MANSFIELD — For more than 60 years, a patch of farmland in northern Piatt County between Illinois 10 and U.S. 150 has raised money to help sponsor youth in local 4-H clubs and other activities.
That benefit has been achieved through 120 acres of land donated by the Warren family to the University of Illinois Foundation, and last week, university personnel gathered at the property to say thanks.
"We're excited about the Warren Farm funding local 4-H activities, and we want people to know about that. So it's a bit of a gratitude and awareness trek out to see what's happening on these farms," said Dr. Kim Kidwell, dean of the UI College of ACES.
The gratitude tour has taken her to several spots of land donations in the state over the past year. The timing comes two years after the UI returned to a practice of more long-term leases with local farmers instead of going with the highest bidders, a practice that had occurred for the previous 12 years.
"There's just a lot of anecdotal evidence that long-term relationships are better for the farm, it's better for the community," said Kevin Noland, the UI Foundation's associate vice president for treasury services and real property.
Planting and harvesting — and all the work that goes on between — was not bid out for the Warren land since it was under the auspices of the UI Foundation. But Kidwell said it was still appropriate to say thank you for the donation, which has funded local 4-H activities including SPIN groups, teacher education, adventure clubs and even a horse drill team.
"This is really transformational gift that was given to the college," Kidwell said. "These gifts of land, like this one, are really special in that the revenue we generate off the use of this land supports really important programming for 4-H. So this is a model that for me, gives me a lot of hope that we can invest a legacy in food production in the future."
In 1955, Elizabeth Warren donated the first 40 acres, to be "used by the University of Illinois in promotion and problems of what is commonly known as 4-H Club work in the state of Illinois, or in the promotion or problems of Youth of the State of Illinois in connection with agriculture."
Another 80 acres was donated by Milton W. Warren and Anna May Warren in 1996. A marker with landscaping was erected later on Piatt County Road 1200 East to honor their longstanding commitment to area youth.
Since 1977, Mansfield farmer and Warren descendent Dwight Huffstutler has farmed the land for the trust.
"They were 4-H leaders, and they believed in 4-H," said Huffstutler, the great-grandson of Elizabeth Warren and grand nephew of Milton Warren. "This is something they wanted to do, so they tried their best to make it happen. They were big believers in the 4-H, and this was a way to pass it on."
Shelly Nickols-Richardson, the current director of the UI Extension, noted that while 4-H started with the Macoupin County Union Pig Club in 1915, it has changed with the times and also includes robotics, computers and cooking activities.
"4-H really does a lot around personal development, so public speaking and being good contributors to society, and thinking about leadership opportunities, so it's exciting to see how our programs truly do develop youth of today," Nickols-Richardson said.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.