Agriculturists are taking proactive steps to combat climate change. Count the Sand County Foundation among those spearheading the solution.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded the Sand County Foundation a $300,000 grant to adopt regenerative agricultural practices among private landowners along the Lake Michigan watershed. Staffers noted the project is slated for three years, involving 25 major property holders and more than 15,000 acres of land vital to the health of the Great Lakes region.
The project titled, “Fostering Technical Assistance to Advance Regenerative Agriculture in the Lake Michigan Basin” was awarded $300,000 through the Sustain Our Great Lakes Program. These funds will be matched by $300,000 from the Sand County Foundation.
Sand County Foundation’s agricultural systems director, Tricia Verville, described the project as a multifaceted one — not only because it works in numerous areas that fall under the umbrella of regenerative agriculture, but as a project tailored to the specifics of each parcel of land it incorporates.
“It really depends on the geography, the property, the climate, the farmer, whether there’s no tillage, what type of cover crop they want to use, what kind of nutrient retention is needed — it’s tailored to each plot of land and management plan,” Verville said. “And it’s a growing thing. The more time passes and the farmers get involved, the better returns we will see.”
Additional partners include General Mills and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Verville said these collaborative partnerships — whether they’re nonprofit and corporate; public and private sectors — are the lifeblood of the Sand County Foundation’s work. For them, it’s all about bridging these divides in American life for the sake of farms and the environment.
So what exactly is regenerative agriculture? Broadly speaking, it’s agricultural practices to curb emissions and ecological erosion, while restoring biodiversity and soil enrichment lost to human habitation — in other words, it’s farmland conservation geared toward combating climate change.
Regenerative agriculture can mean very different things to very different people, Verville pointed out. The Sand County Foundation actively works with farmers to create prairie filter strips, establish butterfly sanctuaries, promote clean water initiatives, or provide education on soil temperature mitigation, among many others. When the problem is as broad as the changing climate, it’s solutions can vary widely.
“We’ve been around a long time, but we’re not a huge organization, so we often work collaboratively with other groups,” said Casey Langen, a media representative for Sand County Foundation. “We applied for this grant to speed up more regenerative agriculture practices in a specific watershed. In Wisconsin, we’re well equipped to get some of that programming off the ground. We’re demonstration, testing, researching and practicing conservation.”
The Lake Michigan watershed — and, by extension, the Great Lakes — is among the most valuable ecological resources in the world. Working to create a healthy balance between humanity and nature in these areas is vital, Verville said. The Sound County Foundation is not only working with farmers and corporations, but watershed groups in the region to create a framework that agriculturists can follow for the foreseeable future.
Farming communities are responding. The concept of regenerative agriculture is nothing new — just ask Aldo Leopold of Sand County Almanac fame — but Langen said agriculturists are increasingly open and enthusiastic about changing their management plans to be more sustainable.
“A lot of those practices, they’re all pretty mainstream now and that wasn’t necessarily the case 20 years ago,” Langen said. “You’re seeing farms of all stripes doing what you would label ‘regenerative agriculture’ because it makes good sense, both for the environment and also for their economics.”
“They realize it’s a system approach that really moves the needle on a farm,” he added. “We talk about cover crops or prairie strips, or no till. This is really about looking at every tool in the toolbox that an individual has to promote good conservation on their landscape.”
And, with this $300,000 grant, the Sand County Foundation and its collaborators have been empowered to take a more assertive, forward-thinking step in the battle against climate change.
“We’re at the very beginning stages,” Verville said. “I’m excited to watch these partnerships form, to watch the project grow and see its impact in years to come.”