Birds, Bugs, Water & Agriculture

How can we have more birds, cleaner water, better food, and a healthier planet? That seems to be the questions a lot of people are asking now days. You can watch one documentary after another about all the environmental problems we face, many because of or food system. What’s harder to find is examples and stories on how agriculture can provide the food we need, for some nine billion people, and protect the natural world we so enjoy and need.

The good news in agriculture is out there, and you don’t need to go far. Self reliant and self educated farmers are implementing practices that build soil health, diversify the landscape, and protect their pocketbook. The farmers, ranchers and resource professionals implementing these restorative practices are new age pioneers, leading the way in conservation agriculture.

Gabe Brown, of Brown’s Ranch, farms 5400 acres in central North Dakota and has led the way in innovative cover cropping, livestock integration, and other soil building practices. In doing so he provides habitat for pollinators and predatory insects, game and songbirds, small mammals, and the microorganisms below ground that fuel the whole system. He protects water quality by increasing soil organic matter and water holding capacity, mitigating runoff and restoring hydrology. This type of agriculture functions as an ecosystem, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, further protecting water, soil, and our children that eat the food he grows. And Brown’s Farm generates greater profits, allowing him to bring his two sons and their families back to the farm, creating the rural economic development everyone wants to see.

Mark Shephard of New Forest Farm, located in the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin, is restoring the land with perennial woody crops, agroforestry and innovative water catchment. Purchased in the 1990’s as a degraded corn and soybean farm, Mark first installed keyline swales to capture water in the valleys where it concentrates and move it slowly across the slope to the drier ridges where it can infiltrate into the soil and feed his crops. Where the water concentrated he brought in equipment and dug out “pocket”

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Restoration Agriculture – by Mark Shepard

ponds to hold yet more runoff. Below the swales he planted highly productive cultivators of trees and shrubs that are native to the surrounding landscape; raspberries, hazelnuts, chestnuts, apples, plums, cherries, and other edible perennial crops. In the areas between these planting he grows vegetables and grazes livestock. I first was able to visit New Forest Farm in 2004, about a decade after Mark purchased it. The trees and shrubs were well established, but just starting to produce. Several years later I heard him speak at a conference. He had increased the size of his pocket ponds and he was seeing frogs and snakes around these areas. Biology students from a nearby college had completed a bird count and in one weekend counted well over one hundred species of birds in this once degraded farm field. Since, he has started a hard cider brewery to use apples and other fruit that wasn’t marketable, adding value to his product and diversifying his income stream. He’s developed equipment and facilities to handle nuts and other products. And has been instrumental in the growth of Organic Valley food cooperative. During extreme rain events, while neighboring farms are having their soil washed off the slopes, he is soaking up water and storing it for the next drought. He has restored historic springs on his property and returned wildlife to the landscape. All this on a working, productive agricultural landscape.

Max Alger works for the Missouri Department of Conservation as a grassland specialist. After many years working to restore natural prairie lands they began to notice that when a landscape was returned to prairie there would be an initial influx of game and songbirds. But after six or seven years the populations would level off, and eventually start to decline. Looking to nature for solutions, they wondered if the lack of large herbivores, which would have been prevalent in large numbers of buffalo historically, was playing a role in the decline of bird populations over time. They brought in livestock to mimic the buffalo. Using cattle in conjunction with controlled fire, they have developed a burn patch graze system that increases landscape diversity and provides the various successional prairie stages that are needed for the vast number of species, and the individual life cycles, of wildlife that is native to prairie grasslands. Studies are showing that the areas disturbed by this approach are seeing more nest sites and greater survival rates for gamebirds such as the bobwhite quail. The ranchers they contract with are glad to have access to additional grazing lands and the resource professionals charged with managing these public lands can do so more cost effectively, improving native habitats while saving taxpayer dollars.

But it’s not just farmers and land managers driving this revolution. Consumers are demanding better diets and want to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. They are driving these changes with their pocketbook. Farmers that are using holistic methods are increasingly being backed by governments and research institutes. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service as a soil health initiative and the National Association of Conservation Districts has resolved to promote soil health as an agency. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization held a world symposium in 2014 exploring Agroecology and how it can provide food security to developing nations. The Green Lands Blue Waters Coalition is a group of land grant universities and other organizations in the Mississippi River watershed researching and promoting methods to

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Improving soil health can increase water retention.

keep agricultural landscapes in living cover year around. Focused on the soil health principles, they promote perennial forage, agroforestry, cover crops, biomass, and perennial grains as strategies to keep the land green, and the water blue. One of the more promising hallmarks is the perennial grain Kernza, which is planted once every five to six years and can be harvested annually for grain. They are finding that rotationally grazing this crop in early spring or fall, after harvest, appears to increase the grain production, increasing profitability. Genetic technology has increased the speed at which this grain is being developed and is the type of technology that will help to fuel the agroecological revolution.

Scientists are delving into soil ecosystem research, trying to understand the complex interactions of the soil food web. We now can show that it is diverse, fragile, specialist species and groups of organisms that fuel a healthy soil. They need good soil aggregate, a substantial soil carbon pool, living roots in the ground throughout the year. We know they can’t withstand excessive soil disturbance or prolonged periods of flooding or drought. It is clear that overuse of agricultural chemicals and synthetic fertilizers degrade the soil biota, and without healthy soil we cannot expect more birds, clean water, abundant nature, or healthy food.

Presenters Highlight The Power of Change at Back To Basics

Spaces are continuing to fill up for the 11th annual Back to Basics. The theme this year is “The Power of Change” and highlighting this theme are a few of the presenters.

One Back to Basics 2017 presenter, Dawn Molaison of Swatara has taken a different route that emphasizes change. After owning and operating a farm in rural MN for years, it’s only recently that she and her husband have embraced online sales as a way to supplement their local operation. It was only a few years ago that Molaison’s niece introduced the idea of expanding their operation into the online world. Boondock Farm morphed into Boondock Enterprises.

Molaison said, “She began taking us through the baby steps of internet sales and we have been riding the wild waves since, but, I try to keep the foundations sure and solid, while introducing flashes of trendy, unusual, and new. There has to be a balance and it is a continuous juggling act.”

Boondock Enterprises offers over 80 different jams, jellies, syrups, teas, and herb mixes.

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Boondock Enterprises has a large catalogue of homemade wares.

Reaching out through online avenues allowed Molaison to realize how difficult it can be to get tread the line between tradition and the new & trendy.

Molaison said, “Traditions are the old recipes and hearing my grandmother’s voice as she teaches me the art of jelly making or listening to my grandfather as he tells me where to find the best berries.”

Molaison will be giving two presentations on February 11. One will be the basics on making your own homemade jellies and jams while the other will be focusing on the ins and outs of creating a successful online business out of your home. Selling online has only highlighted the importance of adaptation to Molaison.  

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J. Drake Hamilton to Keynote 11th Annual Back to Basics

keynoteb2b2015Happy Dancing Turtle will host the 11th annual Back to Basics sustainability event on Saturday, February 11 at the Pine River-Backus School. It’s a day that features workshops, demonstrations, and a vendor fair all designed to increase awareness around sustainable living.

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Hamilton – Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy

This year, keynote speaker J. Drake Hamilton will be talking on the importance of communities working together to build a more prosperous future. As the science policy director at Fresh Energy, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis with the goal of speeding the transition to clean energy, Hamilton is responsible for policy development and analysis of clean energy solutions that maximize opportunities for the Midwest.

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A New Year in Nature

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Happy New Year! Did you make your New Year’s resolution yet? We often use this holiday as an opportunity to recommit to living a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, overzealous plans for dieting and gym memberships quickly turn into abandoned resolutions. Want a resolution you can commit to? Plan to spend more time in nature! There is an ever-increasing amount of research that provides evidence of the myriad of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits of spending time in nature.

Time spent outdoors increases/enhances:

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Read a book by the lake!

  • Energy levels
  • Your mood & self-esteem
  • Creativity
  • Vitamin D levels
  • Physical activity/calories burned
  • Productivity
  • Mobility in aging populations
  • Overall feelings of positivity
  • Impulse control
  • Academic performance
  • Feelings of happiness
  • Immune system function
  • Memory function & ability to focus

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    Watch a sunset!

  • Natural circadian rhythms (responsible for regulating sleep)
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Workout intensity (exercising outdoors is more physically demanding on the body)
  • Social skills/relationships
  • Motor skill development
  • Enthusiasm/engagement for learning

Time spent outdoors decreases:

  • Stress, anxiety, & depression
  • Seasonal allergies

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    Relax in a hammock with a loved one!

  • Inflammation (the bad kind that contributes to autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, & cancer)
  • Risk of eye conditions such as myopia, computer vision syndrome, & dry eye syndrome
  • Risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, hip fractures, & pregnancy complications
  • Aching bones in aging populations
  • ADD/ADHD symptoms
  • Disruptive behaviors
  • Blood pressure & heart rate
  • Fatigue & sleep disturbances/insomnia

The best benefit? Getting outdoors and into nature is often free or very low in cost. We are very fortunate to call Minnesota our home. Our state has a high percentage of publicly owned land, providing a multitude of outlets into nature! The Minnesota DNR manages over 5.5 million acres in 67 state parks, 9 recreation areas, and numerous state forests, wildlife management areas, scenic and natural areas, and more. As Minnesotans, we have access to over 1,234 miles of state trails! Federal lands in Minnesota provide more public land resources for us to explore, including Voyageur’s National Park, Superior National Forest (including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area), the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), the national North Country Trail, national monuments and more.  In addition, Minneapolis, followed by Saint Paul, has consistently been ranked the number one city in America for ease of access to outdoor/green space!

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Boundary Waters Canoe Area at Sunset

Committing to the outdoors is something that will look different for everyone. You can start whenever you want (though considering spring is months away, winter would be preferable), however you want, at whatever level is the best fit for you! If the outdoors is new to you – perhaps simply taking a 15-minute hike in nature is the place to start. Once that feels comfortable, build up from there – a 30-minute walk, a 30-minute walk twice a week, etc. If nature is a familiar setting for you, challenge yourself to something new! Have you tried fat-tire biking? What about going on a snowshoe snow-fari? The opportunities for exploration are endless!

Here are some resources that may be helpful!

I know the cold temperatures and short days of winter can be a daunting factor to overcome. Don’t let these small obstacles thwart your New Year’s resolution! As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing”. So bundle up and get outside! In the winter, I leave for work before the first light and head home from the office at sunset. As a result, I’ve learned to love walking on cold winter nights with my furry companion.

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A walk at night is a fun challenge for your furry friends to utilize their naturally keen sense of smell and impeccable hearing.

A walk in the neighborhood woods in winter can be just as thrilling as other excursions. The cold, fresh air rejuvenates your lungs and awakens your senses; your eyes adjust to the darkness and you find you can see quite well with the moon’s reflection off the snow; your ears strain to hear far-off sounds drowned out in busier months – the hooting of an owl, the distant bark of a dog, or the cracking of trees as they freeze. Our current snow conditions add the thrilling adventure of tracking to your night hike! Click on the photos below to find out what made the tracks. 🙂

So don’t miss the opportunity to begin the year the right way… outside! Bundle up and go! We’ll see you out there!

Back to Basics Online Registration is Now Open

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There are plenty of things to do at Back to Basics.

Join us for the 11th Annual Back to Basics, The Power of Change! This event combines workshops, vendors/exhibitors, a keynote speaker, lunch & snacks, door prizes and more. Back to Basics bring roughly 400 people together to share ideas on a wide variety of topics related sustainability and resiliency. 

With over 40 workshops and 50 plus booths providing educational materials and locally made/grown goods of a sustainable nature, this is one event you’ll not want to miss!

The vendor area will be open to the public for FREE, but to attend any workshops or demonstrations, you will need to register. Registration is super easy this year. Just hop on over to our online registration site and we’ll get you going.

This is going to be our largest Back to Basics yet, so be sure to register early to ensure your spot in the fun.

Nature Notes: Caching Chickadees

As winter approaches, we are seeing many changes in our bird populations. Some birds, like robins, have formed large flocks and are slowly moving south. Others, like our juncos, have just recently arrived but are only passing through on their journey from northern Canada to southern Minnesota and beyond. Others who will remain here all winter are busily visiting our feeders.

Birds essentially have two options when it comes to winter: they can migrate or they can stay. If they stay, they need a way to stay warm and a way to gSparkyStensaasSnowyOwl.jpget enough food to make it through the harsh winter. Again, they essentially have two options: they can wander widely to find food or they can cache food during times of high food abundance. Owls are a good example of a bird species that stay but wander widely to find food. They have large territories they move around in to search for food. Sometimes, when no food is available, owls will leave their territories and widen their search area. In the last two years, we have witnessed an irruption (a sudden increase) of snowy owls in northern Minnesota as a result of food scarcity in their more northern habitat. Continue reading

On Tuesday, November 15, HDT drove the three miles south on HWY 371 to Bites Grill & Bar to show their thanks. With hors d’oeuvre consisting of a delicious shrimp cocktail and a table-long bruschetta bar, employees had plenty of opportunities to gab, chat, and mingle. Afterwards, they say down to meals consisting of lobster stuffed chicken, prime rib (bigger than your hands, truthfully), juicy walleye, or a wonderfully mixed veggie stir-fry.

Games and merriment followed and many people walked away with door prizes made from ingredients sourced right from our gardens. How cool!

How are you celebrating Thanksgiving? How are you showing your gratitude?

 

HDT Thankfulness Party

Topic of the Month – Food Drives

Many families in Minnesota rely on food from food shelves to feed their households. For some, the food shelf is temporarily their only resource for fresh produce. Eating healthy food like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is important. Access to fresh, healthy food allows families and individuals to get by with less worry, so they can focus on getting back on their feet.

If you are moved to donate, be sure to check with your local food shelf before purchasing any food. They will have the best idea of what is most needed and what is in low supply.

To find out where your local food shelf is, you can just go to Feeding America and search by your location.

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While food canned from home may be well-intentioned, food pantries are prohibited from taking it due to a lack of an expiration date.

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Too Many Sweets on Halloween?

I did a little research for this month’s topic of making a sustainable Halloween and I was absolutely shocked at how much candy each kid eats on that day. According to the National Retail Federation, kids will eat around 7,000 calories worth of candy on Halloween! That’s 3.4 pounds per kid of sugary, fatty, chocolatey, delicious candy.

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Delicious, delicious candy corn will not make ANY healthy Halloween treats list. – Photo Credit Atlanta Daily Herald

Is this a problem? Well, the National Health and Nutrition Examination say that kids up to the age of 10 ingest on average 2,000 calories per day. That’s a factor of almost 4 that Halloween cranks up the kids.

So, how do we change this? Is it worth changing? Many say that Halloween is only one day and letting your children enjoy their sugary haul is a time-honored tradition and I will be the first to say that Halloween candy tastes better than any other candy on any other day, but is it worth it?

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Nature Notes: Busy Beavers

Last week, we took a look at how squirrels are tirelessly preparing for winter by collecting and stashing food away for the harsh season. This week, we’re focusing on another MN native that caches food for winter – the beavers! They are the largest rodent in North America. While most adults weigh-in at about 45 pounds, beavers can weigh over 70 pounds! Historically, beaver fur has been important economically (trading), which led to beavers being introduced in other regions of the world.  A few years back I traveled to Teirra del Fuego, Chile at the southern tip of the Americas. Beavers were introduced to this region of Patagonia in the mid-20th century in hopes of increasing economic prosperity. However, beavers have no natural predators in Tierra del Fuego and have run rampant ever since, causing millions of dollars in damage to the ecosystem. There is now a widespread campaign to eradicate this nonnative species in this region of Chile. In Minnesota, beavers are not only a native species, but also a keystone species, meaning they play a very important role in their ecosystem as timber harvester, architect, and engineer! Here habitat modification by beavers creates aquatic habitats for many other animals, helps prevent flooding and erosion, and aids in filtering and cleaning water. (Note: Click on a photo to enlarge.)

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