Photos by Mike Miles
Last Saturday, about 80 people filtered through a day-long tour of three farms near Osceola who are protecting local watersheds through the practice of conservation agriculture.
Carlson Farms run nearly 2,500 acres of cropland specializing in seed for cover crops as well as food grade soy beans for export. Because of the drought they were asked by a local company to grow green beans under one of their pivot sprinklers.
A generational farm, the Carlsons have been attentive to issues of erosion and runoff for many years. In addition to rotating fields and using cover crops, they have experimented with machinery, both modern and antique, to perform the tasks necessary to protect their soil and the watershed they are in.
The second stop was Common Harvest Farm which is one of the oldest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market gardens in the upper Midwest. Dan Guenthner and Margaret Penning grow 40 varieties of vegetables for both retail and wholesale uses.
They explained how they run their operation in a packing shed that doubled as a dining room for lunch. Cover crops, strategic use of organic fertilizers, minimal tillage, and beehives managed by Kristy Lynn Allen, proprietor of the Beez Kneez LLC, are among the tools they use to keep their soil covered as much as possible to inhibit pollution downstream.
Lunch was catered by the Watershed Cafe in Osceola which closed their store and brought their entire staff along to participate in the Healthy Farms, Healthy Foods, Healthy Watersheds event. Owner Rita Rasmuson explained that local food production is healthier and more profitable when you can know and trust your farmers. Money spent locally circulates through a community making the dollars have more impact than when they are exported to outsourced businesses.
The final stop was Crystal Ball Farm which is still coming back from a devastating fire in 2018. Troy DeRosier explained how they manage their herd and forage to minimize nutrient runoff as well as how they have taken control of their finances by running an on farm creamery. They get to set their own prices instead of getting what a lackluster commodity market offers. (Note: In the last 70 years, the number of Wisconsin dairy farms has declined by 96 percent, from 167,000 herds in 1950 to 7,100 herds today.)
Their value added products include A2 milk (which is tolerated better by people who are lactose intolerant) bottled in reusable glass bottles and a variety of cheese products.
All three farms stated that they are as big as they want to be and have no intention of expanding. Bigger operations bring bigger problems and each farm felt they were profitable enough to stay with their present size.
This event was organized by the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Farm Table Foundation, Polk County Land and Water Office, Wild River Conservancy, and several local Farmer-Led Watershed Councils.