Up the Creek Meats came from the simple idea that not all farming is the same, and to farm in a way that protects our soil and water resources takes skills, knowledge and physical abilities that have value beyond that of the cost of a double quarter pounder with cheese. The abundant water resources in our area provide us with many benefits; beautiful scenery, food in the way fish and irrigation for crops, and income as a popular tourist destination.
What happens upstream affects water quality downstream and if we care about the quality of the water in our lakes, we should support the farmer and rancher upstream. We should understand the challenges they face to produce our food and to protect our water.
And we should pay them well for their efforts.
Starting only a few years ago with the UMN Regional Sustainable Development Partnership “Cows for Clean Water” marketing study in 2017 is one way we have been working to build support for this concept. Work on the feasibility of a mobile slaughter unit followed soon after that and is where the name Up the Creek Meats originated.
This effort was recently given a big boost with the support of the MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates and the concept of “meat shares” in support of clean water. Working in conjunction with local lake associations, lake association members order shares from a producer in the watershed who is implementing adaptive grazing management on their farm or ranch and thereby protecting the health of the soil and our water resources.
As a pilot program, there are just a few producers on the list and marketing is being targeted to just a couple of local watersheds in the area, but MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates is a statewide organization and has started a campaign to educate its entire membership on the Up the Creeks Meats concept.
HDT’s work to grow good stewards and build capacity for local processing and distribution in support of area farmers and ranchers will continue, but in the meantime it’s encouraging to know that others are taking up the charge, and the understanding that agriculture done well heals.
Plant based protein is all the rage. Given the state of our current agricultural system, one that delivers us unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) meat and degraded water, animals make an easy target. Livestock are living beings, much like our pets who become part of our families. If we just stop eating meat, no animals will suffer and die, we’ll reduce our environmental footprint, and we can put people to work extracting protein from legumes and grains. And because we, as eaters, aren’t exposed to the dangerous saturated fats, cholesterol and other harmful ingredients in meat, we’ll all be healthier. The world will be saved and we will all live healthy, happy lives.
CAFO is a very efficient system, but maybe doesn’t take into consideration the soul of the animal.
One of the first replacements they went after was the iconic hamburger. If they could make a burger from plants that tastes like ground beef, it would serve as a powerful example of the potential of science. Next they went after the existential, versatile egg, extracting protein from mung beans and turning it into an egg substitute. As these products have advanced, consumer interest has grown. Economists and agronomists are tracking dollars and trends. Environmentalists, vegans, and investors are touting their support and backing this technology with their dollars.
But nobody asked the cow, the chicken, or the bean.
What do isotopes in water have to do with soil? One of my go-to podcasts is Down to Earth hosted by The Quivira Coalition. The Quivira Coalition is a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience on western working landscapes. According to their website, the coalition was formed to preserve the region’s rich agricultural heritage. It states:
The Quivira Coalition is based in New Mexico and is dedicated to building ecological and economic resilience in the arid southwest. A tricky idea, indeed!
“In 1997 two conservationists and a rancher who believed that a ranch that supported wildlife and a healthy ecosystem could also support a viable ranch business, came together to create the Quivira Coalition. Then, in 2003, twenty ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists met for forty-eight hours to figure out a way to take back the American West from the decades of divisiveness and acrimony that now truly jeopardizes much of what we all love and value. But we also met to take the West forward, to restore ecological, social and political health to a landscape that deserves it and so desperately needs it.”
One of their recent podcasts, titled The Science of Water, features the work of Dr. Kate Zeigler, a geologist/ hydrologist.
Dr. Kate Zeigler
Dr. Zeigler’s work has focused on groundwater recharge rates in the dry southwest where the average annual rainfall is seven inches. The soils in this region recharge very slowly, often percolating through the soil at the same rate your finger nail grows. She goes on to explain that not all water is the same. As groundwater ages, the isotopes in it change. By studying the changes in protons versus neutrons in the individual atoms in the water, they can determine how old the groundwater is and how fast the aquifers are recharging, or how fast they are being depleted. With the philosophy that knowledge is power, they share this information with farmers and ranchers as a tool for decision making.
HDT was recently invited to attend the We Are Water Summit, part of a statewide traveling interactive exhibit led by the Minnesota Center for the Humanities and statewide partners. According to their website, “We Are Water MN” explores the connections between the humanities and water through an exhibit, public events, and educator resources. Visitors reflect on local stories and the meaning and experiences of water in Minnesota with space to add their own stories. By creating relationships around water, we are creating networks that can promote positive social norms, and share a vision for and participate in water stewardship.
Cash and Dave showing off their garlic bounty, harvested in mid August.
A quick internet search of “garlic benefits” gave in 303,000,000 results. Need I say more? One of my go-to remedies for just about anything that ails me is raw vinegar and garlic shooters. In theory the raw vinegar balances stomach pH and rejuvenates the gut microbiome, while the garlic provides beneficial nutrients and compounds that support health. It seems to work, but it could just be the psychology of my brain telling me to get better so I don’t have to suffer through another shooter.
Summer is in full swing and our lakes are busy. What is more paramount to Minnesota than summer time at the lake; swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing, paddle boarding, the list of fun goes on and on.
But many of our lakes are hurting.
Decades of use, and sometimes abuse, have led to water quality declines for many of these precious resources. Just last summer, one of the most popular and enjoyed lakes in our region, Upper Whitefish, had a major weed and algae bloom. For much of the summer, vast areas of the lake were unusable for recreation. In agricultural regions of our state we’ve unofficially given up on our lakes and rivers, with as much as 98% of the waterbodies in some watersheds failing to meet minimum water quality standards.
What is it that we appreciate about our lakes and how do we protect these values?
Upper Whitefish early August 2018 photo Credit: WAPOA, Kent Brun
Over my years as a resource professional I’ve seen results from several surveys on what people value in the Lakes Region. Without exception, ninety percent or more of the people who respond to these surveys say they put a high value clean water. And that’s where I see the breakdown – the connection between clean water and the health of our soils.
Clean water starts with healthy soil.
Soil health is defined by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem”. Soil function is the ability of soil to cycle nutrients and water. Eighty five to ninety percent of nutrient cycling is through biology, so without living soil comes the inability of soil to function and to clean water. Impaired water has excess nutrients or temperature, a sign the soil within the watershed is not properly functioning.
This month, the theme we chose for media content was “Conscious Consumerism.” If you’ve been following along, you’ve seen advice on buying local, greener gifting, and giving experiences rather than things. The theme helps us focus our message and our creativity for the month, and ensures we’re bringing you the best and most timely content possible. We gather inspiration from big events, holidays, and national observance days (ie: Nov 15th is “America Recycles Day”). The upcoming holiday season was the inspiration for “Conscious Consumerism.”
During our brainstorming session, one observance that came up was that November is “World Vegan Month.” A slightly…fiery…discussion ensued. For the Food & Water Security team, food choices are the most important aspect of responsible consumption–not only because we grow food at our “day job,” but also because we are farmers, we support farmers, and we see food sovereignty as the foundation of regional resiliency. Deeply connected with food choices are environmental consequences.
Veganism can be a divisive subject; polite discourse is often impossible when there is so much misunderstanding. Yes, as a culture, Westerners eat too much meat. We should consume less meat overall, and use meat like a condiment to flavor and enhance our vegetables, grains, and legumes. However, from an ecosystem approach, agriculture with properly managed livestock is the most sustainable and environmentally restorative.
Now that we’ve had a few frosts, many think they can hang up their garden gloves. But think again. If you want a successful garden next year, start this fall. Your garden is still alive and the microbial livestock in your soil need to be fed.
First, stop! Shut off that tiller! I know you went for that to make your garden look clean and spiffy, but tilling your soil is bad for the bugs. Imagine a pile of bricks. It would be hard to walk through, right? Now build a house out of those bricks. It’s easy to go from room to room and move around your home. Soil structure, or aggregate, is the house for your soil livestock. Your tiller is a tornado that turns good soil aggregate to a pile of bricks, reducing water infiltration and microbial diversity.
Frost brings beauty and a sense of the change of time.
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. Continue reading →