goals and recommendations about future land uses for the area around Milwaukee Street, including Voit Farm, Swiss Colony (Amazon), Woodman’s, and the bus transfer point. While this was approved by the 2018 Common Council, we believe our current elected officials have an appetite for a more impactful project, which goes much further in providing positive social and environmental change. No one has outright opposed our vision, but many are sitting on the fence. It’s critical that they hear support for our vision from as many of their constituents as possible.
Please consider emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to express strong support for this project and/or opposition to a cookie-cutter neighborhood subdivision. Click here to Read an example letter or use your own interest in the project to craft a letter to your elected officials asking for their support. It is vital that we pass a resolution through the City’s Common Council for funding help from the City, once our Concept Plan is ready. Look up your elected officials here: County, City.
Is Save the Farm against the Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan? / Is the Special Area Plan being abandoned?
The Milwaukee Street Special Area Plan (SAP) is very flexible with regards to implementation to allow for a variety of developments and visions. Apart from a couple key differences, we’re very much in alignment with the SAP.
The key differences between Save the Farm and the SAP are:
- The SAP extends Chicago Ave across Fair Oaks, adds a bridge over the Starkweather Creek, and across the Voit Farm.
- Save the Farm does not want this Chicago Ave extension for multiple reasons: It would disrupt the Starkweather ecosystem, require removal of a community member’s house, and cut through the area we propose for urban farming.
- Instead, we envision a car-lite development with bike and pedestrian connection to Fair Oaks in locations that minimize environmental impact.
- The SAP lays out 600 – 1000 housing units over 24.4 acres, with a traditional street grid.
- Save the Farm envisions up to 1000 housing units on 12 acres along the Milwaukee St frontage only. This is achieved by replacing roads with housing, requiring less surface parking for private vehicle ownership by implementing EV carsharing with the help of Zerology, and ensuring housing is more dense and sustainable by following the guidelines of the Living Building Challenge.
- The resulting savings of acreage will be used for urban agriculture and green space community commons. This area, which will be 4 times the size of Troy Farm, will be a public asset for the benefit all including local residents, the larger community, and visitors from around the nation.
Can you bring back the carnival?
We would very much like to bring back the carnival/festival, as a social justice benefit to build generational wealth for marginalized communities. However, we can only do this if we actually purchase the property.