Sunday, April 20, 2014

Princeton native uses farming hobby as an excuse to come home

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 1/20/2014

PRINCETON — When a person lives thousands of miles from home, it might be difficult to find a way back. But for John Sutton, originally from Princeton, coming home from Florida was easier for him than one might expect.

After retiring from American Airlines as a pilot, Sutton purchased land in the area where he grew up. He originally purchased the land as a hobby and an excuse to come back to Kansas every once in awhile, but that changed into a project of preserving as much land as he could. Then he and his wife, Jan, noticed the investment opportunity of owning much more land.

PRINCETON — When a person lives thousands of miles from home, it might be difficult to find a way back. But for John Sutton, originally from Princeton, coming home from Florida was easier for him than one might expect.

After retiring from American Airlines as a pilot, Sutton purchased land in the area where he grew up. He originally purchased the land as a hobby and an excuse to come back to Kansas every once in awhile, but that changed into a project of preserving as much land as he could. Then he and his wife, Jan, noticed the investment opportunity of owning much more land.

“The reason I bought the first farm here was to give me an excuse to come back here,” Sutton said. “I spend a lot of time here.”

John and Jan Sutton are the recipients of one of the Franklin County Conservation District’s Bankers Award for Soil Conservation for their use of several methods of preserving the land they own in Franklin, Anderson and Linn counties. The Suttons are to be honored at the conservation district’s annual meeting noon Thursday at Celebration Hall on the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

The Suttons originally owned land as a hobby, but John Sutton said he saw investment opportunities in owning more land and finding ways to improve on it. He said if land came up for sale and they could afford it, then they would buy it. But most of the land that came up for sale was neglected, causing the Suttons to focus on improving the land they purchased.

“We say to ourselves, ‘How can we make it better? How can we preserve this so when we’re gone our grandchildren have something better than we have?’” John Sutton said. “So we try really hard to make the land better than how it was when we got it.”

The Suttons use several conservation methods to improve their land, including the 275 acres near Pottawatomie Creek that Jan Sutton turned into wetlands after it experienced four years of flooding. The conversion project was completed after the Suttons worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Other methods include their work through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program by thinning out unwanted species of trees on their land and leaving behind higher quality hardwood trees, installing terraces and waterways on all of their land, as well as installing frost-free water tanks below ponds for cattle and fencing off fresh water ponds from being destroyed by cattle.

“We do that to everything we own,“ John Sutton said. “We try to preserve it the best we can.”

When it comes to clearing out unwanted species of trees, John Sutton said the land was filled with forest area he couldn’t even walk through. Once he got rid of unwanted trees, he only left hardwood — walnut, oak, ash and cherry — which will allow the trees to grow taller and could be used for lumber in the future.

Sutton said he and his wife live in Florida, but because of his pilot experience it’s easy for him to fly back and forth. The Suttons’ hobby of owning and preserving large amounts of land has found them spending more time back in John Sutton’s home state. But being in Kansas might be a bit nostalgic for him, because he is quick to discuss his alma mater’s basketball team, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Sutton said he doesn’t own the land to make a profit, rather he likes to improve the land for the sustainability and hopes the land stays in the family for future generations.

“Never,” Sutton said when asked if he’d ever sell his land, “and when I die, my daughter won’t be able to sell it either.”

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