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East Madison ‘Voit Farm’ officially for sale, community-led group wants to buy it

Price listed for highly sought-after property, community group creates ambitious plan for the land
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 2:14 PM CST
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EAST MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A valuable farm in East Madison is officially up for sale, after being kept within one family since Wisconsin became a state.

This 65 acre plot has been in the Voit family for 175 years, serving as farmland and the site of a concrete plant. It features a blend of farmland and wetlands with a pond, located off Milwaukee Street, between the east Madison Woodman’s and Fair Oaks Avenue.

Thomas Bunbury, with Bunbury & Associates is the realtor for the property, which he says is prime real estate. “I met their dad about 10-15 years ago. Art Voit and I did a deal and we shook hands on the deal. It was a big deal,” says Bunbury.

The decision to place the farm on the market has been brewing for years. “They’ve had it a long time and they just think it’s time. You know they think it’s time to do something with the land while they have the control of doing something nice with it,” says Bundbury.

Voit Farm location
Voit Farm location(Save The Farm)

The Voits aren’t necessarily in a rush to get it sold and want to have a say in what happens to it next. “They want it sold to the right people with the right attitude and the right concept. This could be such a positive addition to Madison and the community if it’s done right,” says Bundbury.

It’s technically located in the Town of Blooming Grove, which will be annexed by the city of Madison by 2027. “They’re asking $11,500,000. There’s a variety of groups of people who want to do different things with the land,” says Bundbury.

One of those groups is Save The Farm, a community led coalition and nonprofit established in 2019. There are 400 community members and several local organizations supporting the group’s proposal.

Board members say they don’t want the property to become just another suburban housing development. “At its core, this grassroots project is a desire and an opportunity to do things differently,” says board member, Colleen Robinson.

Their vision includes three land uses: 33 acres of wetland preservation, 20 acres of urban agriculture and 12 acres of affordable housing.

Save The Farm land use proposal
Save The Farm land use proposal(Save The Farm)

Robinson says the urban agriculture area “would include community gardens, a cooperatively owned CSA or agribusiness opportunity for low-income farmers.”

She continues to explain that the housing community would consist of “community members who recognize that as a society we can really only thrive by embracing diversity, empowering new ways of thinking and consuming and solving problems, and humbly respecting our finite resources.”

The idea is that community members would live cooperatively and with net-zero carbon. “Meaning the community would supply its own efficient energy and offset any carbon contributions they did make to mitigate climate change,” says Robinson.

Some potential plans the group is looking at would contain anywhere from 600-1,000 housing units.

Another board member, Kaba Bah, became interested in the project when he heard about its mission to include diversity in land ownership. “I am one of the local real estate investors who is very interested in building equity and generational wealth to home ownership, particularly for minorities. And that’s one of the main components that brought me on the table for this particular project,” says Bah.

Bah says this includes allowing the community to have a word in what they want to see happen to the land, rather than a developer making all those decisions.

“We’re looking at really having a diverse ownership in this particular project. That would include owning as minorities and it would also include building wealth over generations over time, addressing some of those major housing needs that we all are aware of within our city,” says Bah.

Save the Farm is currently raising funds and writing grant proposals to create an investment cooperative to purchase the land.

“We’ve raised nearly $6,000 in a gofundme account that has helped us with organizational development tasks, such as setting up our nonprofit status. Just within the past week we’ve received declarations of interest of more than $430,00 dollars in support of the idea to develop an investment cooperative to purchase the land,” says Robinson. That gofundme has now surpassed $7,300.

Save The Farm board members plan to present this plan to Madison Common Council to try and receive financial support.

“We have the support of key organizations like Renew Wisconsin, 350 Madison Climate Action Team, Friends of Starkweather Creek and we’ve had some meeting attendance and excitement from staff at Sustain Dane and others,” says Robinson.

The neighborhood just across Milwaukee Street from the farm is Eastmorland. Many residents are interested in the fate of the farm, considering its significance to the east side of town.

Lou Host-Jablonski has lived in Eastmorland for 20 years. “Because I’ve been around the east side so long and knew of the Voit Farm, my interest of that as an area that could be developed within the city goes back decades.”

He’d had conversations with the Voit family through his own work as an architect. “I remember meeting with Art Voit and his kids even before the 2000s, in the 1990s. Showing him some ideas of what his legacy could be,” says Host-Jablonski.

Host-Jablonski touched on the importance and value this land still holds for the Voits. “The land had been farmed by his family for 5 generations. There was a tree in the front yard that his mother planted that he was very concerned that street widening would take out. So he had definite ideas for sort of a legacy that this land would become,” says Host-Jablonski.

He feels the community-involved efforts by the Save The Farm group are encouraging of what potential the land has. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens and the level of community involvement is maintained during that process of development,” says Host-Jablonski.

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