Friday, March 25, 2016

Planting the seeds of better water quality

Just about sunset yesterday, I saw the first local great blue heron this year, flying along the road I was driving. It'll be about six or seven weeks until the farmers markets are open and high temps in the 50s are in next week's forecast. Minnesota trout season opens in mid-April, Wisconsin sometime in the first week of May, I think.

Many of Minnesota's trout streams in the southeastern part of the state empty into Lake Pepin. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] reports that, with a few exceptions where bacteria counts are high, and some nitrogen concerns, those streams are in pretty good shape. Nutrient and sediment levels meet standards.

a Chisago County farm
a Chisago County farm
Photo by J. Harrington

The waters of the southwest corner of Minnesota aren't nearly as healthy.
Of the water bodies studied, no lakes and few streams in the Minnesota portion of the Missouri River Basin met state standards for supporting aquatic life and recreation — fishable and swimmable — according to a recent report from the MPCA
Agriculture is a major contributor to water quality degradation in each locale, just as it's been identified as a past polluter and future major contributor to improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Iowa is engaged in some interesting work using "prairie strips" in row crops to improve water quality.

Sunrise River, Chisago County
Sunrise River, Chisago County
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not sure how much of the funding in the latest version of the farm bill is dedicated to improving water quality and supporting non-commodity crops, but I bet if I knew I'd say "not enough." I'll see what's available for a layperson like me to try to understand. There's a lot to learn for both farmers and their customers. I'm encouraged by the apparent progress that's been accomplished with GMO labeling. I've studied enough about systems to believe that, if we want quality, affordable locally raised food, we need to modify the current system to be more supportive of smaller, more diversified, much less industrial farms. "Cheap food" that devastates our environment, consumes great quantities of fossil fuels and contributes to our rising medical costs (gluten-free anyone?) isn't sustainable. As with many other issues these days, we can find a way to work it out together or we can become like this year's Republican party presidential campaign. What's your choice?

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


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