Saturday, February 7, 2015

Why are they important?

                                                          Goldenrod in our new prairie

Why is a prairie important? A grassland? A woodland? A small family farm?

They don't gross a lot of money. They don't employ a  lot of people. They don't spend money on advertising or lobbying.

Prairies, grasslands, woodlands, and small to medium size family farms are some of the wealthiest, most important pieces of land in the state. They are major reasons Minnesota is such a beautiful, healthy state. Healthy in terms of blue waters, tall trees, rolling prairies. That base, in healthy water, woods and grasslands ensures diversity in plants, birds, mammals, insects and even beneficial bacteria.

Small to medium farms with windbreaks of trees and shrubs not only provide food and shelter for a vast diversity of birds and other animals; they also decrease wind erosion and water run off into streams and lakes, restocking the water in natural underground reservoirs. The big  farms plow their fields from fence row to fence row, leaving no habitat for animals and no barriers to erosion.

Natural areas allow for great diversity of plant species that invites great diversity of animal life. This diversity is a sure sign of a healthy ecosystem. This diversity doesn't occur in cities, suburbs or on big farms. In cities and suburbs, there isn't enough open ground to absorb rain and snow melt.  Cities and suburbs select for a few hundred different species of plants, limiting the number of animals in the area. Large farms have plenty of open ground, but nothing to slow and trap the water.

Perhaps the major difference between small and large farms is that the large farms are corporations and behave as such.  The decision makers are separated from the results of their actions on the land. Most aren't actually farmers, and many don't even live on the land for which they are responsible.

In 2014, there were 3800 dairy farms in Minnesota. Ninety two percent of those farms had fewer than 200 cows. A corporation is hoping to build an 8800 cow dairy in Stevens County. It is projected to use 100 million gallons of water yearly and to produce 75 million gallons of liquid manure. The neighbors are upset.

 Small and medium size farmers live and work with their neighbors on a daily basis. They have history with their land. They have to care for the land. It is what has sustained them in the past and will continue to sustain them in the future. They keep water and wealth and healthy land in the community. If a farmer abuses his land, it will no longer produce the crops from which he earns a living. If a corporation abuses their land to the point where it does not produce as well, they sell it. Corporate farms concentrate the wealth into the hands of a few individuals. They suck water and wealth and healthy land out of a community.

The small to medium farms, the grasslands, the woodlands and the prairies keep Minnesota beautiful and healthy in all senses of the word.

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