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How the Tecumseh Land Trust keeps an eye on some of Ohio's high-quality farmland

Mike Haubner inside of his truck wearing a green shirt and tan baseball cap
Tom Stafford
Mike Haubner rides in his truck with WYSO reporter Tom Stafford

Religious philosopher Paul Tillich grew up in the German countryside and described God as the spiritual “ground of all being.” Mike Haubner, who grew up hanging tobacco leaves and baling hay in rural Brown County, Ohio, feels much the same way. His beliefs about the ground that sustains us led the retired Clark County Extension agent to the Tecumseh Land Trust.

Mike Haubner has enough home-grown stories to fill all the ears in a Clark County corn field. Take what he said when Executive Director Krista Magaw asked him to come work for the Tecumseh Land Trust.

"Well, I got a couple of questions. She says, 'What are they?' Do I have to go to any meetings? I went to meetings morning, afternoon, night, as an extension agent," Haubner said. "My birthdays, holidays. I’m meetinged out. She says, 'You don’t have to go to meetings.' Next question: Can I get four or five months off in a row?”

That’s because he spends his winters in Sarasota, Fla., where he’s never seen the temperature drop below 34 degrees.

"Saw 34 once," Haubner said with a smile.

He was told he was free to do his work at any time of year, Haubner then explained, "I like going and driving out on farms and talking to farmers, And she says, 'That’s what this job is.' And I said, 'I’ll take it.'"

His decision also was grounded in his deep regard for the 34,000-plus acres the Tecumseh Land Trust protects in Clark, Greene and Madison counties.

"The best soil in the world — the one where you can put the least amount of fertilizer — that soil is called a prime soil," Haubner said. "Four states have over half the prime on prime soils in the United States: Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. So we are in the best soils in the world.

And in the past 120 years, Ohio has failed to protect that valuable resource. Forty years ago, Haubner was at a presentation at which speakers from the Chicago Board of Trade provided 30 years of data for corn yields in Ohio.

"The number one county in yield per acre was Lucas — Toledo. But what did they do? They concreted it over. Number two was Franklin, Columbus. Asphalted it over," Haubner said with a slightly agitated tone.

His displeasure with that and his professional reputation made him a natural choice for the land trust.

Magaw, who is recently retired, said, "It just made so much sense to have somebody who had really worked with farmers. He also really understands what programs people could use to improve conservation practices.

That knowledge helps the Land Trust as well, says new executive director Michele Burns.

"When he goes out, if he sees some resource concern that needs to be addressed. it’s not something I would necessarily identify. So we really trust Mike's opinion on those things." Burns said

This allows him to do two things. One, mend fences with the occasional cantankerous farmer. And two, advise the land trust when to be patient. Because he knows what it takes for a farmer to work conservation into a timeline and a bottom line. He also knows the importance of the annual inspections that ensure conservation promises are kept — even when the property exchanges hands.

"I have to read the easement, see what the restrictions are, and then make sure they’re abiding by the easement," Haubner said. "Then I take pictures of it, and then they are retained in four different places. And so, there’s a lot of legal work into all of this."

And legwork, too. Because, at 73, Haubner still walks most of those farms …. Not long ago, he pulled into a driveway off U.S. 68 on the north edge of Xenia for a final stop of the day at a historic space.

"This is Tecumseh’s stronghold," Haubner said astutely. And when we get there, you’ll be able to see all the way around, where he could watch for the enemy, whether it’s white or other Indian tribes.

The Land Trust named for Tecumseh is in a way, in the same situation. Its duty is to defend the ground in its care – some of the best prime soil in the world. And it has to be ready to use the force of law, if necessary.