Al Messner, 71, a farmer and retired high school math and science teacher, owns 345 acres near Oakfield.
He has been a longtime conservation advocate. Messner has been participating in the Conservation Reserve Program since it began in 1986.
"We had quite a bit of land that was hilly and we had stones. I started putting land in the CRP. I planted trees on five acres," Messner explains.
Over the years, Messner participated in wetland restoration with help from the Wisconsin DNR, and put in two ponds on his farm.
Three branches of Oak Center Creek, which is part of the Rock River Watershed, flows through Messner's farm. His Fond du Lac County farm is located less than two miles from the northern edge of Horicon Marsh.
"In 2007, Erv (Lesczynski, watershed planner) came to me and convinced me to put in grass filter strips and develop a nutrient management plan for my farm. Once the filters were in, Messner seeded a mixture of prairie grasses and wild flowers on his grassed filter strips.
"We enjoy the purple prairie clover and Black-Eyed Susans and the wildlife all spring, summer and fall," says Judi Messner, Al's wife.
"Establishing these filter strips took longer than I thought," Messner says. "It will be six years this spring since we put them in. I had to mow the buffers the first four years to control thistles. Last year, I only mowed 50% where there were thistles and by the end of summer I had no thistles. Every year I mow a little less.
Messner has noticed other improvements.
"Before the grassed buffers were put in, I used to see fertilizer going in the ditch when I spread fertilizer on land near the ditches," Messner says. "Now that's not happening. Everyone benefits from this, but the environment is the real winner," Messner says.