Laura Jean Kreissl
Appreciating the Importance of Prairie Land
Ole and Ida Hagen, first-generation immigrants from Norway, were among the many settlers who moved out West in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries to farm land acquired through the Homestead Act. They maintained a strong connection to their 320 acres of rolling prairie near Plentywood, Montana.
Laura Jean Kreissl, their granddaughter, inherited the land, along with her siblings and cousins. In deciding what to do with it, she and her mother Ruth—who was born on the family homestead in a sod shelter—were inspired by a series of novels they read together by Montana author Ivan Doig. In the trilogy’s final book, “Ride with Me,” a character in the story travels to her family’s Montana homestead and decides to honor her grandparents by donating the land to a conservancy group rather than sell it to the highest bidder.
Ruth, Laura Jean, and her siblings Jay and Terry decided to follow that fictional example by donating their portion of the land to American Farmland Trust, which will keep it in agricultural production for the future.
“The donation is not an end but the continuum of the circle of appreciation for the importance of that prairie land to our family,” she says. “As we become increasingly cognizant of the need to protect our fragile earth, we are grateful to be in a position to do this.”
The land will continue to be farmed by a neighboring family that has worked the land for decades.
Top photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.