Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We Do Have A Choice…And It Matters!

 By Farmer Richard

We make many, many choices daily.  We choose the food we eat, the body care products we use, the clothes we wear, the energy we use for transportation, heating, and cooling.  We make choices about our personal living space and how we treat our family and the extended community that we interact with.  When we make healthy, positive choices for ourselves and our family, we affect the larger “market place.”  When there is consumer demand for healthy products and services, the result is that more healthy choices become available for all of us.  In many cases, our healthy choices can mean less synthetic chemicals are used to produce our food, etc resulting in less chemical residues entering our bodies and less goes into our environment, the air, the water.  That’s the air we breathe and the water that we drink as well as the environment all living creatures depend on for survival.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all connected.

Ducklings in our creek!
Over the past several months, The Country Today newspaper has reported on the experiences of Midwest farmers participating in a cultural exchange with Louisiana fishers, shrimpers and crabbers.  The Country Today editor traveled to Louisiana this spring along with Wisconsin farmers, Dick and Kim Cates. This exchange was made possible with assistance from the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and was funded by a grant received through Wisconsin’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Program.  The purpose of this exchange was to connect Midwest farmers doing something to keep their water clean and Gulf of Mexico fishermen affected by Midwest farming practices.  It is an undisputed fact that excess synthetic agricultural fertilizer, animal manure and soil from Midwest farm fields are washing down the many watershed creeks and rivers, into the Mississippi River and ending up in the Gulf of Mexico.  This nutrient and chemical pollution has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where there is not enough oxygen to support aquatic life.  In 2016, the dead zone was estimated to be an area documented to be the size of the state of Connecticut. 

So just how do our choices and practices in the Midwest affect the fishermen in Lousiana?  While the Gulf of Mexico is quite a distance from the Midwest, we cannot forget that those who live downstream are real people with families and the right to live and work in a healthy environment.  Our Midwestern waste flowing down into their waters directly impacts their health and, in the case of the fishermen, their livelihood.  Diversified farming practices, grass-based grazing, the use of cover crop to prevent erosion and build soil are all practices that can positively impact those downstream by reducing pollution and these practices can make all the difference!  Wisconsin is losing family dairy farms rapidly, yet overall milk production is up due to large mega dairies that have too many animals and too much manure in one place with little to no grass for their animals.  Large-scale meat production is the same.  The animals are fed grain in huge confinement lots, no grass, too much manure which is running off and entering our water.  Yes, our public officials, even universities, have not done their job for the “public good,” but that is another newsletter.

Early Spring Creek water flowing down stream!
You may be thinking, “Ok, but I am not a farmer and I don’t do these things.”  No, but you vote when you make your purchases.  Have you ever wondered why when you drive through the Midwest country side you see mostly corn and soybean fields?  It wasn’t always that way!  Not so long ago, all farms had animals as well as crops and all farms had grass and pastures for these animals to graze in.  When the animals go to huge confinement lots, the more highly erodible land that once produced grass for animals becomes highly erosive corn and soy bean fields to produce grain to feed these animals.  This is just one example from our food system to demonstrate how your vote to purchase grass-fed meat and dairy can make a difference for your own health, but also will impact the whole ecosystem from here to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.    

Dead zones do not only exist in the Gulf of Mexico.  John Rybski, a gentleman who lives in rural northeast Wisconsin, wrote an opinion essay that was published in the June 2017 issue of Acres U.S.A.  In his article he stated the following:  “The accumulation of individual acts to farm “my land” and maximize tillable acres and provide the best, short-term return for “my labor” has turned our streams and rivers in Kewaunee County into open agricultural sewers and the bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan into enormous sewage-holding pods.  The documented dead zones….are clear evidence of the nutrient pollution generated by agriculture destroying these water bodies.”  He also commented that “industrial agriculture is not farming.  Farming is living with the land.  Farming is working with living soils.  Farming is working with a natural cycle where energy from the sun and nutrients provided by the microbial community in the soil is converted by plants into fiber, carbohydrates and proteins to feed animal life.  Sustainable farming is a cycle of addition and subtraction in balance:  neither adding more than is taken nor taking more than is added.  Farming is stewardship.  Industrial agriculture on the other hand is exploitation.  An inch of soil that takes years of forest growth to build can be wind-stripped from fall-plowed bare fields in just five winters.  The long-term results of industrial agriculture are the same in the countryside as the results of industrial manufacturing in urban places--air pollution, water pollution, deteriorating human health and the destruction of the natural environment and all its critters , including, and perhaps rightfully, us.”  Rybski goes on to say “We should be worried, and we must act together;  farmer and consumer, dairyman and neighbor, country-dweller and urban-dweller.” 

Sometimes we are the person being impacted downstream and other times we are the one with the ability to impact what’s happening downstream.  Yes our choices do matter and the farming practices you choose to support can make a significant impact on our local health and environment as well as the health and environment downstream.  At the end of the day, we are all a community and we all have choices.

1 comment:

Cathy Loeb said...

Fantastic article, Richard. Thank you!