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Citizen Voices Matter: In the Penokee Hills

About Hermit Creek’s Spickermans

Steven and Landis Spickerman are owners of the organic Hermit Creek Farm in Highbridge, a community in the Town of Ashland, in Ashland County, Wisconsin. They’ve been growing vegetables and providing clean food for nearly 21 years. The farm is also their home where they raised their daughter, Kaleigh.

Why farmers are concerned about iron mining in Wisconsin

Steven and Landis Spickerman started Hermit Creek Farm in 1993 with a commitment to being their community’s organic family farmers. Before they found their land in northern Wisconsin, they considered moving to northeast Minnesota or to Virginia, but it was the beauty and growing movement to build an economy based on sustainability that made them settle on Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

“We chose not to live in a place like Hibbing, MN because of the large, extractive, open-pit mining there,” said Steven. “The unemployment rates are about the same, but there wasn’t a local economy to support organic farming and choosing local food.”

After they reviewed GTAC’s proposal for an open-pit iron mine in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, the Spickermans had deep concerns for the future of their farm and for their customers.

“Our farm relies on clean water and iron mining makes a big impact on the watershed, both from pumping groundwater for drilling and processing, but also the runoff of sulfide pollution in lakes and streams,” said Steven. “Maps from the proposal show that the mine would eventually stretch for 25 miles and would be just a few miles from our farm. It would kill our business we’ve worked to grow for 21 years.”

As farmers, growing vegetables is more than a livelihood to the Spickermans. Beyond the field, they believe in the slow, sustainable growth of a local economy where people know where their food comes from or who made their products. Their farm has grown in staff and acreage because they are a part of a community that is choosing to buy clean, local food.

“We’ve heard from our customers that if an open-pit iron mine goes in, they will leave,” said Landis. “We are just as concerned about the inevitable water pollution as we are with losing our customers.”

Despite promises of jobs to a region that has traditionally depended on forestry and tourism, the Spickermans see mining as a short-term development.

“Agriculture has been sustaining us for thousands of years,” said Landis. “We all need to eat. But once they pull the ore out of the Penokees, it’s gone forever.”