With the turning of the calendar to a new year and the return of some bitterly cold weather in Iowa, I have been reflecting on a wide range of topics. But, for Iowa News, there are a couple of themes I wanted to share with everyone.
First, I have been concerned about how willingly we expend effort and energy on removing the wild spaces from Iowa’s landscape. We tear out fence lines, remove the remaining brushy areas, and do our level best to till and plant every square inch that we can. The idea is that we are making the land more profitable, but it seems to me that the actual returns will fail to “pencil out” if you did the math. On the other hand, the cost to wildlife and the health of our environment is far greater than any marginal return the farm might realize. It makes me wonder if we have forgotten the meaning of the word “stewardship.”
The other theme that keeps coming back to me is rooted in a recent visit to the island of Kaua‘i. The people of Hawai‘i also deal with land use issues that make it challenging to grow their own food — but the stakes are so much higher if you also consider how much more difficult it is to import food to feed the people.
In traditional Hawaiian culture, there is a deep relationship to ‘Āina, the Place that Feeds, and in Iowa, we also like to claim a strong relationship to the land. We make the heady claim that we “feed the world.” We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our soils and a climate that could support diverse food production. Yet we squander our opportunities in the Land Between Two Rivers.
Like Hawai‘i, we import at least 90% of the food we consume in this state. But, there is no urgency to address food security. Our response is to simply ignore the problem. Perhaps we would make more progress if we pretended, for just a moment, that we were also surrounded by the oceans. Maybe then we would work harder to diversify our farms, put more people on the land, and become stewards once again.
Communications Associate for PAN
Owner/Operator, Genuine Faux Farm, Tripoli, IA
In recent months, the construction of three carbon pipelines has been proposed in Iowa, which would cover significant portions of the state. The stated purpose is to take carbon dioxide waste from ethanol plants and pump it into underground storage in North Dakota. Without considering the potential hazards of a CO2 pipeline, there are legitimate concerns that farms — especially smaller, family farms — will bear the brunt of the costs. Meanwhile, a very small number of very wealthy individuals will be able to cash in on carbon tax credits.
One of the selling points for the pipeline is that it will aid the ethanol industry and stabilize the demand for Iowa’s corn. But, this misses the point that our outsized commitment to a single crop is a losing proposition for the long run. If we want to take our commitment to stewardship of the Land Between Two Rivers seriously, these projects should not be allowed to move forward.
If you would like to take a stand against the carbon pipeline projects, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club has resources available for your use.
Take advantage of learning opportunities
The February calendar is full of opportunities to learn new tools and strategies for becoming better stewards. Here are a few for you to consider:
The Iowa Organic Association’s webinar series continues with a session titled “Tending to the Microbial Life of Your Soil,” presented by Chris Trump from noon to 1 PM on February 8. IOA also maintains an excellent calendar of events with other opportunities for learning.
Practical Farmers of Iowa also provides an impressive event calendar that covers a broad range of topic areas. For example, the Beginning Farmer Summit will be held February 7th in Cedar Rapids and registration is here. PFI is also running weekly farminars through the winter months.
NCAT is hosting the 7th Annual Latino Farmer Conference as a series of webinars. The third installment will focus on pest control and is scheduled for February 9.
The Iowa Farmers Union is continuing their Lunch and Learn Series and you can look for announcements on their social media page. This week’s talk was on parity pricing with George Naylor and can be viewed here. Next week, IFU will host our recently appointed USDA Farm Service Agency Director, Matt Russell.
PAN is seeking a new Executive Director
Just prior to her final days as Executive Director, Kristin Schafer shared the last installment in her series of reflections on her 25-year career with PANNA. I encourage you to read all three parts of this series as it will give you a deeper understanding of what PANNA has been doing and what motivates us to keep going.
PAN is actively seeking candidates for the Executive Director role. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in leading an excellent staff in continuing this work, please take a look at, or share, the job description.
Take Action! Support PACTPA
If we want to be better stewards of the land, we need legislation that supports that effort. Let’s tell Senators Ernst — who is on the committee that would consider this bill — and Grassley that we need to protect our children, our communities, our farmworkers, and our environment. Let them know that we think PACTPA is a step towards a better future for Iowa and the nation!