There’s a common misconception that there are natural enemies that exist in the conservation movement. It’s true—business, industry and agriculture frequently end up on the opposite side of some of our issues and efforts. That doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground on which to build a greater mutual understanding. But, we often lack creativity when it comes to how to best bring people to the table and how to illustrate the ways in which our endeavors can be mutually beneficial.
This is why I was so intrigued last summer when I was invited by the University of Minnesota Extension to participate in a pilot program of sorts in the Seven Mile Creek Watershed (in Nicollet County, south of Saint Peter, east of Mankato). The idea was to get an ongoing dialogue started between representatives from the agricultural community in the area, the agri-business community, state agencies like the DNR and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), and a representative of the conservation community—me. The goal was to problem-solve ways to work on water quality improvements and boost the agriculture economy at the same time.
Over the last several months, I have attended the monthly meetings and each one has featured different themes—from biomass applications to bio-economy, conservation policy to cover crops, consumer-driven incentives to new technologies—each session featured knowledgeable presenters who brought forward both issues and options, problems and potential solutions, that were in the best interests of farmers and conservationists alike. In fact, I was surprised by how many of the presentations highlighted many of the best management practices that were already being implemented by area farmers, but provided one or two small changes that could be made to improved both the water quality and the economics of the farm. The group has been so successful that they are applying for grants to continue and expand the project and I’m pleased to have been asked to continue participating.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the State of Water Conference in Alexandria, where the attendance was more or less the Seven Mile Creek demographics increased by a factor of 10. What I heard echoed there was that while it’s great that Governor Dayton has made water quality a priority, the most effective, most immediate impacts can be made at the local level and by communities working together with local and state agencies to implement the practices that work best for them. This is exactly the strategy being promoted by the Seven Mile Creek project and what’s great is that it’s working. The group recently came together to set some strategic planning goals going forward and that open dialogue and cooperation that’s been established over the past year really paid off.
I look forward to seeing where this group goes and I have high hopes for the potential it has to expand into other watersheds and communities around the state.